In their latest attempt to force through as much housing before the validity of their preferred sites is questioned by the Planning Inspector, the Conservative controlled Uttlesford District Council Cabinet used a private, closed door session on 19th August to drive through a decision designed to allow developer Kier to build in Saffron Walden.
This decision, which was not to fight Kier’s appeal of UDC’s earlier refusal of planning, leaves residents and the Saffron Walden Town Council to fight the appeal on their own. The Saffron Walden Town Council has not yet taken the formal decision if it will fight the appeal. WeAreResidents.org is fundraising for their fight now.
Listen to BBC Radio Essex interview with Lib-Dem Councillor Alan Dean:
Tories whip to circumvent Planning Inspector
Voting went almost exclusively down party lines at the closed-door Full District Council meeting, where councillors decided not to defend the decision by their Planning Committee to refuse Keir’s application to build 300 homes on the inaccessible east of Saffron Walden.
The UDC Cabinet clearly has a new – and unprecedented – policy not to defend planning appeals on sites that are part of its draft Local Plan. Recently UDC took the same decision to override the Planning Committee by not defending a similar draft Local Plan site refusal in Elsenham and Henham. The Local Plan is due to be considered by a Planning Inspector later this year and the UDC Cabinet are clearly concerned that it is highly likely to be rejected. They therefore appear to be determined to force through housing on their preferred sites before the Planning Inspector’s review, and so limit the Planning Inspector’s ability to change the Plan.
At the meeting the UDC leadership briefed councillors that the appeal would be expensive to defend and that costs could be awarded against them. But this is highly unlikely as costs are only awarded against a council if maladministration has happened in the original refusal or the conduct of the appeal. This is not the case for the Kier development.
The UDC leadership also produced a legal opinion to influence the councillors’ vote. However the UDC leadership confirmed that only selected documents were sent with the briefing to the lawyers, and so the opinion is effectively worthless – another waste of residents council taxes. Detailed information about all the downsides of the development was omitted by the council. Even with that one-sided briefing, it is understood that UDC were advised that they have a significant prospect of success. WeAreResidents.org wrote to councillors to express their concerns.
Dan Starr, chair of WeAreResidents.org said “The UDC leadership frightened councillors with spurious claims about the costs of losing the appeal, presented them with unreliable legal advice on why Kier’s planning refusal should be overturned, then whipped them on a vote. But it has come to light that the UDC leadership purposely withheld important information about roads, air pollution, school places and sewers from the lawyers giving this advice – meaning that it is incomplete and biased. Even on this basis, we understand that UDC councillors were advised that they have a significant chance of winning. We are extremely disappointed in this outcome, and we are now raising funds on our website to fight the appeal ourselves. Given that the Council seem to have given up acting for residents, we will have to do it ourselves.”
By hook or by crook
The draft Local Plan was completely rejected twice by residents in the largest turn outs that Uttlesford has seen for planning related matters, with only 8 people out of thousands supporting the latest version of the draft Local Plan. As a result the UDC Cabinet is making increasingly desperate attempts to push through its unpopular scheme before the Plan is likely to be found unsound by the Planning Inspectorate in the autumn.
Essex County Councillor John Lodge stated “The UDC Cabinet has been trying any way they can to push through their unsustainable housing plans on the residents of Uttlesford. Since they didn’t get the result they wanted from the Planning Committee they’ve been working to circumvent them. They’ve increased the number of Cabinet Members on the Committee, suspended a Councillor from the local Tory party who serves on the Committee, and moved a number of planning related meetings behind closed doors. And now they’ve, in effect, overturned the Planning Committee’s legitimate refusal of Kier’s housing using an illegitimate legal review. These seem to residents like the dying throws of a discredited and unconstitutional regime –it’s not what the voters and taxpayers of Uttlesford expect or want, and the Planning Inspector will take a very dim view.”
The Kier application was refused by the UDC Planning Committee in April. It failed a large number of local and national planning policies and was found to be unsustainable. Building on the east of Saffron Walden is difficult for many reasons including the increases in traffic and the illegal levels of air pollution in the town centre. Additionally local sewers are at capacity in that part of town and where the town recently saw severe flooding.
The appeal of the Kier application is due to be heard in December 2014.