Council withdraws Local Plan: “We will build two Saffron Waldens”

PUBLISHED: 15:12 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 18:20 06 May 2020

Saffron Walden as seen from the roof of St Mary's Church. Photo: SAFFRON PHOTO.

Saffron Walden as seen from the roof of St Mary's Church. Photo: SAFFRON PHOTO.

Saffron Photo

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) has voted to withdraw the Local Plan, after independent inspectors found it “unsound” at the beginning of this year.

L-R: Lib-Dem Cllrs Alan Dean, Geoffrey Sell, Melvin Caton, Ayub Khan. Photo: CONTRIBUTEDL-R: Lib-Dem Cllrs Alan Dean, Geoffrey Sell, Melvin Caton, Ayub Khan. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

Councillors at UDC have voted in an overwhelming majority to withdraw the plan submitted in early 2019 by the previous Conservative administration - and to start working on a new one.

However, residents have been warned that the new plan will see between two and two and a half Saffron Waldens worth of housing built across the district.

Chairing the meeting, R4U Cllr Richard Freeman said that whether the council sought to repair the existing plan or look at a new one, independent assessment suggests £4million of taxpayers’ money would be spent.

The previous plan, which was found “unsound” by planning inspectors, would have seen 18,500 commercial and affordable homes built in three garden communities: Easton Park, North Uttlesford and West of Braintree, according to the independent inspector’s examination in January this year.

R4U Councillor John Lodge, leader at Uttlesford District Council. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.R4U Councillor John Lodge, leader at Uttlesford District Council. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.

In a virtual extraordinary council meeting held on April 30 from 6pm, 31 councillors voted for the previous plan’s withdrawal and seven against.

Five of the councillors who voted against withdrawing the plan are the Liberal Democrats councillors who also proposed an amendment during the council meeting: Cllrs Melvin Caton and Ayub Khan (representing Stansted South and Birchanger), Alan Dean and Geoffrey Sell (Stansted North) and Janice Loughlin (Stort Valley).

Their amendment was criticised by other councillors as being a separate issue to be dealt with later rather than an amendment to the motion under discussion – that of whether the previous local plan should be withdrawn or not.

The amendment suggested deferring the motion for further debate on reconsidering land and infrastructure, and ensuring an environmentally-friendly approach. It also criticised the current administration’s approach to the plan as ‘lacking public engagement’, not withdrawing the previous plan when “inspectors offered the opportunity in summer 2019”, ‘ruling out garden communities’ and a “two-fold increase in required housing under central government regulations”.

R4U Councillor Petrina Lees, Uttlesford District Council deputy leader. Photo: R4U.R4U Councillor Petrina Lees, Uttlesford District Council deputy leader. Photo: R4U.

R4U Cllr for Elsenham and Henham, Petrina Lees, spoke against the amendment and highlighted all R4U councillors “engage with the public regularly, attend parish councils and inform people”.

UDC Leader and R4U Councillor John Lodge called the Lib Dem claim that garden communities have been ruled out as “completely out of order”.

“It is our proposal to prepare a new plan where nothing has been ruled out or in,” Cllr Lodge said.

Lib Dem Cllr for Thaxted and the Eastons, Mike Tayler, went against his colleagues and voted against their amendment.

He said: “I cannot support the criticism of the administration for deciding to present the plan last year. What we now know is that the plan was deeply flawed, and we can learn from the criticism provided by the inspectors. We now have the knowledge that a new local plan would be able to incorporate what we have learned and therefore meet the need of our residents.”

Only Conservative Cllr Edward Oliver (Clavering) supported the Lib Dem quintet with his vote for the amendment, so the amendment fell.

Two parish councillors from villages surrounding Saffron Walden were present at the meeting: Cllr Graham Mott, chairman of Elsenham Parish Council and David Hall, of Great Chesterford Parish Council. The latter asked for the current administration to “consult and respect local opinion” - something which he did not feel was the case with the previous Conservative administration.

He said: “Our written request for information regarding the former local plan went unanswered, promises to provide additional information during the very few UDC meetings we were invited to attend were never followed up.”

R4U Cllr for The Sampfords, Allan Storah, said the decision on whether to withdraw the previous plan or not is “very easy” - and based it on the inspectors’ recommendations, suggesting a new plan should be sought.

Elsenham and Henham’s R4U Cllr Petrina Lees also supported a new plan: “Elsenham had 50 per cent growth, and parish councillors are very keen for the plan because it kept them safe.

“However, they have read the local plan, they have seen the inspectors’ letter and they recognise that this plan, as it is, is not sound.

“If people who live in an area that is going to be well defended with the plan that was already ahead are saying a better plan is needed for all the residents, then I think we as a council should certainly be providing that.”

R4U Cllr Neil Hargreaves said people in Newport are ‘of the same view as those in Elsenham’ - despite a 55 per cent housing increase.

However, he asked everyone to “control expectations” that the “withdrawal of the plan takes everything away”. The warning came after he noticed a significant amount of letters from local people seeming to think the withdrawal of the previous plan means “everything will be fine”. Cllr Hargreaves highlighted the fact that, under government guidelines, a new plan would see between 16,500 and 19,700 new builds.

“Saffron Walden is about 8,000 houses. We will have to build between two and two and a half Saffron Waldens,” he said.

Saffron Walden Cllr Barbara Light, Green party, said she looks forward to a “very green plan” which “will be a leading light in this country” and that she maintains the view she has had for five years – that the previous plan should be withdrawn.

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