Saffron Walden MP denies trying to influence housing development decision

Sir Alan Haselhurst MP

Sir Alan Haselhurst MP - Credit: Archant

The MP for Saffron Walden has vehemently denied any wrong-doing, after being accused of employing an “underhand method” to influence a developer’s appeal to build 2,100 homes between Elsenham and Henham.

Sir Alan Haselhurst says he was “wilfully misunderstood”, after campaigners from Save Our Villages Committee (SOV) took issue with a correspondence between their MP and Brendan Lewis, Minister of State for Housing and Planning.

In the letter written to Mr Lewis in September, Sir Alan wrote that there had been “much Conservative blood on the carpet” over the district council’s Local Plan, and said he did not understand why the Secretary of State had called in two substantial planning applications for consideration.

The Fairfield Partnership’s proposal in Elsenham, a site which is part of the Local Plan, and the Land Securities proposal in Little Easton, which is not, are the two applications Sir Alan was referring to.

“I cannot understand why the Department is potentially upsetting the applecart by calling in these two proposals,” Sir Alan wrote.

Fairfield was twice refused planning consent for 800 houses in 2013, while a 700-home scheme in Little Easton was also refused planning permission. The appeals of both developers are now being heard together over a three week period, with final speeches planned for November 23.

Speaking to the Reporter in the week the Planning Inspector began an examination of Uttlesford District Council’s (UDC) Local Plan, Sir Alan defended his comments.

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He said: “By picking out one part of the Local Plan it would raise doubts as to the integrity of the whole plan.

“What message does that send to people? Should he [Lewis] not be awaiting the recommendations of the Inspector?”

Chairman of SOV, Nick Baker, said the group was “outraged” by Sir Alan’s letter.

“This is a disgrace. Our own MP, who has expressed neutrality on this issue for nine years, now tries desperately, at the last minute, to influence a legitimate legal process for the benefit of a discredited Conservative administration at Uttlesford and its so-called Local Plan,” Mr Baker said.

He added that the campaign group had spent more than £250,000 over nine years fighting large scale development in Elsenham.

A report from the Inspector’s Local Plan examination is expected in the new year, with UDC hopeful the document can be formally adopted in the spring.