23rd December 2014, Saffron Walden: Residents for Uttlesford (R4U), the local advocacy party for towns and villages, has renewed calls for accountability in the Local Plan crisis and criticised Uttlesford District Council’s response to the Planning Inspectorate’s complete rejection of their Plan.
Dr Richard Freeman, joint head of policy at R4U said “In his damning final report the Inspector expands on his rejection of the Uttlesford Local Plan and it paints a much worse picture. We already know that he cancelled the examination when he found that UDC had fudged the housing numbers and selection of sites. However he’s now reporting other significant issues, including a potential of up to £50m of unfunded road investment. It is disappointing that the UDC Cabinet is still claiming the refusal is only a small problem. But worse than that, last week the Tory majority blocked an independent chair to oversee the creation of new Plan and denied residents any seat at the table. They don’t get it so it’s time for a wholesale change at the Council.”
On December 19th Planning Inspector Roy Foster issued his final report into the Local Plan rejection. In a statement issued in response, UDC Leader Howard Rolfe stated that whilst he acknowledged the report, “there are a number of positives we can take from his conclusions.”
In response Dan Starr, R4U co-founder said “’Positives’!? UDC is only one of 15 authorities to ever have their Local Plans refused. And they spent £ millions of our money on it – where are the positives in that? The UDC Leader really is the ‘Sultan of spin‘ and his statements are disingenuous to the tax payers of Uttlesford. The Inspector’s final report gives NO comfort. Before instructing the Council to withdraw it, he says UDC must produce ‘a plan fundamentally different in character from that submitted’. It is only right that the Council should apologise to taxpayers, hold someone to account for this complete failure, and start a new process with residents at the table.”
Notes for Editors:
In his final Uttlesford Local Plan examination report, Inspector Roy Foster heavily criticised the Plan and included the following reasons for his decision:
- UDC had not calculated the housing numbers properly and so 10% more may be needed;
- UDC preferred option of Elsenham was an unsuitable location for large scale development;
- He doubted that the existing towns and villages, including Saffron Walden, Dunmow and Stansted Mountfitchet, could take many more houses;
- UDC’s should revert to their previous new settlement approach, which would cater for the majority of new homes well into the future;
- The selection process for new settlement locations should be restarted, be based on evidence, and be more transparent;
- UDC had failed to cooperate properly with others during the plan formation;
- There were significant questions over proposals for roads, including a unfunded £50m potential investment in the M11 by 2025, and deliverability of roads in Saffron Walden.
These were all issues with the Local Plan that town/parish councils, planning experts and residents groups had highlighted to UDC well before it was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. The Plan had also been rejected twice during consecutive public consultations, each time by more than 99%.
The following is a specific excerpt from the Inspector’s final report that underscores the magnitude of the issues he found with the Plan:
4.2 As I indicated on 3 December, my normal strong inclination would be to keep an examination of a Development Plan moving forward wherever possible in order to minimise any disruption to the planning process. However, the scale of work which the Council would need to undertake to propose and consult upon changes to deal with the above matters would (a) be considerably greater than could be completed within the normal maximum 6-month period of a suspended examination and (b) result in a plan fundamentally different in character from that submitted. Suspension would therefore not be appropriate.