Officers and councillors at Uttlesford District Council were quizzed over the delay to the council’s draft of its latest Local Plan at a scrutiny meeting last night (June 30).

The council has twice failed to pass a Local Plan, a blueprint which sets out how it would achieve its housing targets, under successive administrations.

Councillor John Evans (Residents for Uttlesford, Felsted and Stebbing) told the committee a new site which could be developed had emerged and the council needed the extra time to properly consider its impact on the overall plan.

He said: “Delay is necessary because of the prospect of an additional special opportunity which has emerged.”

He later said: “This has arisen not as a result of any political view being taken by the administration but on the contrary has arisen as a result of the good work which has been undertaken by our policy team.”

Earlier this year Uttlesford District Council was designated, the equivalent of being put in special measures, due to the number of its decisions on major planning applications being overturned at appeal.

This means developers can currently choose to bypass the council and apply directly to the government planning inspector.

Councillor Christian Criscione (Con, Flitch Green and Little Dunmow) said the delay was “clearly disappointing” but that members did not know enough about the new site and its potential impact, to comment fully on it.

He also challenged Cllr Evans and Local Plans and New Communities Manager Stephen Miles on whether landowners could come forward with new sites and further delay the plan in the future.

He said: “The problem I have at the moment is that we have apparently got this really new and exciting proposal for the council that’s going to completely change the way we’ve looked at the local plan to date and present us with another option that we’re all going to be happy with.

“In reality, I’d be worried about the testing that we have undertaken to date to get to that conclusion.”

Mr Miles said the call for sites, where local landowners can come forward with potential sites for development, had closed in April, meaning the council is no longer accepting new sites.

However, despite this, the council is still actively looking for new sites itself, which is how the new opportunity has arisen.

Earlier this month, the council’s Lib Dem and Green opposition warned in a statement developers could exploit the situation.

Group leader Melvin Caton (Lib Dem and Green Alliance, Stansted South and Birchanger) said in the statement: “A six month delay before the first draft of the Plan goes out to consultation will have unwelcome consequences as developers will seek to exploit the situation by submitting further speculative applications whilst the Council has an out-of-date plan and no five year land supply. The damage caused will be irreparable.”

Members at the committee also discussed the possibility of multiple versions of the plan going to public consultation, although Cllr Evans said it was too early to confirm how many options there would be.

The first draft of the district council’s latest local plan is now expected in November this year.