Local Plan inspection is ‘best option’ to protect Uttlesford communities

Uttlesford District Council has written to the Planning Inspectors to say they see no reason why the Local Plan should not go to examination next week. Read on to find out R4U’s take on it and all about the Local Plan.

John Lodge (R4U)John Lodge (R4U)

New council, new Plan?

R4U’s Cllr John Lodge, leader at UDC said “Uttlesford District Council changed control in May. This was after the Local Plan had been submitted by the previous council so the Inspectors have asked a reasonable question. They want to know whether the new council want to withdraw the Local Plan and start again, or let it continue to inspection. The decision is a difficult one because R4U has had a number of concerns. However Uttlesford needs a Local Plan and on balance to withdraw would be disastrous for all Uttlesford residents.”

Assurances Plan fixed and ready

Cllr John Lodge said “It is not possible for the new council to review 10 years’ worth of Local Plan documentation and evidence and reach a conclusion in the 10 weeks it has had. We have to accept the assurances made by council officers and the previous administration that this plan has now been fixed and is 100% ready for inspection. If that is found not to be the case, then we are committed to work with the Inspector to resolve any issues to create the best outcome for Uttlesford residents.”

Developer free-for-all

Cllr John Lodge added “It is critical to understand the impact to our communities if this plan was withdrawn or rejected. Previous UDC administrations have been working on it for more than a decade. It has been withdrawn, delayed or rejected multiple times. The delays have costs council taxpayers £millions. Every time there is a delay the number of new houses the government requires Uttlesford to provide goes up. Since 2011 the government’s requirement has doubled to more than 700 new homes a year, every year. As a result our district already has one of the fastest house-building rates in the country.”

16,000+ more homes if withdrawn

UDC leader John Lodge concluded  “This current Plan requires the Council to plan for 7,000 additional houses because 7,000 have already been approved since the Plan started. If the Plan is withdrawn we are back to zero and our district will need to find room for more than 16,000 in our towns, villages and countryside this time – that is a similar size to Bishops Stortford. The government is also penalising councils without a plan by increasing their housing numbers further. Equally as concerning is that the government has said they may step in to dictate where houses go where plans fail. Local communities will lose all control. We are already suffering a developer-free-for-all and we cannot let that happen. We must commit to picking the most sustainable option that protects as much of our district as possible and then work to minimise the impacts. This plan must go to inspection – it is the best option to protect Uttlesford communities in the long term.”

About the Local Plan

A local plan is designed to balance economic, social and environmental objectives to come up with the best evidence to set out how land will be used. The government expects every planning authority to have one, and that includes Uttlesford District Council. The plan needs to identify exactly which land will be used to build the new homes that are mandated by the government. A Local Plan is required to be at least 15 years in length.

The Local Plan that is starting inspection at the beginning of July was approved and submitted by the previous council administration.

Local Plan by the numbers

In very simplistic terms it details the 7,100 houses that have been built/approved; says where 2,600 will be built in existing settlements before 2033; and provides a high level summary 3 new settlement’s in which a total of 4,800 houses will be built by 2033. Most of the exact details of each of those new settlements has been deferred to later mini Plans. These will follow a similar evidence gathering, consultation and inspection process as the main Local Plan (see below).

Here are the details of this Plan (full information here on the UDC website):

  • Plan length: 2011 – 2033
  • Number of new houses that must be permitted: 14,000
    • 568 per year from 2011 – 2022;
    • 705 per year from 2022 – 2033
  • The number already built or with permission: 7,129
  • The number of additional houses needed by 2033: 7,500
  • How many of the additional ones are in existing settlements: 2,680
  • How many of the additional ones are new settlements: 4,820

Since this Plan was submitted by the Conservatives a legal change by the government has come in that would require UDC to allow approximately 16,000 houses for any new Local Plan submitted in Uttlesford.

R4U and the Local Plan

In the past R4U has been critical about certain parts of the Local Plan strategy. These have included sustainability assessments; infrastructure proposals; financial viability modelling for new settlements; the relatively high housing numbers compared to adjoining authorities; and the failure of the neighbouring Braintree Local Plan, which could affect housing numbers. Some of these issues relate more to the later mini Plans for new settlements and not necessarily the document currently under examination. However a number of changes were made to the Plan by the previous council before it was submitted for examination by the Inspectors.

Council officers and the previous administration have made assurances to R4U and residents that the plan submitted has been fixed and is ready for inspection.

Outcomes of Inspection

The inspection is split in to 2 weeks, both in July. The first is from 2 – 4 July, and the second from 16 – 18. It is held at the UDC offices in Saffron Walden. The public can attend. Details can be found on the UDC website.

There are several outcomes of the Inspectors’ examination. These include finding the Local Plan:

  1. Sound: This means it the Inspectors think it is fit for purpose and it moves to the next phase. This outcome provides the most protection against predatory development in settlements across the district.
  2. Partially sound: This means that the Inspectors have some issues with parts of the plan, but are generally happy with most of it. In this case they will suggest which parts need to be fixed, and probably instruct the Council to come back with revisions in a short fixed period of time. This provides some level of protection against predatory development and is the cheapest way to fix a plan.
  3. Unsound: This means that the Inspector has major concerns with the plan and will ask the Council to withdraw it and start again. This happened in 2014 under the previous Conservative administration. It took them 5 years to produce and submit a new plan. Any new plan would likely take a similar time and need to find a place for c16,000 new houses.

Impact of rejection

If the plan fails inspection or is withdrawn, it will need to be started again. This means in all likelihood a large number of existing 7,100 homes that have been built or already have permission cannot be counted. Additionally since the plan was submitted the government has increased the number of new homes Uttlesford will need to find place for. If the plan is withdrawn the new numbers will apply. This is about 2,000 more houses. That means if the Plan needs to be restarted and the existing permissions are not allowed we will need to find place for 16,000+ new homes, not the 7,500 that are in the Plan that is being inspected.

Mini Local Plans to follow

Unless the Plan is found unsound, the next phase for the council is to produce DPDs, which are in effect mini Local Plans in their own right. They are intended to provide all the details of new settlements. Those go through their own public consultation and inspector processes just like a full Local Plan. They are required to prove that the proposed new settlements are financially viable, that they are in the best, most sustainable locations, and that the houses can be delivered.