Recently we saw the first meeting of the Uttlesford Planning Policy Working Group (UPPWG) – a cross-party group which will be undertaking the construction of the new Local Plan for the district, following the failure of the original plan last year. I am pleased to represent R4U at this working group and will post reports after each meeting as clearly as possible!
The first task was to elect a Chairman. It was clear that this had been decided in advance – along the top of the square table sat Leader of the Council Howard Rolfe, with Cllr Susan Barker (Deputy Leader) to his right and John Mitchell (Chief Executive) and Roger Harborough (Director of Public Services) on his left. Officers of the Council were ranged down one side with Conservative councillors across the bottom. This left the fourth side for the two Liberal Democrat members and me. This did not promise a good start – it did not feel like a group dedicated to working together.
I immediately objected to the nomination of Cllr Rolfe as Chairman – it does not seem good practice for the Leader of the Council to be a member of a working group (which reports directly to the Cabinet), let alone Chairman of it. He will be reporting to himself! However, given the political balance of the group the subsequent vote was inevitable – so much for the group working on non-political grounds. Not a good start.
There were a number of representations from the public, including John Lodge and Dan Starr. Throughout the meeting the public was allowed to speak – the Chairman seemed uncomfortable with this, but to his credit he continued to allow it; a good thing which I hope will continue. Public concerns were with the process going forward, and more specifically with the merging of the Plan with the Gypsy and Travellers’ Sites Local Plan.
The path forward was explained to the meeting by Andrew Taylor (Assistant Director Planning and Building Control). The first step will be to update the Strategic Housing Market (SMHA) to inform the new objectively obsessed need. This has been commissioned as a joint piece of work with Epping Forest, East Herts and Harlow Councils. We need to know how many houses must be built in Uttlesford before any site decisions can be made.
The meeting overall was rather odd. The right items were discussed, and the right decisions made, but the feel was of a council meeting and not of a working group. Individuals were addressed as “Councillor” and strict adherence to order of speaking, with hand raising required, was implemented. I hope that future meetings will be a little less formal and enable us to work clearly and effectively together – that will be down to the Chairman.