For the past year I have been negotiating (doing battle) with the planning department of Uttlesford District Council, who gave planning permission for Countryside Properties to build a development of 40 houses, then allowed them to remove a substantial section of foliage from a beautiful bridleway which leads directly onto a woodland walk.
During this time the Council’s planning department have been downright ineffective. They failed to respond to the complaints of a number of concerned local residents – we told them that Countryside Properties planned to cut the trees down but they took no preventative measures – and in doing so they failed the local people. The locals formed a group and escalated the situation to the Chief Executive – and still received no sensible action – and then met with representatives of Countryside Properties – again no sensible action.
A planning officer finally came out to assess the situation when we threatened to make the situation public via social media. He threw his hands up in horror and promised to take a firm stance. Since then the situation has deteriorated to the point where the builders are intimidating local residents, repeatedly driving a digger down the bridlepath and causing further damage, and erecting fencing in the wrong place (to the disadvantage of bridlepath users of course). The planning officer sent Countryside Properties 2 stern emails and has had 2 meetings with them – why then are things getting worse?
Countryside Properties clearly see the planning department as a joke; the planning department seem to be accountable to no one; residents are treated as fools. Having failed to reason with them, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We contacted our local paper and were featured on the front page, which garnered huge local support but still didn’t achieve any positive action from the council.
At this point I was approached by Residents for Uttlesford to represent them in the Takeley ward for the local election. They aim to provide a strong, independent voice for people that live in Uttlesford and believe that on local issues, locals should decide and not the national party whip. They had heard about our bridlepath campaign and thought I could make a positive change for the people of Takeley. I immediately saw that our core values matched and was delighted to take up the challenge! Shortly after some of my neighbours filmed a short film clip about the bridlepath and uploaded it to YouTube – we shared it on Facebook and Twitter and in 10 days we achieved 700 views! This gained the interest of the local papers again. Hopefully we will finally achieve recognition from Uttlesford DC that we are not going to disappear and that we want our trees back!
This issue is important to me for several reasons. Firstly, the trees were beautiful and there was no need for them to be cut down, especially by a developer called “Countryside Properties”. What kind of example does this set to the children we are trying to educate to protect our environment? But there are also underlying issues, most importantly the fact that the Uttlesford DC planning department are seemingly running free with no accountability for their actions, and that developers such as Countryside Properties know that they can get away with taking ludicrous liberties with no sanctions being brought against them. The council are supposed to protect the local people, not the developers, and yet throughout it has appeared to be the very opposite. If the council can’t bring their officers into line, then perhaps the accountability needs to begin at the very top of the council. It is my sincerest hope that the people of Takeley, and indeed the rest of Uttlesford, prove that they love where the live, take pride in where they live, and want to preserve that way of life… and that simply won’t happen if the Conservatives maintain their stronghold.