Uttlesford District Council has announced that it intends to use a specially called meeting of the Full Council on 5th August to review developer Kier’s appeal to build 300 homes on the east of Saffron Walden and the Planning Committee’s decision to refuse it. Kier’s planning application was refused by the UDC Planning Committee in April because it failed to meet a number of local and national planning policy and sustainability requirements.
The meeting is to be held behind closed doors without the press or public. Making the meeting private is the second action by newly appointed UDC Leader Cllr Howard Rolfe to stifle dissenting voices against his unpopular draft Local Plan. In his first action after being appointed he promoted a motion to gag residents from speaking to oppose planning applications. The site of the Kier application is part of his draft Local Plan but is opposed by residents, a number of District Councillors and the Saffron Walden Town Council.
The UDC leadership used a similar specially called meeting in late June to override two planning decisions made to refuse 800 new homes in Elsenham by developer Fairfield. At that closed meeting the UDC leadership persuaded councillors not to defend the appeal. The Planning Inspectorate will find in favour of the developer if the appeal is not defended. The unprecedented move by the council has left Elsenham residents to find £70,000 to fight the appeal on their own.
Saffron Walden residents aren’t happy that the council would use a second closed-door meeting to try to persuade councillors to do the same in their town. They have written to all councillors asking that they uphold the democratic decision of the Planning Committee and commit to fight the appeal by Kier.
Dan Starr, chair of WeAreResidents.org said “By hook or by crook the UDC leadership are trying to force through their unpopular draft Local Plan by overriding planning refusals made by the Planning Committee. These recent moves to undermine the legitimate decisions made by councillors elected by the public, and then ban residents from watching the whole sorry proceedings, are unprecedented. “
Dan Starr continued “It is our understanding that the UDC leadership has recently been using threats of deselection and the party whip to get the vote they want. You could see why they’d want to hide that from the public. They are using the mumbo-jumbo pretence of legal privilege to hold the meetings in secret, but it isn’t needed in this case. It is the same old politics by the back door – locals want a change, which is why we announced that we intend to stand candidates in the May 2015 elections. Its time residents got their voices back.”
The Kier appeal is due to be heard by the Planning Inspector on 9th December this year.