Alan Dean

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

Conservatives jump the gun on the new local plan

by Alan Dean on 29 April, 2015

I guess all parties at one time or another panic when elections loom and say things they might later regret. That may well be the case with a recent video starring Conservative council leader and Ashdon candidate, Howard Rolfe, and the parliamentary Tory candidate, Alan Haselhurst.

When we began the quest for a new Local Plan in January to replace the one discredited last December it was agreed that transparency, openness and objectivity would be the new watchwords to replace past practices such as private and secret meetings and members being whipped by cabinet members into agreeing their schemes. Even my request that we start off by agreeing a policy framework against which new development proposals would be evaluated was kicked into touch as risking pre-empting what areas should or should not be included in the Local Plan.

So the claim in the video that there will be no more development allocations to Dunmow and Saffron Walden if the Conservatives are returned to power on May 7th looks more like a pre-election inducement to voters than a commitment that is sure to be delivered. If not in Dunmow and Saffron Walden, where do the Tories have in mind?

The Herts and Essex Observer gave good coverage on-line to the issue yesterday. It includes my reactions in more detail.

 

 

   17 Comments

17 Responses

  1. Graham Barker Conservative Candidate for Great Dunmow South and Barnston says:

    The Planning Inspectors words:

    “There appears to be widespread recognition that some form of new settlement(s) in an appropriate location may form the most appropriate means for catering for the future long-term growth of the District on a scale bold enough to achieve maximum possible sustainable critical mass and a long term solution, especially as there may well be limits to how far relatively small towns with the characters of Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow grow sustainably, attractively, and in an integrated way through successive phases of peripheral expansion.”

    Howard Rolfe’s words

    “The larger communities, such as Dunmow and Saffron Walden have now taken their fair share of the housing and we must look beyond that, possibly to a new settlement as the plan goes forward”

    Seems a a good example of looking positively at the Planning Inspectors advice.

    • Alan Dean says:

      Graham, “taken their fair share” is as good as saying “no more”. Those are not the inspector’s words. An inspector does not direct the council on what solution it should now find. He suggests that “some form of new settlement(s)” may be part of the solution, but it is for the council to decide. He goes on to say this solution may be appropriate “IF there are judged to be limits to how far small towns (such as Dunmow and Saffron Walden) can grow sustainably”.

      Those issues have not been discussed and so those judgments have not been made.

      Cllr Rolfe has extrapolated too far the inspector’s hints at what issues still need to be addressed by the new council; sometime after May 7th, but not before then.

  2. Graham Barker Conservative Candidate for Great Dunmow South and Barnston says:

    You will agree that the Inspector uses different words in his summary and full statement. The first conveys a firm opinion but was the latter written to avoid this?

    “….especially as there may well be limits to how far
    relatively small towns with the characters of Saffron Walden and Great
    Dunmow…” (EX155)
    “….especially if there are judged to be limits as to how far relatively small
    towns with the characters of Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow…” (EX 157)

    Residents in Great Dunmow and Saffron Walden will be heartened by you not ruling out, in the Planning Inspectors words, “successive phases of peripheral expansion”.

    • Alan Dean says:

      Instead of party political posturing immediately before an election – which few voters will believe – there has to be a proper examination of the pros and cons for development in and around all settlements and areas of the Uttlesford district.

      All we have had over much of the past eight years is a bidding process by landowners without any framework to guide them.

      Whoever is in charge from later this month needs to display different qualities from those of the past and to avoid party political games that have so damaged the council’s reputation.

      In particular, there must be no repetition of policy on the hoof as occurred in September 2007.

      • Graham Barker, Conservative Candidate for Great Dunmow South and Barnston says:

        You avoid commenting on the Inspector’s ambiguity and so we should agree to differ but I approve of your 100% commitment to the LDF process as we go forward.

        See you at the count on Friday!

        All the best.

        • Alan Dean says:

          I did not avoid comment. I simply observe that he tightened his remarks to reduce any sense of direction to the council. Back in the 1980s an inspector was allowed to direct the council; he rejected Easton Park and said the various brownfield sites at Stansted/Birchanger, Felsted etc were appropriate. That is no longer permitted.

  3. Keith says:

    There was no ambiguity in the rejection of the draft local plan by the inspector. The plan is either sound or not sound, there are no degrees to consider. This is a statement of fact, nothing else.

    Regarding the development process, it is to be hoped that the Tory involvement will be drastically trimmed as they lose a tranche of seats at the district council.

    Given the incompetence with which Tories have handled the last eight years one can only hope that residents vote to hand the reins to a residents party.

    The Tories cannot escape from the recognition that their mismanagement of the draft plan process resulted in the waste of 8 years and £2million, though naturally they have failed to offer any sort of apology.

