Local plan in Uttlesford could be delayed again after “another costly plan failure”

PUBLISHED: 08:47 20 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 November 2018

Uttlesford District Council, Saffron Walden. Picture: SaffronPhoto

Uttlesford District Council, Saffron Walden. Picture: SaffronPhoto

SaffronPhoto 2016

Uttlesford District Council’s (UDC) local plan may be delayed again after an independent consultant found “significant concerns” in its sustainability appraisal.

The sustainability appraisal (SA) is a process that must be carried out during the preparation of any local plan and its role is to promote sustainable development by assessing the extent to which the plan will help to achieve environmental, economic and social objectives.

UDC was prompted to review its local plan before submitting the document for inspection in January after an SA for three new settlements between Braintree and Colchester, put together by North Essex Garden Communities, was deemed inadequate by a planning inspector earlier this year.

Anticipating similar problems might arise with the Uttlesford plan, the district council commissioned AECOM, a leading development and planning consultant, to review its appraisal.

A key conclusion of the consultant’s report says the council gave undue preference to sites promoted by landowners and developers and recommends the council should “undertake a fresh, objective and comparative appraisal of garden community options based on a range of different sizes as well as on the merits of the sites, not what is being promoted by developers”.

UDC officers obtained legal advice on the SA review and the legal advice strongly recommended fundamental updating of the SA and a period of consultation once the updated SA is published, which would delay the submission of the plan in January.

The prospect of further delay and another “costly plan failure” has led Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) to call for the resignation of Councillor Susan Barker, portfolio holder for Uttlesford’s local plan.

R4U chairman, Councillor John Lodge said: “AECOM’s recommendation of how to properly fix the flaws in UDC’s local plan means it could be delayed a further two years. For seven years we’ve seen a catalogue of failures by local plan lead Cllr Barker, who was appointed to the district council cabinet position to oversee the Uttlesford local plan in 2011.

“Since then the planning inspector has handed her a string of rejections, including her whole draft local plan in 2014; her marquee Kier housing site in Saffron Walden in 2015; and her misguided flagship ‘Hellsenham’ new town in 2016. Delay-after-delay has cost residents a whopping £5million, which is £164 per council tax bill. Residents have lost confidence in her, and it is time she resigned.”

StopNUtown Action Group has also reacted with “dismay” to the possibility of further delay of the local plan.

“The implications of delaying the local plan are far reaching,” a spokesman for StopNUtown said. “If the district cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply the council will lose control and expose the district to predatory development. The way UDC ignores realities and staggers from one crisis to the next is appalling. The money wasted and the way the council has lost public confidence over the past four years is a tragedy.

“We might be better served by handing the district plan to the Planning Inspectorate and asking them to do it. At least that way we would get an objective, legally compliant and efficient outcome.”

The council says the costs associated with the SA review and the updated SA can be met from the local plan forecasted spend for 2018-19.

Officers had considered not updating the SA or updating it with a ‘light touch’, in light of the findings of the SA review, however officers are of the view that more significant updating is appropriate.

Cllr Barker declined to comment until the matter had been discussed at a meeting of the planning policy working group, scheduled for tonight (Tuesday), but said “all members have been fully engaged in this process and not just the administration”.

A spokesman for UDC said: “Following the inspector’s letter to the North Essex Authorities and the close of representation period on the local plan, the council commissioned AECOM to review the SA of the local plan.

“This review, due to be discussed this evening (Tuesday), identified a number of recommendations to address the issues identified in the review, as well as three potential options for dealing with these recommendations. Following legal advice, the council has asked AECOM to update the SA of the local plan.

“An updated SA is expected in December, and it is anticipated that the updated SA will be published to allow representations to be made. The council still aims to submit the local plan on or before January 24, and does not expect that the updated SA will change this.”

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