Lib Dems lodge formal complaint over Uttlesford District Council’s handling of prospective housing sites

Uttlesford District Council

Uttlesford District Council - Credit: Archant

Uttlesford’s Liberal Democrat group has lodged a formal complaint about the district council’s handling of prospective housing sites.

Councillors Alan Dean and David Morson investigated the repeated claims, by officers and cabinet members, that no landowner had come forward to offer up sites for housing development in Great Chesterford beyond those already listed in the Local Plan.

The pair have accused the council of blocking discussions with a planning agency, which wanted to hold a meeting about potential new housing in the village, and have said a “thorough, independent investigation is now unavoidable”.

Cllr Dean said: “We started last December to investigate what housing schemes were being proposed for Great Chesterford. We did this in the light of public discontent that the council seemed to be wedded to a major 2,100 development at Elsenham, but had been accused of ignoring alternatives at Great Chesterford and at places along the A120 corridor.

“We were told at a meeting in December with a planning officer that there had been no proposals for several years from Great Chesterford. Since then we have discovered that planning agent Bidwells asked in the previous month of November for a meeting to talk about a site which it is said could accommodate between 200 and 600 homes.”

He added: “We again met two officers in April to ask about Bidwells’ request to discuss their proposal. We asked three times and were told three times that there had been no request for a meeting. We now know that denial was untrue. We have received email correspondence which shows that a meeting was requested by Bidwells on November 21 but was refused by Uttlesford the next day.

“I am left unable to trust what I am being told about planning at Uttlesford. As councillors we need to be confident that what we are told is correct.”

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At a full council meeting tonight (Tuesday) the Lib Dems are expected to call for an independent investigation into how the council has been selecting housing sites.

Cllr Morson said: “Fairfield’s scheme at north-east Elsenham was resurrected by the council in November 2013 at a time when agents and landowners at alternative locations were being ignored and barred from having open dialogue. This is a clear indication that the current Local Plan is unsound.

“A council which ignores alternative sites, which refuses to discuss them and then claims planning agents didn’t even ask for meetings, is asking to have its Local Plan dismissed as unsound by the government’s planning inspector.

“Last December the Liberal Democrats called for an investigation into the way this Local Plan has been put together. This was rejected by the Tories at the time. A thorough, independent investigation is now unavoidable.”

However, an Uttlesford District Council spokesman hit back at the allegations of distrust.

He said: “It is erroneous and disproportionate to draw these conclusions on the basis that an officer – at a meeting in April – was unable to instantly recall on demand an email received four months earlier in November.

“At the time officers correctly recommended to the landowner’s agent that the site be put forward in response to the council’s then current consultation.”

The spokesman added: “The site in question was indeed submitted to the council as part of the consultation process and the response is publicly available in the report on representations which is on the council’s website.

“The submission from Bidwells suggests a capacity of at least 170 dwellings, so it is not known how the figure of 600 homes was arrived at. Officers’ handling of this matter has been open, transparent and is a matter of public record.”