Cllr David Watson, the popular Saffron Walden Town Mayor, used the annual meeting to voice his concern over secret meeting between Uttlesford District Council and Kier, the developer who is proposing a 300 house development off Thaxted Rd.
The Saffron Walden Weekly News covered the Mayor’s comments:
Meanwhile, Cllr Watson said he was also concerned about ongoing discussions between Kier Homes and district planning officers – particularly with reference to a community hub building promised to Saffron Walden skate group by the developer if the homes are approved.
He said: “I am horrified to find out that a planning officer has engaged in negotiations with Kier over the alleged benefits that could be brought to the town, without once contacting the town council to ask what we want.”
The Saffron Walden Reporter also covered the story:
Cllr David Watson said an officer at the district council had engaged in talks with Kier over what he described as “alleged benefits” for the town if the developer’s proposal to build houses on land off Thaxted Road were to be granted planning permission.
“How dare he?” Cllr Watson said. “Who authorised him to conduct such negotiations without consulting the town council?” It sparked a debate about the discussions Kier have held over the expansion of One Minet Skate Park, with Cllr Watson saying he was in favour of “sport for all” and trying to get Saffron Walden Rugby Club back into the town. He also voiced support for a purpose-built running track.
While it is usual for a district council to discuss pre-applications with developers, many other councils don’t do them in secret, are open and transparent and actively encourage community engagement. UDC has a widely criticised track record of private and secret meetings with developers. What also makes this meeting even more significant is that UDC cancelled a scheduled Local Plan committee meeting to hold this meeting with Kier; they are months behind with their Local Plan, have no strategy for education, air-quality and highways, and have not responded to the public consultation of 10 months ago. This has led to a developers’ open season. This all leaves residents scratching their heads and wondering where UDC’s priorities lie.