Alan Dean

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Stansted North and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Learn more

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intouch or out-of-touch?

by Alan Dean on 7 January, 2015

An intouch leaflet from local Conservatives came through doors in Stansted at Christmas. Readers must decide for themselves whether the current ruling party at Uttlesford District Council is in touch or out-of-touch with the real world with its claim of being “more advanced in the development of a Local Plan than many other authorities”. Is the Tory warning that “residents should be mindful of the negative campaign being run by our political opponents” sound advice or is it the Conservatives who should have listened to the Liberal Democrats’ advice?

 

 

 

 

 

   25 Comments

25 Responses

  1. Keith says:

    It is disgraceful that despite the obvious failure of the local plan there has not been a single word of apology from those responsible.

    Let me refer to the last paragraph of the inspectors report

    ‘I recognise that my statement on 3 December and the contents of this letter represent unwelcome news to the Council. However, in view of all the above it seems to me that the options for the Council, after it has considered this letter, are either to ask me to continue the examination but with the inevitable conclusion that I will not be able to recommend changes which would make the plan sound, or to consider withdrawing the plan.’

    There is no ambiguity there, he does not suggest that the plan is ‘largely sound’, quite the opposite. The likes of Cllr Eden can blow smoke all they like, residents understand the facts well enough. The plan was an abject failure, those responsible should apologise and consider their position.

    And how do the controlling group propose to address the situation? Well the meeting of the new working group has been scheduled for January 28th so no urgency there then. It is a cosmetic exercise in any case, there simply isn’t time to do anything useful before the election. Difficult to see much point in joining a group where half the members will lose their seats in May. And given the refusal of various Tories to acknowledge that the draft plan is a pathetic failure, how can they possibly correct it?

    One Tory has put his head above the parapet and apologised to residents, that was David-James Sadler at the council meeting in December and I applaud him for that. All we get from the rest is either silence or insulting spin. Roll on May, the sooner we rid ourselves of this embarrassment the better.

  2. Keith says:

    What negative campaign? The inspector binned the local plan, opposition groups had nothing to do with that (even if we applaud the decision)

    If the inTouch represents the local Tory assessment of what is happening locally then I suggest they need their collective head examining.

  3. Keith says:

    A measure of the intellectual poverty of the Tory group is their attempt to spin the cost of the failed draft local plan.

    So, the usual useful idiots are wheeled out to claim that opponents have vastly inflated the costs, £8 million is plucked from nowhere, presumably because it is a big scary number.

    Personally, I think that the £2 million that is acknowledged by officers is a shocking amount of money to have been spent for no return. If the Tories had not blindly pursued a warped and spiteful political agenda it is entirely possible that the plan could have been agreed by the inspector (obviously the preparation process would need to have been carried out properly, consultation conducted, a viable strategic vision implemented etc)

    So the situation appears to be that their default position is now ‘We only wasted £2 million, get over it’

    There is also the confusion caused by the fact that Cllr Rolfe insisted that the inspector found the plan ‘largely sound’ (despite no evidence to support that bizarre claim) so why is the council withdrawing it?

    Roll on May 7th, residents have to have the opportunity to register their appreciation of Tory incompetence and arrogance. The new administration will have a lot to do to restore the reputation of UDC but residents should be in no doubt that the process will be undertaken.

  4. Alan Dean says:

    £8 million – first time I have heard that number. Cllr Chambers is a master at financial creativity.

    The proposal for the way forward says there will be no financial impact. That is clearly untrue. I have asked by next Monday for a reliable assessment of costs to create a new local plan.

  5. Daniel says:

    I can’t find anything on £8mn. I can see costings published by the council of just over £2mn, of which staff costs are £1.1mn, consultancy costs are £441,000 and internal charges are £348,000. How much of this is “wasted” rather depends on the extent to which the work already done can be utilised again. I would imagine that the next draft will probably cost less than £2mn.

    “Roll on May 7th, residents have to have the opportunity to register their appreciation of Tory incompetence and arrogance.”

    They’ve now got two parties competing for the anti-Tory vote, which will ensure that the Tories will get in. However, given the financial and statutory constraints on local government and the wholesale attack on the public sector by Westminster (which none of the local parties wishes to address), will a change of leadership make any difference at all?

  6. Daniel says:

    Just reading Cheshire East’s problems with its Local Plan, which was thrown out by the Inspector. It cost £3.8mn and had bipartisan support. It blames the failure on the Government coming out with a new assessment methodology – the National Planning Policy Guidance – after its Local Plan was adopted by the Tory and Labour councillors. As a result, its housing calculations and employment figures needed recalculating. It seems to me that central government keeps moving the goalposts. Alan Haselhurst remains silent, although he was insistent that developments identified in the now dismissed draft Local Plan should not be called in.

  7. Daniel says:

    A question: how will the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) reforms under the CIL (Amendment) Regulations 2014 affect the Local Plan? Will it severely restrict hopes of capital investment by preventing S106 contributions being collected for a specific infrastructure project where five or more obligations for that project or type have already been entered into since April 2010?

