Uttlesford Local Plan 2019 Examination Result: Frequently Asked Questions

Uttlesford Local Plan Timeline
  • Jan 2005: Local Plan adopted
  • May 2011: Conservative UDC administration starts new Local Plan
  • Jan 2012: Strategy adopted to build new town joining Elsenham & Henham and extending larger towns and villages
  • Mar 2013: Required housing number increases from 338 to 415 a year
  • Oct 2013: Plan extended to 15+ years length after Planning Inspector intervention
  • Oct 2014: Required housing number increases to 523 a year
  • Nov 2014: Plan cumulative cost: £2m
  • Dec 2014: Plan rejected by Planning Inspector for multiple failures
  • Sep 2015: Required housing number increases to 568 a year
  • Aug 2016: Major delay as UDC’s flagship new town site rejected by Secretary of State
  • Oct 2016: Local Plan air quality study for Saffron Walden fails scrutiny review
  • Oct 2016: R4U writes to Planning Inspector to highlight on-going failures
  • Oct 2016: Major plan delay as unsustainable “Greater Walden” town extension abandoned due to road capacity
  • Jun 2017: New strategy adopted for 3 new towns near at Easton Park, near Great Chesterford and near Stebbing/Felsted
  • Jul 2017: Required housing number increases to 641 a year
  • Jul 2017: Major delay after further public consultation required
  • Jun 2018: Neighbouring Braintree Plan rejected bringing into question conjoined new town at Stebbing/Felsted
  • Jun 2018: Required housing number increases to 705 a year from 2022
  • Aug 2018: Plan cumulative cost: £4m
  • Sep 2018: Further delay plan after Braintree Plan refusal
  • Nov 2018: Independent consultant AECOM finds multiple failures
  • Jan 2019: New draft Local Plan submitted to Inspector
  • May 2019: Conservative administration replaced by R4U
  • Jun 2019: Local Plan Examination undertaken  (of previous administration’s Plan)
  • Jan 2020: Plan cumulative cost: £6m
  • Jan 2020: Previous administration’s Plan rejected by Planning Inspector for multiple failures
The Planning Inspector has found the 2019 draft Uttlesford Local Plan unsound after the first stage of the formal examination. UDC now needs to either fix the issues in the plan or create a new plan. The finding by the Inspectors detailed in their letter to UDC leaves a number of questions unanswered, so read our answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Isn’t this the worst possible outcome? The outcome does create a number of problems. Without a Local Plan housing developers have more free rein over where they want to build new homes, which means they may get built in unsustainable locations in our towns and villages. It will mean more cost for the taxpayer to create a new or revised Local Plan. Additionally the number of new houses that the government will require UDC to approve will go up. Read more about the impacts of a Plan being found unsound here.
  2. Who is responsible for this failure? This draft Local Plan was created by the previous Conservative UDC administration and submitted to the Planning Inspectors for examination in early in 2019. In between the Plan being submitted and the examination, the Conservative Uttlesford council administration was swept away and replaced by local party Residents for Uttlesford (R4U). In other words the council administration that created and submitted the Plan to the Inspector is no longer in control of UDC, but the new administration and residents need to live with the consequences (see first FAQ 1.). R4U believes that the previous administration has badly let residents down.
  3. Didn’t this happen before? Yes the previous draft Local Plan (also created by the previous Conservative UDC administration) was also found unsound in 2014 and so UDC withdrew it and started again.
  4. Why did the Planning Inspectors find the Plan unsound? The Inspectors (there were 2 of them) found fault with the: evidence base; transport and infrastructure provision; financial viability of the plan, i.e. if it could be afforded; control over the delivery of new settlements; proposals to build 3 new towns all at the same time; locations of where new homes would go; and impact to the historic environment of the proposed new settlements at Great Chesterford and Easton Park. They concluded their report with “The Garden Communities are insufficiently justified and have not been shown to have a reasonable prospect of being delivered as submitted.” and finished with “The strategy set out in the plan is unsound.” The full Inspectors’ letter can be read here (PDF).
