Uttlesford Council may not fight appeal over controversial 300-home scheme in Saffron Walden
08:16 03 August 2014
Uttlesford District Council (UDC) is expected to follow up its decision not to defend the refusal of the controversial ‘Hellsenham’ application by trying to do the same with a 300-home scheme on the east of Saffron Walden.
Critics have blasted the authority, and in particular new leader Councillor Howard Rolfe, who last week claimed he had heard residents’ concerns and was committed to changing the council to become more transparent and accountable.
Kier Homes’ application, which included land for an athletics track and pitches to allow Saffron Walden Rugby Club to return to the town, was refused by the council’s planning committee earlier this year. It was judged by councillors that the scheme failed to meet a number of national planning policy and sustainability requirements. The firm has since lodged an appeal.
However, in a closed-doors full council meeting next Tuesday – not open to the public on legal grounds – the Reporter understands members will be advised to back legal advice not to defend the appeal by Kier.
Chair of campaign group WeAreResidents.org, Dan Starr, called the reported move “the same old politics by the back door” and said residents wanted change.
“It is unprecedented to ban the public from council meetings about major planning applications such as this,” Mr Starr said. “By hook or by crook the UDC leadership is still trying to force through their unsustainable and unpopular draft Local Plan.
“In June, they decided not to fight the large Elsenham appeal, and now they are using a closed-door meeting to try to force councillors to allow Kier to build 300 houses on the wrong side of Saffron Walden against the planning committee’s decision.
“The new leader doesn’t seem good to his word – this is not democratic and transparent government at all.”
Earlier this month, leader of the opposition Lib Dem group, Cllr Alan Dean, said residents felt “betrayed” following the decision not to fight the 800-home application between Elsenham and Henham.
A district council spokesman said it was “only occasionally” that the press and public were excluded from meetings in order to protect the council’s commercial or legal interests.
He said: “It is necessary to consider items under Part II, which excludes members of the press and public, when the matter affects the council’s commercial or legal interests.
“In this case, to discuss the matter in public could also undermine the interests of third parties, including We Are Residents. Ultimately it is a decision for councillors on the night to decide whether or not to discuss the item under Part II.”