    Dickering about the semantics in the inspectors report is frankly contemptible. The report declares the draft plan unsound and by inference suggests that the Tory administration is incompetent.

  4. Keith says:

    Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the failed local plan which consumed £2million over 8 years only to be thrown out by the inspector at an embarrassingly early stage.

    The councillors involved in preparing that plan generally had little or no planning experience, Ketteridge. Rolfe and Barker have not served on the planning committee and frankly it is difficult to justify the influence they had on the plan preparation process.

    We have a situation where a bunch of amateurs have concocted a draft local plan that fell apart under professional scrutiny. Needless to say, there has been no word of apology from these amateurs, indeed they appear to believe they can carry on with their tinkering. Rolfe and Barker remain on the local plan process, despite the previous failure and the absence of any logical reason to involve them. I think their lack of planning experience and their involvement in the failed plan should be excellent reasons to keep them away from any new process.

    As it happens, I am confident that the result of the district council election tomorrow will assist with the conflict discussed above. The Tories will no longer be in control of the council and the new group will select the working group that deals with the local plan. It is difficult to see what Rolfe or Barker could contribute.

    My record on planning matters is something that I am happy to stand by. I said for months that the draft plan was deficient and I was proven correct. I have been involved in a number of planning appeals over the past 4 years and my success rate is pretty good. I took the council to court over one issue and won.

    The local plan is too important to leave in the hands of Rolfe and his stooges. There are alternatives and I hope that residents will consider those tomorrow.

    • Alan Dean says:

      I hear that the infantile local Conservatives have gone into a flat panic and are now spreading false claims in election literature that the Lib Dems want to increase the local annual housing target by 50%.

      They thrive on creating fear!

      The same way they attacked me when leader for agreeing to 425 new homes per annum; and now they are working towards 600 per annum. They are simply untrustworthy and incompetent. The very same deception and incompetence that got Uttlesford DC into its current mess with its Local Plan.

  5. Keith says:

    It will be interesting to consider the makeup of the post May 2015 council. I predict that there will be rather fewer Tory members and the district will be all the better for that.

    The waste of time and money on the draft plan that was so embarrassingly dismissed last December has to have consequences. The Tory cabinet may refuse to acknowledge or apologise for their egregious errors but the residents will have their say tomorrow and I believe that we will be rid of a small cabal that has caused so much damage to the district.

    I hope to be part of the restoration process, along with the likes of Alan.

  6. Geoff Powers says:

    Mr Barker persists in a brand of sophistry reminiscent of the well known Monty Python ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch: the District Plan submitted by UDC is now an ex-Plan. Like the parrot the Plan is dead: it has been rejected by the Planning Inspector, and picking over the entrails of his conclusions will not revivify it. The pretention that, like the curate’s egg, this particular egg is good in parts, does not mean that it is fit to eat. It is now time for Mr Barker and others like him to accept the facts, that their deliberations and decision-making on this major issue have been deeply flawed, and now necessitate the involvement of the Planning Advisory Service to advise and guide UDC in the formulation of a new plan – guidance that is needed not just for members but for officers also – in the next 18 months as the council works to remedy its flawed processes and decision-making and begin to put a new plan in place. This must now necessitate the active involvement of all parties in the council, and, most importantly, residents. The council leadership needs to demonstrate of its capacity to regain the confidence of residents in its ability to deliver a sound, workable Local Plan. The cost to council-taxpayers and the public purse of the previous failed Plan has been enormous, and, speaking personally, I find it a great pity that the cabinet members who promoted this gross failure are no longer liable to surcharge.

    On a separate issue, it would be nice if Mr Barker and his two ward co-members could expend more of their time actually addressing the needs of their constituents. I know all three of them must visit Dunmow regularly as they drive to and from district council meetings, but they never actually stop to talk to people of hold local ‘surgeries’. They are anonymous to most people in the town. I appreciate that this kind of arrangement may cause Mr Barker a certain amount of inconvenience, as he lives some three miles from Dunmow, but this is what happens elsewhere in Uttlesford and further afield. The only Dunmow councillor who actually delivered on his constituents’ expectations of their local ward member has now, sadly, lost his seat. What about it Mr Barker?

  7. Keith says:

    His two co-members will have their hands full busily wrecking the district by recklessly giving permission for as many large developments as they can squeeze in, starting with Ongar Road south in June.

    These two specimens were enthusiastic supporters of the draft local plan (remember that one, the thing that was so bad the inspector stopped the examination early), Ranger was even on the local plan working group so their judgement is obviously defective but evidently residents preferred to vote on party politics rather than actual competence. Residents have therefore voted, quite emphatically, for what will happen to the district and I trust they will resist the urge to complain when it becomes apparent that competence trumps politics every time.

