Council withdraws Local Plan: ‘£4million from taxpayers will be spent’

Uttlesford District Council. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.

Uttlesford District Council. Photo: CONTRIBUTED. - Credit: Archant

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) has voted to withdraw the Local Plan, after independent inspectors found it “unsound” at the beginning of this year.

L-R: Cllrs Alan Dean, Geoffrey Sell, Melvin Caton, Ayub Khan. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

L-R: Cllrs Alan Dean, Geoffrey Sell, Melvin Caton, Ayub Khan. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Councillors at UDC have voted in an overwhelming majority to withdraw the plan submitted in early 2019 by the previous Conservative administration - and to start working on a new one.

Chairing the meeting, R4U Cllr Richard Freeman said that whether the council sought to repair the existing plan or look at a new one, independent assessment suggests £4million of taxpayers’ money would be spent.

The previous plan, which was found “unsound” by planning inspectors, would have seen 18,500 commercial and affordable homes built in three garden communities: Easton Park, North Uttlesford and West of Braintree - according to the independent inspector’s examination in January this year.

In a virtual extraordinary council meeting held on April 30 from 6pm, 31 councillors voted for the previous plan’s withdrawal and seven against.

R4U Councillor John Lodge, leader at Uttlesford District Council. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.

R4U Councillor John Lodge, leader at Uttlesford District Council. Photo: CONTRIBUTED. - Credit: Archant

Five of the councillors who voted against withdrawing the plan are the Liberal Democrats councillors who also proposed an amendment during the council meeting: Cllrs Melvin Caton and Ayub Khan (representing Stansted South and Birchanger), Alan Dean and Geoffrey Sell (Stansted North) and Janice Loughlin (Stort Valley).

Their amendment was criticised by other councillors as being a separate issue to be dealt with later rather than an amendment to the motion under discussion – that of whether the previous local plan should be withdrawn or not.

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The amendment suggested deferring the motion for further debate on reconsidering land and infrastructure, and ensuring an environmentally-friendly approach. It also criticised the current administration’s approach to the plan as ‘lacking public engagement’, not withdrawing the previous plan when “inspectors offered the opportunity in summer 2019”, ‘ruling out garden communities’ and a “two-fold increase in required housing under central government regulations”.

R4U Cllr for Elsenham and Henham, Petrina Lees, spoke against the amendment and highlighted all R4U councillors “engage with the public regularly, attend parish councils and inform people”. UDC Leader and R4U Councillor John Lodge called the Lib Dem claim that garden communities have been ruled out as “completely out of order”.

R4U Cllr Sandi Merifield. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.

R4U Cllr Sandi Merifield. Photo: CONTRIBUTED. - Credit: Archant

“It is our proposal to prepare a new plan where nothing has been ruled out or in,” Cllr Lodge said.

Lib Dem Cllr for Thaxted and the Eastons, Mike Tayler, went against his colleagues and voted against their amendment.

He said: “I cannot support the criticism of the administration for deciding to present the plan last year. What we now know is that the plan was deeply flawed, and we can learn from the criticism provided by the inspectors. We now have the knowledge that a new local plan would be able to incorporate what we have learned and therefore meet the need of our residents.”

Representing Little Easton Parish Council, chairman Andy Dodsley thanked the R4U administration for taking the steps it has been taking with regard to the Local Plan and labelled the inspectors’ recommendations as an “opportunity” to withdraw the previous plan.

Conservative Group Deputy Leader and Cllr Christian Criscione. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.

Conservative Group Deputy Leader and Cllr Christian Criscione. Photo: CONTRIBUTED. - Credit: Archant

He said: “Those of you who have previously supported the plan need to accept that it is fatally flawed and that the council needs to start again.

“We will not sit idly by if once again we get proposals which threaten to destroy the unique heritage and landscape of our beautiful district, and subject residents to future transport chaos.”

R4U Cllr for Felsted and Stebbing, Sandi Merifield, said the decision on whether to withdraw the previous plan or not is “very easy” - and based it on the inspectors’ recommendations and on the many letters from local people, the majority of which have asked for the plan to be withdrawn.

However, Conservative Group Leader and Councillor for High Easter and the Rodings, Susan Barker, called the latest inspectors’ decision “awful”.

She voted against withdrawing the plan, stating: “This was my plan”.

Cllr Barker said she had been working on the plan for many years and that the previous administration had government inspectors who all said they were on the right track.

“The government gave us £900,000 a couple of years ago to continue our work with garden communities. It would seem they thought we were on the right track,” she said, adding: “To deliver the housing number we now have, we need 300 hectares, as one and a half square miles. I wish the new administration well in trying to find where the public is happy with that. I tried many years; it’s never going to be popular.”

Flitch Green and Little Dunmow Cllr and Conservative Group Deputy Leader Christian Criscione said that, even though he is a developer in his day job, he would support the withdrawal of the previous plan.

He said the great historic, agriculture and cultural importance of the district mean that he will not be supporting housing developments ‘which cannot be justified’ - and that sustainability must be at the heart of the new local plan.

Cllr Criscione acknowledged benefits of the previous plan for certain groups of people, such as ‘those in his age group, under 30s’ - but added these benefits can be offered if the independent advice is followed: “Inspectors have been clear that we would need a comprehensive overhaul, leading to a certain increase in housing numbers.”