Lib-Dems boycott flawed planning process

We were sent this press release by the local Lib-Dems  today:

Monday, 27th August 2012; from Uttlesford District Council Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat councillors have stepped down from positions on Uttlesford District Council’s Local Development Framework (LDF) working group following secret meetings among senior councillors and planning chiefs during the development of the Council’s controversial draft local plan.

This follows growing concern over transparency in the development of the Council’s house-building strategy.  The LDF working group, which considers and makes recommendations on the plan, is only open for Councillors to attend and not the public. A small group of councillors were invited to attend briefing meetings on a preferential basis.  This group met in January to ‘fine tune’ the local plan and were scheduled again to meet on August 30th before Lib Dem pressure forced the Council to pull the plug.  This group consisted of Planning Chief Andrew Taylor, [Director of Public Services] Roger Harborough, Cabinet members Cllrs. Jim Ketteridge, Howard Rolfe, Jackie Cheetham, Sue Barker and Julie Redfern, as well as Lib Dem Cllr. Christina Cant.  No minutes have been made available and there was no report back on the results of the ‘fine-tuning’ to other councillors.

When the Uttlesford District Council Lib Dem group found out about the meetings it was decided that councillors involved in the LDF should step down from the working group and all related activities until such a time as when an open and democratic process can be ensured by Council chiefs. As a result, Cllrs. Janice Loughlin and Christina Cant have resigned from the LDF working group with immediate effect.

Fellow Lib Dem Councillor, and a member of the working group not invited to the secret meetings, Janice Loughlin, says “There were two Lib Dems on the working group at the time so I was very surprised to hear about the meeting on August 30th. I had no inkling, before then, that such a meeting was taking place. I have always vigorously defended the LDF working group against accusations of so called secret/behind closed doors meetings as I was led to believe that they are open to all elected members, but it appears I was wrong.  There was no report back from members of January’s ‘fine-tuning’ meeting to the working group, so I and other members have been kept in the dark about what went on.  I feel utterly betrayed by UDC.”

Uttlesford Lib Dem Leader Cllr David Morson adds “It is extremely disappointing that the Conservative Administration has put both residents and Councillors in such a difficult position because of their handling of its housebuilding strategy since 2007. Five years were wasted on the unsustainable, unpopular and flawed Option 4, resulting in the need for the rushed hierarchal dispersed option we now are witnessing. Nevertheless, [we] were willing to take part trying to salvage a damaged situation.”

“However, once we heard about these secret meetings taking place, I feel that we have no choice but to boycott what appears to be a secretive, undemocratic and utterly flawed process.  Whilst council chiefs are currently denying any wrongdoing, they had the sense to cancel the proposed meeting of this same group on 30 August following Lib Dem pressure.”

“The Lib Dems do not take the decision to boycott the process lightly.  We sincerely hope that UDC will take a long, hard look at its procedures and give local residents assurances that the development of the local plan will be accountable, constitutional and democratic, something which they have thus far failed to do.”

ENDS opinion:
The Lib Dem councillors are the latest to join the growing number of district, town and parish councillors that have concerns about the daft [sic] Uttlesford Local Plan.

There has been a constant drum beat of secret and unminuted meetings. In fact UDC has already admitted that they have met with developers behind closed doors, which doesn’t seem to meet the level of transparency required when they are discussing land deals worth ££ tens-of-millions.

The job of the LDF Working Group is to work on the Uttlesford Local Plan. Why would the UDC Cabinet want to short circuit the process and exclude certain councillors from the democratic process? Are some people asking too many difficult questions about the process and evidence? Is it because they aren’t getting the answers they want? Do they need a more friendly crowd to work out how they are going to strong-arm their unpopular proposals through? These are the types of questions that residents and councillors ask when they see this type of corruption of democratic processes.

And shame on the UDC Cabinet for abusing the authority that they’ve been granted by voters. This type of shenanigans casts a shadow over all the other hard working councillors in the district, from all the parties. Contact your councillors and tell them what you think.

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Posted in Rotten Boroughs, Uttlesford District Council, Uttlesford Local Plan
One comment on “Lib-Dems boycott flawed planning process
  1. Daniel Brett says:

    How interesting. As a parish councillor in Stansted, I started probing the secrecy of the LDF working group about this time last year because there was something very strange about it. The short-list of sites from the SHLAA to meet short-term supply was minuted, but the list was not included in the minutes. Furthermore, the council defended itself against my Freedom of Information request for this list. There was a suggestion that the council officers would meet developers to discuss whether they were going to bring forward sites for development, which I saw as a clear enticement to submit planning applications by suggesting some favourable treatment under a fast-track process. I know of one owner of land in Stansted who said the council had approached him to submit a planning application in response to the LDF WG’s decisions. This could be unconstitutional since a working group, which meets in private, is not supposed to have executive powers – that is, it is not meant to be a body that makes decisions, still less pre-empt the results of a consultation before it has even begun or a plan drawn up.

    I asked what the criteria for short-listing were. Cllr Loughlin said she didn’t know as she had been unable to attend WG meetings due to a broken leg – she passed on the matter to Cllr Ketteridge for his response and I heard nothing. Cllr Loughlin was the only person who responded to my emails; planning officers, cabinet members and other WG members remained absolutely silent and refused to give any response to my queries. Cllr Loughlin was adamant that there was no secrecy in the WG, despite the anomalies that I raised and were never answered in my opinion. I asked her how she could have made decisions on the short-list in the subsequent meetings she did attend if she did not know the criteria. Oddly, she responded by submitting a complaint to the Chief Executive over my “conduct in office” – a complaint that was not upheld and didn’t even get as far as the standards committee. Nevertheless, it was a complaint that was supported by the Lib Dem group with Cllr Morson claiming that I was “unfairly inquisitorial”. I consider that it is a councillor’s job to ask searching questions, even if it means confronting members of your own party group. Unfortunately, it means that one can find oneself easily isolated.

    Perhaps if the Lib Dem group had taken such concerns seriously, rather than defending a process that appeared to me and others to be flawed and lacking transparency, they would have withdrawn at an earlier date and thrown their weight behind residents’ campaigns for a better local plan. The only Lib Dem district councillor to raise serious objections about the LDF process was Alan Dean, but he was in a minority of one at the time. It appears he was proven right.

    If anyone wishes to see the transcripts of all my correspondence on the LDF issue, please let me know.

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