The Planning Inspector has written to Uttlesford District Council ahead of the draft Local Plan hearing to express a number of significant concerns about the soundness of the plan. As part of the formal independent review, the Planning Inspectorate is required to find a plan “sound” before it can be approved.
Concerns over soundness
In the Inspector’s letter of 21st August [PDF], Roy Foster wrote to UDC with his “soundness concerns and questions” including:
- Why UDC considered and chose some sites for large scale home building and not others;
- That infrastructure, including roads, is not deliverable;
- The Council failed to engage with others in formation of the draft Plan, including its statutory Duty to Cooperate;
- There may not be a solid basis for the number of new homes that UDC has chosen;
The Planning Inspectorate also wrote back in 2013 when UDC tried to deliver a plan that was 20% short of its required 15 year length.
Consistent failure to address fundamental issues
A number of Uttlesford residents groups, including WeAreResidents.org, have been critics of the draft Local Plan. The issues raised by the Inspector are all issues that resident’s groups had previously highlighted to the Council a number of times during the public consultation phases of the draft Plan, including when it was rejected by a unanimous majority of respondents twice, once in 2012 and again in early 2014. UDC failed to act on any of the feedback and instead sent its draft Local Plan to the Inspector almost unchanged. Now the Inspector is asking the same questions, but this time the stakes are much higher. If the draft Local Plan is unsound, it will have to go back to the drawing board.
Dan Starr, chair of WeAreResidents.org: “In his initial review, The Planning Inspector is concerned that the draft Local Plan is unsound for many of the reasons that we have been highlighting for the last 2 years. He is concerned that there is no evidence why certain sites have been selected over others, that there is no clear strategy for roads and other infrastructure, and that UDC has failed to cooperate with third-parties. This discredited draft Local Plan is now on life support.”
Concerns over UDC’s chosen locations
The Inspector was particularly concerned about how UDC selected sites for large scale homebuilding. Earlier this year, Cllr Susan Barker, Deputy UDC Leader and owner of the Local Plan, faced a Code-of-Conduct inquiry when she was accused of lying to the Full Council about the availability of other sites. UDC are both judge and jury on these types of inquiry, and even though it was found that she had misled the Council, they decided to take no action against their Cabinet colleague.
In his letter to UDC, the Inspector also asked questions about site selection:
Planning Inspector Roy Foster: “At the point when the Council decided that the plan needed to include a new settlement as part of the most appropriate strategy for meeting its assessed housing needs, which candidate locations/sites were identified and considered for that purpose and how was Elsenham judged to be the most justified and effective as compared with reasonable alternatives? Those making representations to the plan suggest a number of other potential/locations sites for new settlements. Which of these were/were not considered during the Council’s process?”
Inspector Roy Foster knows some of the issues in Uttlesford having previously overseen at least one appeal in the district. In that case, Inspector Foster found against the developer and refused planning permission.
The Planning Inspector asked the council to respond to his concerns by 17th September.