  5. Shouldn’t someone be held accountable for this failure and waste of tax-payers money? At R4U we have consistently said that the previous Conservative administration’s Local Plan was flawed for many of the same reasons it has now shown to be. That is why, unlike the other parties, R4U refused to countersign it when they submitted it, even though assurances were given that it was fine. With the Conservative Uttlesford council administration being replaced by local party Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) in the recent election, the electorate has already removed those that are ultimately accountable. However it is important to know what and where things went wrong inside the council. R4U now leads the council so will do this. R4U believes that Uttlesford District Council needs to be re-engineered so that it is able to be a proper strategic ‘place-maker’ for our district and plan strategically for our future. The senior officer team have embraced this and we have already started a number of projects to get it underway.
  6. Why didn’t R4U consider withdrawing the plan after it was submitted and before the Inspectors examined it? Even though we still had concerns about the draft Local Plan, the previous administration assured R4U that it was sound and ready for examination, and so it would have been imprudent to withdraw it. R4U also felt that once it had been submitted it was important that it carried on to independent examination by the Inspectors to identify any shortcomings so that it wasn’t just our opinion. Most importantly allowing it to proceed was also the best option for the district; if it had been found sound, or mainly sound, it would have capped the number of new homes, provided certainty for our towns and villages, and limited the current developer free-for-all. You can read more about this here.
  7. What happens now? UDC is required to either fix the current plan or start again. For either option this would include working out how many houses are required, the formulation of the strategy as to where new homes should go, a call for development sites, and consulting with the public and other authorities. The council is required to do this in an open and transparent manner. All councillors from all parties will agree which is the best option. It may take up to a month for them to do this.
  8. How long will it take to produce a new plan and how much will it cost? Based on previous experience it is likely to take UDC several years to develop a new plan and cost £3-4 million.
  9. How much has the Local Plan cost so far? So far £6 million has been spent, the vast majority by the previous Conservative Administration on their 2 Local Plans, both that were found unsound by Inspectors.
  10. What is a Local Plan? A Local Plan is a strategic master plan for a district that decides where all the new houses and jobs should be created. It also says what infrastructure, such as roads and schools, is required to support them. The Local Plan is required to cover at least 15 years and the government requires each planning authority (in our case Uttlesford District Council) to have one that is up to date.
  11. How many houses must Uttlesford allow and who gets to decide? The government requires each planning authority (in our case UDC) councils to allow 100s of new homes a year. In our case that is between 500-700 per year, for a total of 14,000 over the length of the Local Plan. Every year the numbers go up as the UK population increases, so for every year of delay in delivering a Local Plan, the government requires the council to find space for more new homes.
  12. Will all the same sites targeted for new houses that were part of this failed Local Plan also be part of any new or revised plan? The Inspectors have been quite clear about issues they have found with particular sites, both as a result of this examination, and previously in 2014. It would be difficult for all of those sites to return without significant changes in what was proposed. However it is too early to say; the process requires evidence to dictate the best and most sustainable locations for new homes, and the existing evidence needs to be revisited and a new evidence base built. It is a big job and until then it is unclear.
  13. What did the Inspectors say about new settlements? They believed that 3 new settlements were too many to do at once for a small rural authority such as Uttlesford District Council. They suggested that 2 was probably the maximum that should be contemplated. They felt that the North Uttlesford Garden Village (proposed near Great Chesterford) was probably the one that raised the most concerns. They also suggested that more development should be allowed in our existing towns and villages. What is clear from the Inspectors’ letter is that wherever the evidence shows that new development should go will require a significant infrastructure investment.
  14. Isn’t it now an open season for developers? As long as UDC has an up to date Local Plan and it is able to show it has a 5-year pipeline of new homes that meets the government’s numbers it is able to defend its planning refusals. UDC now doesn’t have an up to date Local Plan, so it is less able to defend against predatory development. The required number of new houses is constantly going up and UDC is not able to show it has the required 5-year supply. That means it is more likely that predatory development will continue and UDC will be limited in its ability to fight it.