R4U Councillor Update: Neil Hargreaves & Jo Parry

There has been a lot going on at our District Council including some senior management changes. The new chief executive, Dawn French, previously at Basildon Borough Council, joined on 29th February. Dawn has asked councillors to show her round their wards and wants to know what issues residents have, so Jo and I will be taking her up on that!

And the Head of Planning Andrew Taylor is leaving UDC on the 8th April, moving to a large firm of developers. UDC is recruiting a replacement. Planning applications now, and the Local Plan for development up to 2033, are for many residents highly sensitive matters, so this is a key appointment.

The new local Plan, which initially we considered as being developed in a more open and objective manner than the previous rejected plan, is unfortunately not progressing as we expected. The adoption date for the Plan has been put back nine months from March to December 2017 and the previously announced public consultation on the proposed sites has been dropped. These changes were presented at the end of January to the cross party Plan Working Group without warning or explanation.

Requests from Residents for Uttlesford and Libdem members of the Working Group for officers to supply explanations and a coherent timetable were refused by the Chair and not allowed to be voted on.

Further pressure from the minority party members of the Working Group, including Jo Parry, has resulted in some information relating to the schedule. But it is not very convincing, and a full project management process and tools, considered standard practice elsewhere, appear lacking. The Working Party, not being a Committee, has neither rules, nor terms of reference, and it reports to the Cabinet which is chaired by the same person who chairs the working group, and who is also council leader. The removal of the public consultation means residents and businesses will have no opportunity to comment on the intended development sites for our district from now to 2033. Parish councils have, however, been invited to comment on the factual accuracy of the assessments of sites put forward by landowners in the ‘Call for Sites’.

Our fear is if this project is not managed professionally, and excludes the opinions of residents and leaves the minority party councillors fighting to be shown evidence for decisions, the Plan may again be rejected by the Inspector.

Further delay would leave the district open to more unplanned major housing applications. The Government has threatened to step in and enforce plans on recalcitrant councils

A Newport matter which has some impact on Quendon & Rickling (almost literally) is that a request has been raised to improve diversion signs relating to the railway bridge strikes. The current signage is weak and misleading, (and from the north was demolished a few months ago and has not been repaired!). Essex Highways say a study has been done and a report will be available in time for the March Highways Panel meeting, which considers projects for the next financial year. The bridge is hit about three times a year, and there are many more near misses which also stop all traffic as the large vehicles have difficulty reversing out (and cause significant damage)

Everyone by now will have got their 2016/17 council tax bills. UDC at present has very substantial funds as a result of the New Homes Bonus, a government scheme paying £8000 per completed house to ‘persuade’ councils to push development, and which therefore made up a large part of UDC income. However the government is dropping the scheme. It continues for 2016/17 but will be tailed off after that. UDC councillors get a share of this for use in their wards and the allocation remains at £3000 per councillor.

Our New Homes Bonus allocations for last year have included funds for repair work on the bus stop and donations to the primary school and the Armadillos toddler group. In the rest of the Ward there have been funds for Newport primary school, and the other toddler groups, Scouts, Brownie packs and the Newport Youth Centre, work on the churches and Red Cross training.

If you would like to raise council matters with us directly we attend the PC meetings in the Village Hall, on a rota basis so one of us is always there!

The Newport Annual Meeting will be held on 25th April, 7:30pm start @ Church House. UDC Cabinet Leader & PPWG Chair Cllr Howard Rolfe will also be attending if you have specific questions. All Welcome!