U-turn over publication of Local Plan proposals leaves councillors ‘in the dark’

Uttlesford District Council, Saffron Walden. Picture: SaffronPhoto

Uttlesford District Council, Saffron Walden. Picture: SaffronPhoto - Credit: Archant

An 11th hour U-turn over publication of housing proposals in Uttlesford District Council’s Local Plan has caused confusion among councillors who say they have been “left in the dark”.

The draft Local Plan papers were due to be published on Tuesday (October 18) at 5pm, with details of where the council wants to put some 12,500 homes in the district up to 2033.

However, those proposals have now been delayed for an unknown length of time as the council seeks to work through what is believed to be a series of issues over the plan.

The proposals, which included 2,800 homes across two major settlements at Easton Park and west of Braintree, were presented to the media on Monday, only for the Reporter to be informed of the delay early on Tuesday afternoon.

Residents for Uttlesford Councillor John Lodge said: “We’ve had significant concerns about the planning process and as such, I have written to the planning inspector and I believe I have a meeting coming up soon to discuss those concerns.

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“Regarding the delay, I can’t say I know much about it, it seems councillors have been left in the dark.”

The council’s last Local Plan was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate in 2014, at a cost of more than £2million to the taxpayer, and there are fears among councillors that this plan could go the same way.

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Councillor Heather Asker said: “There is a danger that this plan could get thrown out. I just don’t think there is a majority who will support it.

“Too much is being left unanswered. I understand that time is of the essence, but the risk is that it gets rushed through, things get overlooked and once again it gets rejected.”

The Local Plan was set to be discussed at the Planning Policy Working Group meeting on Tuesday, October 25, before going before the full cabinet the following evening. The two meetings may now be cancelled.

Campaign group Sercle (Stop Erosion of Rural Communities in Local Essex), who strongly oppose the proposed settlement west of Braintree, believes the credibility of the plan is at risk and says it hopes UDC will be able to provide a full account to residents over the confusion.

“Regarding UDC’s decision to postpone their announcement on the new housing settlements, Sercle, like many, are surprised at this eleventh hour suspension.

“The decision would have not been made lightly and at this moment of time, Sercle are unable to comment on root cause, be it a problem with the planning process or with the facts supporting the plan.

“However in this situation, we hope that UDC will provide a full account to its residents on what was the issue, who made the decision and was this made with full knowledge of other councillors?

“Without being open, we believe the credibility of this plan could be at risk.

“Although delayed, Sercle will continue to fight to stop the west of Braintree development that risks a rural and beautiful part of north Essex.”

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