  8. Keith says:

    UDC is NOT currently considering CIL and it cannot in any case start identifying CIL levels until the local plan is adopted, which as we know is some way in the future. We also know who is responsible, despite their refusal to acknowledge it.

    Under the circumstances, discussion of CIL is academic. I think CIL has good points, particularly the allocation of a set percentage of the money to local councils, which might make a significant difference to local projects.

    To suggest that the Tories will get in because of a split vote for the opposition groups is a little naive, I suspect that your understanding of the coming campaign is less informed than it might be. This is entirely understandable, R4U have only been formed for a couple of months and our manifesto will be released shortly.

    We have a strong candidate list and we shall be fielding our people across the entire district. The intention is to win outright control of the council and we have every confidence that we will achieve this.

    Our candidates include lawyers, business people, company directors, local government expertise, male and female, young and old. The choice for residents will be fairly clear, more of the same from the tired Tories or a fresh approach from a group that WILL listen to residents.

    • Daniel says:

      “I think CIL has good points, particularly the allocation of a set percentage of the money to local councils, which might make a significant difference to local projects.”

      But it doesn’t seem to tie developments to the projects needed to make them work. There’s also a risk that it provides a considerable incentive to develop as there’s a flat rate per square metre – the bigger the development, the more money for the council.

      “To suggest that the Tories will get in because of a split vote for the opposition groups is a little naive”

      Not really. If you look at John Lodge’s campaign in Walden, I think it took more votes from the Lib Dems than it did the Tories. Perhaps it will absorb the protest vote that had previously gone to the Lib Dems. As I recall, John Lefever won Walden for the Lib Dems with a bigger majority about 20 years ago. He was a good councillor as well – in private, the Tories would call him “le plague”.

      As to the rest, everyone will say they have a strong candidate list. It’s unlikely they will say they have a weak slate of candidates. I don’t really care about people’s professional backgrounds. In my mind, there are far too many lawyers in politics. But your statement indicates that RFU is competing with the Lib Dems, rather than forging an electoral pact, which is counter to your previous hopes of a deal.

      It’s all very intriguing and no-one will know the outcome unless they intensively canvass. The extent to which any change in the council will make a difference is conditioned by the funds and powers bestowed by central government. The trend is towards reducing local government authority and democratic lee-way. So local elections become more like a football league than anything of importance in real life. Interesting in their own right, but of little consequence.

  9. Keith says:

    John Lodge came from nowhere to unseat an established county councillor. He was campaigning from a virtually zero base.

    He will be well known this May and the fact that there is a general election too means that the calculations will be different.

    I think it is useful that several of our candidates have a background in finance and construction at senior levels. I don’t think any of the Tory group have that sort of experience (or why was their draft plan such a failure?)

    As to the local outcome being of little consequence, I think that if the Tory group retained control it would be tragic for the entire district. These are people who claim that an estate agent puff in the Telegraph puts Uttlesford the second best council in the country. Not a survey mind, just a collection of estate agents blowing their respective bugles.

    A more relevant assessment would be to ask why the draft local plan was so comprehensively monstered by the inspector? We can agree that some of the costs are administrative and will carry over but an awful amount of the £2 million that they actually acknowledge is effectively up in smoke. Certainly the 8 years spent on this grubby little mess can’t be got back.

    The district deserves and needs a new administration that might just consider it appropriate to consult properly with residents, landowners and developers and actually think about the consequences.

    The inspector gave guidance: the council would be wise to bear it in mind. As to locations for any size of settlement, how can we allocate anything until we have conducted the consultation?

    • Daniel says:

      One variable you forget is that this election will be fought alongside a general election. In the past, this has helped the Labour vote and undermined the Lib Dem share, eg 1997 and 2001 county elections. Another variable is that UKIP will also field some local candidates, although not many, which could hoover up protest votes.

      In my experience, a person’s profession has little bearing on whether they are a good councillor. You can be a postman and be a better councillor than a company director (and bankers would send shudders down anyone’s spine). In fact, I think there are far too few non-professional people in the council and I don’t think there are any people from council or social housing sitting in the council.

      This social make-up skews debate to a conservative bias, ie “preserving the character of our communities”. In fact, the local area has changed radically over the past few years. It’s not because of housing development but gentrification, which has turned the area into an increasingly exclusive domain that serves a narrow range of people.

      I hope the local plan will aim to de-gentrify and create a broader community with a high proportion of council and social housing, not just “affordable” housing.

      As for the consultation, you have to identify some places to put 11,500 houses and they have to be suitable and available. I’m sure many people in Walden can think of better places for houses, but these places seem to be owned by a powerful aristocrat who is reluctant to release land for whatever reason.

      • Cllr Graham Barker (Great Dunmow, South) says:

        You say “I don’t think there are any people from council or social housing sitting in the council.”

        You are mistaken.

        Regards

        Graham

        • Geoff says:

          Your interventions are cryptic in the extreme. Why so coy?

          Do you really want to contribute to the discussion, positively or otherwise, or do you merely want to stir the pot?

