I recently sent the following letter to the local papers:
It seems that Uttlesford is a rotten borough indeed. You recently published an article about developer Kier demanding that UDC pay their planning appeal costs due to UDC’s maladministration of the planning process. These could run into £ hundreds-of-thousands of our council tax money, and would be on top of the £2 million UDC wasted on the rejected Local Plan.
UDC’s legal defence against this makes shocking reading. It highlights the grubby and secretive tactics undertaken by the District Council administration to circumvent and manipulate the quasi-judicial planning process. It also shows that behind the scenes they have been working against residents, town and parish councils.
The Planning Committee is supposed to be an independent body. It refused the Kier application on proper sustainability grounds. However in their legal defence against costs, UDC has now admitted that after the refusal, its most senior people, including the Chief Executive, held secret meetings with Kier to encourage them to submit a second planning application. This was with the express aim of perverting the course of the appeal on the first. UDC indicated that they would approve that second application, in complete disregard for the supposed independence of the Planning Committee and the decision that it previously made.
This seems to be exactly the same unethical tactic that the UDC administration undertook with their discredited plans for mass housebuilding in Elsenham, which was also rejected by the Planning Committee. Whilst that appeal was being prepared, the developer for the Elsenham site filed a second planning application to undermine the appeal on the first.
These admissions just underscore how desperate the current UDC administration is to push through their failed Local Plan at all costs to democracy and us. It is truly shocking behaviour and shows a complete disregard for what is proper, right and expected. They are clearly not working for Uttlesford residents, and we need a wholesale change in the May district elections.
Cllr John Lodge Residents for Uttlesford
Below is the information that substantiates the claims.
In their defence papers, in summary UDC stated that (the verbatim copy below):
- The most senior officers of UDC, including the Chief Executive, held a closed door meeting to which they invited Kier (paragraph 21). UDC Leader Cllr Howard Rolfe has also been implicated in an email sent by Kier to UDC’s Andrew Taylor;
- At the meeting UDC encouraged Kier to submit a second application so that they (both) could circumvent the due and proper Appeal process with the express goal of approving Kier’s application (paragraph 21). It is worth noting that this tactic would not only nullify the appeal process but waste the Saffron Walden Town Council’s tax money and that of resident donors – which totalled £50,000;
- If a second application were to be submitted the independent, proper and quasi-judicial operation of the Planning Committee would be overruled and UDC would grant planning permission (paragraph 18);
The first Kier planning application was refused by the UDC Planning Committee on April 30th 2014. It was found to be significantly unsustainable. It was refused on legitimate and defensible grounds, namely that it would breach local planning policies S1, S7, ENV3, ENV5, ENV13 and would be contrary to the national planning policies (NPPF), including paragraphs 30, 34, 35, 58, 69, 72, 109. It was also refused on direct guidance for Saffron Walden from the Secretary of State for DEFRA that specifically advised UDC to refuse applications that made the already illegal air quality in Saffron Walden worse, as this application would.
The statements below are the verbatim extracted from UDC’s formal response to Keir’s request that the Planning Inspectorate award costs against UDC. The full document can be downloaded from here.
APPEAL REF: APP /C1570/A/14/2221494
RE: LAND NORTH AND SOUTH OF THAXTED ROAD, SAFFRON WALDEN
RESPONSE TO APPLICATION FOR COSTS ON BEHALF OF UTTLESFORD DISTRICT COUNCIL (Issued 20th March 2015)
- Furthermore, and in any event, the Appellant has singularly failed to mitigate its costs. Once the Council had reviewed its position on the appeal and decided not to defend, it was open to the Appellant at any time to resubmit the application. It choose not to do so. If and when that application was approved by the Council (as was bound to happen given the Council’s positon on the appeal), the appeal could have been withdrawn and the costs avoided.
- The option of the Appellant’s resubmitting the application in this case – and thus avoiding the costs of the appeal – is not simply a hypothetical. Discussions were had between the Council (a the highest level- including their Chief Executive, Mr John Mitchell, the Assistant Director of Planning and Building Control Mr Andrew Taylor and Mr Roger Harborough, the Director of Public Services) and the Appellant (represented by their Chief Executive, Managing Director and Planning Director) following the refusal of permission during which the Council Officer’s encouraged a resubmission of the application. As can be seen from the email attached to this costs response on 10 September 2014 – after the Council had resolved not to defend the appeal – Mr Ian Mitchell explained that the Appellant had elected not submit a further application.