    We now have a situation where incompetent officers will have nobody prepared to challenge them, a planning committee led by a man of proven inability and poor judgement and a district council led by a man who barely scraped in and is equally implicated in the failed draft plan though to hear him talk anyone would think it was a great success. Most people would regard the waste of 8 years and £2million as an embarrassment, a shame, a pity perhaps but emphatically not a success. Perhaps he just has a lot more bone in his skull than the rest of us.

    What really is tragic is the fact that we are saddled with these incompetents for another 4 years and they have learned nothing from their past mistakes. There is the distinct and depressing possibility that the damage they cause in the coming period will be irreparable.

  8. Keith says:

    Dishonesty got them in, dishonesty kept them in and dishonesty will be their undoing.

  9. Keith says:

    Interesting to see that the new cabinet is entirely composed of people that will not question or challenge the Dear Leader.

    So I guess others will have to perform that necessary and important function. Could Rolfe perhaps explain why he thinks it appropriate for he and Barker to be on the local plan working group which ostensibly reports to cabinet? Hard to see how the pair of them can report to themselves. Also hard to see what strategic planning expertise either of them bring to the process (given their deep involvement in the recently failed plan, it would be prudent to assume that they aren’t particularly gifted)

    It is also interesting to note that UDC has no formal set of rules governing the conduct of the office of planning committee chair. Given the lamentable performance of Cheetham in the last administration, and the abject failure to support planning committee decisions at appeal (relying on inept advice from a barrister who apparently couldn’t distinguish between a draft plan and an adopted plan) It would appear that this is a serious failing and UDC needs to address it promptly (or does the LGA need to be informed?)

    The boast of the last administration was financial competence. Given the reliance on New Homes Bonus monies to balance the books, and the fact that several large developments are in jeopardy (along with the NHB money) it would appear that saving £12K by dumping two cabinet members isn’t likely to make much difference when central government takes another swipe at the council grant and reviews NHB policy.

    I predict that a) the wheels will come off the financial policy and b) there will be NO local plan delivered in the lifetime of this adminstration, because they just aren’t competent to do it.

  10. Keith says:

    Never mind the local plan (which this bunch of twerps will never deliver), why has Uttlesford District Council saddled with such a useless bunch of senior officers (with the obvious exception of [a named officer])

    The [a named officer] has no obvious talent and his previous record as [a names role] was lamentable. [A named officer] is a joke, his role is illusory, as is his ability. [A named officer] is a liability as [a named role], given his lack of competence and as to [a named officer], let us consider such minor matters as the failure of the draft local plan and sundry misjudgements on planning applications.

    Why this has been allowed to come about is entirely down to the Tory group, particularly Ketteridge, Chambers and Rolfe, who wanted an officer group sympathetic to their narrow and political aims.

    I think UDC should be taken into special measures on the basis that the management team are not competent to fulfil the role.

  11. Keith says:

    If the local plan were in the hands of intelligent professionals rather than apparatchiks one might feel more confident about the potential development of the local plan.

    With Rolfe chairing the working group and the calibre of officers at senior level, optimism is sort of squelched. He couldn’t run a bath and they would struggle to attain his level of competence.

    The combination of the Tory group and the current officer contingent has delivered a draft plan of such epic incompetence that it was thrown out by the inspector at an embarrassingly early stage (not that Rolfe would ever admit that, he prefers to traduce the inspector)

    Their joint failure has wasted 8 years and over £2million pounds but there has been not a word of apology from these geniuses and no acknowledgment of their failure.

    The logical assessment is, that if they cannot acknowledge failure, they are in no position to correct it and in 4 years time UDC will still not have an adopted local plan, just more wasted time and money. And perhaps, in 4 years, residents will recognise that Rolfe is a liability.

  12. Keith Mackman says:

    I understand that the council have engaged a new officer, Martin Paine, to implement the preparation of the draft local plan.

    Surely this is a gross indictment of [a named officer], who has spent the past 4 years or so involved in preparing a draft plan of such epic ineptitude that the inspector cut the examination in public abruptly short and savaged the ‘plan’ in his decision letter.

    Are the public fully aware that UDC have wasted over 8 years and £2million on the aborted draft plan? Do they appreciate that no new plan can be prepared within 18 months, particularly given that 7 months have been frittered away since December?

    UDC under Rolfe is vulnerable to developers and now it appears similarly vulnerable to national government stepping in and imposing what THEY consider appropriate. Given the proximity to London, it is very likely that Uttlesford will be targeted to provide the overspill capacity. One can only hope that some of the sink estate provision will be dumped on Chesterford.

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