Independent planners question Westminster motives for punitive action against Uttlesford

Independent planning experts have been questioning the government’s real motives for taking control of major planning decisions in Uttlesford.

Cllr John Evans, UDC portfolio holder for Planning and the Local Plan, said “The Conservative government’s decision to allow property developers to bypass local resident-led decisions on major planning applications raises big questions about their political motivations. We don’t believe nor accept their accusations of poor performance by our Residents Administration at UDC. The majority of the problems being used as reasons for the government’s intervention happened 3 years ago under the previous administration – not ours. Since 2019 R4U has made excellent progress in fixing the mess we inherited, even winning the prestigious RTPI Best Planning Excellence 2021 award.”

Rosie Pearson Rosie Pearson

Commenting on the Government sanction, Rosie Pearson, Co-Founder of the Community Planning Alliance, an independent think tank, said online “Last year, according to the government, there were ten local authorities with a lower percentage of planning decisions granted than Uttlesford. So why has government taken data from the previous administration into account, when the council is showing clear determination to clear up the mess it inherited? For me, there’s only one conclusion: the Conservatives did not like losing to the independents and they do not like independent-thinking residents standing up against a planning system which rides roughshod over local communities. Government suppression of an independent council that has been putting measures in place to change some of the planning problems it inherited is not a good look.”

Joey Gardiner, an award-winning public policy journalist, speaking to building industry commentators for Planning Resource, asked “Was the independently-run [Uttlesford] district council singled out because it was politically an easy target?” In response, Simon Cox, founder and managing director of land agency Walter Cooper, said “I don’t think you have to be cynical to notice that Uttlesford just happens to not be a Conservative authority. Previous threats to intervene [elsewhere] were never followed up – you have to ask why now? Why Uttlesford?”

John Evans (R4U)John Evans (R4U)

Cllr John Evans concluded “There are questions about the real reasons why the Government intervened now. When electors voted R4U to take control of UDC in 2019, planning was in poor shape, but it isn’t now. We commissioned an independent review and have been implementing the recommendations. A new chief executive of UDC has been appointed, who has recruited new planning officers to the team and is hiring a new head of planning. UDC’s performance is now in line with its peers. The Government has taken no action against worse-performing local authorities, and we believe that, with local elections due next year, this current action is entirely politically motivated. The result of their action will result in thousands of unaffordable and unsustainable new houses being pushed onto our district by the backdoor without the say-so of local residents.”

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