Stansted Airport and local plan ‘may have lost out to other priorities’: Defecting councillors explain reasons for switching to Green Party

Cllrs Paul Fairhurst, Barbara Light and Anthony Gerard all held cabinet positions at UDC as R4U coun

Cllrs Paul Fairhurst, Barbara Light and Anthony Gerard all held cabinet positions at UDC as R4U councillors, before switching to The Green Party. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

A group of former Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) councillors who held senior positions at Uttlesford District Council (UDC) before switching to the Green Party are concerned their old party’s “manifesto promises” including issues surrounding Stansted Airport and the local plan “may have lost out to other priorities”.

It was announced yesterday (October 14) that R4U councillors Paul Fairhurst, Barbara Light and Anthony Gerard, all of whom held cabinet positions, were switching to the Green Party.

Explaining their decision in a letter to other councillors, which has been seen by this newspaper, Cllrs Fairhurst, Light and Gerard said: "The last few years have been challenging, exciting and ultimately rewarding. We believe that our commitment to giving residents a voice and fighting for real local issues was well worth the effort. We remain committed to that.

"However, being in the majority has brought with it a number of challenges and we are concerned that our manifesto promises, including the local plan and Stansted Airport, may have lost out to other priorities. These two major issues were core to our election win; and we owe it to our residents to keep our word."

R4U swept to power in the May district council elections, winning a majority of 26, leaving the former-ruling Conservatives with only four councillors.

Before taking office, R4U had been critical of the council's local plan, which is currently being examined and sets out areas where thousands of homes as well as infrastructure could be built. A planning application submitted to UDC by Stansted Airport to increase their annual passenger throughput from 35million to 43million, was approved in November 2018, but the R4U-run council has still not issued the final approval notice for the plans.

The councillors' letter goes on to read: "Quite simply these [the local plan and Stansted Airport] are both green issues, raising the question of what our role needs to be in the future with regard to our environment and natural heritage, and demand a national and global focus and specific attention.

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"We feel strongly that our district deserves a voice on these issues as well, particularly in its context as a rural area with special historic and natural assets. The decisions this council will take in the next six months will decide the future of our district for the next hundred years."

Responding to their letter, Councillor Christian Criscione, deputy leader of the Conservative Group at UDC, said: "This goes to show - after R4U having come out in support of progressing the Conservative-led local plan, having accepted the merit of previous Conservative-led investments and no doubt facing reality with respect of the Stansted Airport planning application in due course - that they are not fit for administration."

"There are a number of R4U councillors no doubt angry that the administration has adopted a 'do as we say, not as we do' approach, but for those who have been Conservative in the past, its time to accept that only your local Conservatives will deliver good services, good finance and good decision making for our residents."

Councillor John Moran, Conservative county councillor for Saffron Walden, said: "It has not taken long for the cracks to appear and now the district council will get three even more inexperienced portfolio holders in important roles."