More than 18,000 new homes rejected as local plan found 'unsound'
PUBLISHED: 08:23 23 January 2020 | UPDATED: 08:23 23 January 2020
The Uttlesford Local Plan, submitted early in 2019, by the previous Conservative administration of Uttlesford District Council, has been found "unsound" by planning inspectors.
Under the plan, submitted in January last year, some 18,500 commercial and affordable homes could have been given the green light and development will have been outlined until 2033.
The houses would have been built in three garden communities: Easton Park, North Uttlesford and West of Braintree.
In a letter addressed to Stephen Miles, planning policy team leader at Uttlesford District Council, (UDC) inspectors Louise Crosby and Elaine Worthington said:
"Unfortunately, despite the additional evidence that has been submitted during the examination and all that we have now read and heard in the examination, including the suggested main modifications to the plan put forward by the council, we have significant concerns in relation to the soundness of the plan.
"In particular, we are not persuaded that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the garden communities, and thus the overall spatial strategy, have been justified. We therefore cannot conclude that these fundamental aspects of the plan are sound.
"This is of major importance in this case, given the large scale and long-term nature of the garden community developments, combined with the fact that they would be the primary source of housing in the district for the next 30 to 40 years."
One of the key issues that prompted the Local Plan rejection was housing affordability across the district.
The inspectors highlighted the fact that there are, and will be, many people in Uttlesford without their own home or living in unsuitable or inadequate housing - and that this is unlikely to change without some help with the current housing market.
"The proposed stepped trajectory, which arises from the strategy's reliance on the garden communities, would result in a worsening affordability problem, as it would delay the provision of housing to meet the identified need in the district for a number of years," the inspectors said.
They added that the uncertainty posed by the provision of employment, road and public transport improvements and the impact on landscape and heritage, would all result in unsustainable garden communities.
The letter concluded that these, together with all the other amendments suggested, mean the Local Plan needs to be "completely redrafted".
Councillor John Lodge, chairman of Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) and UDC leader, said: "At R4U we have consistently said that the previous administration's Local Plan was flawed for many of the same reasons it has shown to be so. That is why we refused to countersign it when they submitted it, even though they assured residents that it was ready for inspection.
"This result is a damning indictment of the previous Conservative administration.
"They consistently failed to properly plan for our future and have now produced two faulty Local Plans. It has cost local Council Taxpayers £6 million and perpetuated the decade-long developer free-for-all across our towns and villages.
"Unfortunately, this will now continue for several years, while we prepare a proper plan. They have badly let us all down again."
Cllr Lodge added that the new Local Plan, which R4U will "re-engineer", will "sort out the mess" of the Conservatives by being "evidence-led" and focused on infrastructure and affordable housing.
But R4U Councillor John Evans, portfolio holder for planning and the Local Plan, said: "We are clearly disappointed with the outcome as it does not provide certainty for many Uttlesford communities."
Last year, Dawn French, UDC chief executive, said the Local Plan would not be scrapped despite external pressures.
Action group Stop Easton Park has opposed thousands of new homes that were planned near Dunmow and has urged the withdrawal of the document. Housing has also been opposed by residents of residents of Great Chesterford who formed themselves into a StopNUTown Action Group.
In June, Cllr Lodge defended the decision not to scrap the Local Plan by highlighting the difficulty of reviewing a decade's worth of documentation in just over two months - after R4U swept to power in the May local elections. The decision came despite concerns about the Local Plan previously expressed by R4U.
For more information about the Local Plan examination and latest developments, visit www.uttlesford.gov.uk/local-plan-examination.