Uttlesford Council to seek further legal advice before deciding whether to fight 300-home scheme for Saffron Walden

Uttlesford District Council headquarters on London Road, Saffron Walden.

Uttlesford District Council headquarters on London Road, Saffron Walden. - Credit: Archant

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) has voted to seek further independent legal advice before deciding whether to defend a public inquiry over a potential 300-home scheme in Saffron Walden.

The matter was discussed at an extraordinary meeting of full council on Tuesday (August 5) where it was revealed the council faced costs of up to £300,000 if it sought to defend the appeal without evidence in support of its refusal.

The meeting was held following the planning committee’s decision in April to refuse outline planning permission submitted by Kier Homes for a residential development in Thaxted Road of up to 300 homes, along with recreational space and the option for a new primary school.

The planning committee decision was made three weeks after full council had voted to endorse the draft Local Plan as sound, which included the site as one suitable for development.

In the first part of the extraordinary meeting, councillors were informed that officers believed it would be difficult to present a credible case due to the inconsistency between the council’s acceptance of the site as a sustainable location and the planning committee’s decision shortly after. In addition, at the same planning committee meeting, another site nearby in Saffron Walden was approved where identical planning policies and material considerations applied.

When planning was refused in April, Kier’s hosing application had come under significant criticism from residents, particularly about the lack of infrastructure capacity, including school places, sewers, roads, cross town traffic congestion and the associated pollution.

These were part of the reasons for the planning refusal.

Most Read

During the public participation part of Tuesday’s meeting, Jen Beaton from Uttlesford residents campaign group, WeAreResidents.org, urged councillors not to overturn the planning committee refusal and to get a second opinion, citing the fact that recent advice being presented by UDC officers “had little basis on which to make a decision because it had not been independently verified or subject to peer review, and any risks had not been quantified”.

The press and public were then barred because the rest of the meeting was held behind closed doors. This is because it was held under Part II rules, meaning the matters discussed affected the council’s legal interests.

A council spokesman said: “The specific legal advice remains protected by legal privilege and will not be published. There remains a risk that doing so could prejudice the cases of third parties.”

Councillors then heard and discussed independent legal advice from a barrister, which had already been commissioned by the council.

Councillor Howard Rolfe, leader of Uttlesford District Council, said: “It was a full and wide-ranging debate and ultimately members decided by a substantial majority that it would be appropriate to seek a second legal opinion before the council reached a decision on whether to defend this particular appeal.

“It is a difficult subject with strong views on both sides and members felt they wanted to be absolutely sure that the ultimate course of action is in the best interests of the council and of residents.”

It is expected that UDC will need to convene a second extraordinary full council meeting to review new advice before a Planning Inspectorate deadline at the end of August.

Irrespective of the council’s final decision, the inquiry will still go ahead and is expected to be heard in December.