In the on-going story about the Uttlesford Local Plan process boycott by Uttlesford
District Council Lib-Dems, today the Lib-Dems have issued the following press release:
Lib Dem Suspicions of Secrecy Confirmed
Following the withdrawal of the Uttlesford Lib Dems from the unfortunately flawed planning process of the Council amid concerns about secret meetings being held and planned to ‘fine tune’ the local plan, Lib Dem leader and deputy leader, Cllrs David Morson and Elizabeth Parr respectively, were invited to meet with UDC Planning Chief Andrew Taylor to discuss their concerns.
The necessity of the unminuted meeting in January and the subsequent meeting planned for the 30th of August was, according to Mr Taylor, as a result of growth in attendance of the LDF (Local Development Framework) working group. It was decided that smaller decisions, like wording, would be handled better by a smaller number of councillors. The information discussed at these meetings, apparently concerning the first consultation was not, as far as we are aware, fed back to the LDF working group or the full Council.
Cllr Morson has since said that, “it seems our suspicions have been confirmed. Senior Tories have claimed that the secret meeting in January was simply a briefing by council staff for the benefit of a selected group of councillors, but it appears that decisions were being made on specific elements of the local plan by an elite group of councillors. The clandestine nature of the meeting means that these decisions cannot be held up to scrutiny by councillors or the public”.
“We will be pushing for a meeting with Cllr Jim Ketteridge as soon as possible to discuss how we will go forward. The Tories have accused us of cynical political point-scoring over this issue. Given the revelations from Mr Taylor, they should be in no doubt that the Lib Dems are committed to ensure that the Local plan process should be transparent and accountable, something which Conservative stewardship has thus far has failed to deliver.”
“There’s no smoke without fire”, as the idiom goes. And to anyone watching the Uttlesford Local Plan process unfold, there has been the constant drumbeat of a series of unminuted, secret and behind-closed door meetings that particularly seem to have been driven by the UDC Cabinet.
Residents expect their council to run transparent and fair processes and to act on the public consultation responses they receive. It is also what the Planning Inspector requires. They will be held to account by voters and other politicians if councils don’t do this and instead try to find ways to short-circuit the system to meet their own ends.
Clearly there is a dose of party-politics going on here, but there is no smoke without fire. If instead of seeking to exclude, the UDC Cabinet tried to work with residents and get cross-party consensus, they may find themselves with a better plan that is actually supported by evidence and backed by residents, town and parish councils.