New Uttlesford party find they can’t please all the people all the time
The Uttlesford EiP opened in the first week of July to an encounter between the strict arbiters of planning guidance and what to make of local realpolitik.
The inspectors (Louise Crosby and Elaine Worthington) opened the first day by making reference to a Planning Resource article from the previous week, which made reference to comments from the new leader of the council, John Lodge, whose party Residents 4 Uttlesford (R4U) swept to power in the May elections. Mr. Lodge had said that withdrawing the plan at this stage would be the worst option and that instead of withdrawing a plan prepared under the previous Conservative administration, the council would try to persuade the inspector to reduce the 14,000 homes by 2,000, through modifications. The inspector asked Uttlesford District Council (UDC) officers a number of questions in relation to this: 1) is the article accurate? And 2) what is the status of the R4U Regulation 19 representations?
The inspectors had previously written to the council to warn: “Residents for Uttlesford’s’ representations raised several significant concerns about the plan. These include a detailed objection to the sustainability appraisal. Other representations say that the plan is not justified or effective and is unsound in relation to the delivery of infrastructure, lack of provision of green infrastructure, lack of economic strategy, the lack of cognisance of the Stansted Airport Expansion, lack of financial modelling for the new settlements, lack of evidence to support the spatial strategy, inadequate transport study, missing air quality assessment, objection to a site in Saffron Walden and conflict with the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) on a number of counts.
“These are fundamental objections that go to the heart of the plan’s strategy.”
They warned that if the new council was not convinced of the soundness of its own plan, it should consider withdrawing. In 2014, the first draft plan began the same examination process and was rejected by the inspectorate for being unsustainable
Uttlesford leader Cllr John Lodge said: The decision is a difficult one because R4U has had a number of concerns. However, on balance to withdraw would be disastrous for all Uttlesford residents.
“It is critical to understand the impact to our communities if this plan was withdrawn or rejected.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.
“This current plan requires us to take 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 14,000 in our towns, villages and countryside – that is a similar size to Bishops Stortford.”
Under these circumstances, he warned the government could seize control of both the numbers and locations of new homes.
For the Examination in Public, the council have Michael Bedford QC acting for them. Under questioning from the inspectors, he referred to the letter sent 27th June in response to the inspectors’ letter. This sets out that the official council position remains the decision made on 9th Oct 2018, that the plan is sound and ready for examination. Full council have not revisited this decision and so the council view has not changed. He also reassured the inspector that there is no plan to go back to full council. MBQC reminded inspectors that this examination is a formal process therefore should be cautious in placing any reliance on things not formally submitted as evidence to the EiP.