          • Daniel says:

            It would be good to answer the more substantive points. Politicians, eh? Aside from letters columns, there are so few places for public debate locally (Alan Dean is the only councillor with an active blog) and it seems that nearly all Tories are reluctant to defend their record in public. As a result, the criticism of them goes unanswered. Their loss. If they feel misunderstood, they need to start countering their critics.

          • Daniel says:

            Another observation, around one in five councillors are under the age of 60. It’s a council comprised of wealthy people approaching or in retirement.

          • Cllr Graham Barker (Great Dunmow, South) says:

            As Alan and I seem to the only ones to give our full names and affiliations, I feel that is quite un-coy.

            However, there are times when it is proper to be coy, that is being reluctant to give details about something regarded as sensitive. Daniel seems to be trying to infer that all Councillors live in their own house. He is mistaken but it would be very rude for me to identify, in any way, those who do not live as an owner/occupier.

            Cryptic? The stew burns if the pot isn’t stirred now and then.

            Regards

            Graham

          • Daniel says:

            There may be councillors living in private rented accommodation in Uttlesford, but I was referring to council or social housing. How many local councillors live in a council house? You don’t have to give their names.

  10. Keith says:

    Audley End estate is controlled by a board of trustees who have no intention of allowing any of the land to be released for building. Whether this is to preserve the historic fabric of the estate or some other reason, the fact remains that we will not be allowed to go in that direction.

    The fact that there is a general election on the same day means that turnout will be higher than for a normal local election. which means there will be more votes for us to win.

    I don’t particularly fear UKiP candidates at district level and in any case they are more likely to take votes from Tories. That is not the same as saying that I would not take them seriously.

    The make up of the council is affected by the sort of people that have the time and resources to devote to being a councillor. Some councillors do comparatively little while others put in 15-20 or more hours a week.

    I agree with you that a postman can be just as effective as a company director, the role requires common sense as much as any professional skill. I had no background in planning when I joined the planning committee but I would argue that I have contributed sufficient to justify my place. Several successful appeals have to count for something and I was on record for some time as stating that the local plan was going to fail.

    • Daniel says:

      UKIP and the collapse in support for Lib Dems won it for WAR in 2013. That’s a trend you will want to replicate, but I doubt it will be achieved beyond the parishes where RFU has picked up ex-Tory councillors. I can’t see it has much relevance in Stansted and Elsenham as it has no active organisation here and has not led the campaigns on planning.

      It’s likely the Tories will retain most if not all the small villages and could even threaten a couple of Lib Dem seats given the size of majorities, public unease over national politics and any possible Labour challenge (unlikely); their candidates will have to campaign extra hard to keep these seats.

      I can see the Tories holding onto at least 14 seats even after the warding exercise, Lib Dems no more than 8-9 (probably holding onto their current seats and potentially taking an extra seat in Stansted and Thaxted) and the RFU and independents taking the rest, mostly in Walden, Dunmow and Newport. When the Lib Dems took the council in 2003, they were in a far stronger position nationally and locally. It won’t happen this year.

      It’s likely that RFU and Tories will be neck and neck with the odds still in the Tories’ favour to become the largest party in spite of the local plan furore, but the village-town division will be greater than ever. However, being the largest party may not be sufficient to take control of the council in the likely event they fail to reach 20.

      The variables that are difficult to ascertain will be the strength of the Labour and UKIP votes; Labour will recover ground from their 2007 nadir and UKIP will put up some candidates. I don’t see much UKIP organisation around here, thankfully, but a couple of hundred votes in key wards could make all the difference to the Tories’ hopes of remaining the largest party. Labour would have the same effect on the Lib Dems, although are only ever a significant contender in Walden with a smattering of candidates elsewhere.

      If RFU put up candidates against sitting Lib Dem councillors, it will deny the Lib Dems the chance of sucking up the protest votes that have been their strategic target. Something for you to mull over.

      • Keith says:

        Our political party is R4U and not RFU, please try to avoid making the mistakes of the Tory mob.

        Last time I checked, RFU was something to do with large sweaty blokes and an odd shaped ball 🙂

  11. Daniel says:

    How much do Local Plans have to take account of Neighbourhood Plans that are in place? If a parish council adopts a neighbourhood plan that does not include a single site settlement, will it be overruled by district priorities or will it preclude such development? Do NPs carry any weight at all?

    Also, as the coalition is abandoning financial incentives for building affordable housing, how much leverage will the district council have with developers in order to achieve a desired share of affordable/social/council housing in developments?

  12. Geoff says:

    We badly need the services and expertise of Gipsy Rose Lee or someone who is a more than competent poker player. Place your bets now!

  13. Keith says:

    Neighbourhood Plans are subservient to the Local Plan and must be consistent with it. My personal view is that a district council should pay heed to NPs when drawing up the Local Plan as parish councils would have local knowledge, also it would be an effective demonstration of localism (something I think the government tends to pay lip-service to)

    Interesting article in the paper today about Pickles. He has just overturned a planning inspectorate decision on historic housing in Liverpool (including the house where Ringo Starr was born)

    People forget that Pickles actually ran a council (Bradford) which is rare in the current Conservatives. They also forget that under the jovial exterior he is extremely tough.

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