Alan Dean

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

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PLANNING TURMOIL

by Alan Dean on 20 October, 2016

Uttlesford local plan seems to be in turmoil this week.

Observer 2800 homesThe article in today’s Observer came as a complete surprise and shock to most members of the council. So far the council has published no local plan proposals. They should have been published by Tuesday, two days ago, at the latest.

Councillors have not agreed to any new settlement proposals. We were expecting planning officers’ recommendations to be published on Tuesday and had been sworn to confidentiality about what these might be.

Papers should have been published for next Tuesday’s Planning Policy Working Group on Monday or Tuesday. No agenda has been published and the deadline has passed. What is going on?

So to read these suggestions in today’s local papers is contemptuous of the so-called evidence-based planning process that we have all been doing our best to cooperate with.

As I result, I have written the following email to all councillors and to many council officers demanding an explanation. I await a reply.

EMAIL 08:12, 20 October 2016

Dear Colleagues

There seems to have been a breakdown in due process which risks leading to a loss of trust in the Local Plan process.

On Tuesday (or earlier) papers were due to have been published containing officer recommendations for the Local Plan. They were not. No agenda has yet been published for next Tuesday’s Planning Policy Working Group and the agenda papers for the following day’s Cabinet show “to follow” at Local Plan item 6.

Members were asked at the LP workshop on October 11th keep draft ideas from officers STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL until publication day on October 18th. But publication day came and went. Telephone calls by me were not returned. The best I have received is an email yesterday sayingWe are currently striving to scope the issue and will be issuing appropriate communications once we have done so and worked through the implications. I recognise that there were expectations that documents would be in the public domain last night and that we need to address that. I will be in touch this afternoon.”

Nobody was in touch yesterday afternoon. I do not know what “the issue” is.

However, this morning on my doormat I found in today’s Herts & Essex Observer (Stansted & Dunmow) a new issue. You can see the front page in the attached image. “2,800 homes planned in two new ‘garden cities’” at Easton Park and Boxted Wood.

Susan Barker is quoted extensively. She says “The evidence shows these two are the most viable sites”. Gordon Glenday says the two new settlements will be “based on garden city principles”. There is much more on the front page and on page 3.

I remain to be convinced about the evidence. I sent in on Monday questions asking for evidence that officers have researched adequately an alternative location at Great Chesterford to demonstrate that the council is being even-handed. I have received no response.

But most importantly, I am appalled at the way in which most elected members have been made to look inadequate before their public in making promises about the release of information into the public domain that have not been fulfilled other than through a short newspaper article.

 I hereby call for an explanation today from the leader and the chief executive.

 Cllr Alan Dean

Member of Uttlesford District Council for Stansted North

Chair of Scrutiny

   11 Comments

11 Responses

  1. keith says:

    ‘I told you so’ seems appropriate under the circumstances, I urged non-Tory members of the so-called plan working group to disassociate themselves from a process that was flawed from the start.

    Why the hell Barker is sticking her nose into planning matters is questionable, what she knows about planning could be written on the back of a stamp and her partisan political approach to everything is particularly inappropriate when applied to planning, which is explicitly apolitical (not that Rolfe or Barker understand)

    I predicted the last local plan would be rejected, in the teeth of pressure from the likes of Rolfe and it transpired that I was right and he was miserably wrong.

    I have been forthright in condemning the process by which the latest nonsense has been cobbled together by political pygmies, proper consultation disregarded, arrogant amateurs messing with matters beyond their comprehension and the latest debacle comes as no surprise.

    So no lessons were learned from the 2014 failure, we are now almost into 2017 and still the Titanic mindset grips the fools who tinker while the iceberg looms. I wonder if people will remember this in 2019 when the opportunity presents itself to throw out the rubbish and attempt to find some decent council members?

  2. Matt North says:

    Here we go again…

    Last Autumn we were promised that Uttlesford’s local plan process would be carried out in a manner that was “step-by-step, deliberative, and transparent”. This is the opposite of what is now happening.

    At the last PPWG there was a lot of evidence missing: there was still no workable highways strategy for Saffron Walden nor actionable plan for reducing pollution in the town; and no comparative sustainability analysis of the new settlement options.

    No more information has been released into the public domain since that time… until today, when we see that the so far unseen evidence means that two new settlements are planned at Easton Park and Boxted Wood.

    Its not even positions as these are the most sustainable options – its presented as a fait accompli.

    This is clearly the result of the so-called “Conservative Local Plan” – leapfrogging process, opaque and jumping to political decisions and then trying to fit the evidence around it.

    This is absolutely disgraceful. Cllr S. Barker should resign.

  3. Geoff Powers says:

    Here we go: Dump it on Dunmow! Totally predictable – two huge new settlements in the south of the district with no meaningful reference to infrastructure. I am lost for words – and in any case all the issues have been well-rehearsed in public and within the council. All this is now beyond a joke; we have to get the Planning Inspectorate involved pdq. This continuing waste of council resources and council taxpayers’ cash is indefensible. If this were taking place in the 18th century the perpetrators would have to run for their lives!

  4. Andrew Ketteridge says:

    by Alan Dean on 27 July, 2016
    “Last night Uttlesford Council signed up to the principle of planning to distribute 4,600 future homes in what’s being called a hybrid scheme; a new settlement(s), plus existing towns (Great Dunmow & Saffron Walden) and villages. I have been interviewed this week about the Local Plan by Sinead Holland who was, until last week, the News Editor and the Herts & Essex Observer newspaper. I would like to thank Sinead for her piece. Here it is:

    Once again Uttlesford District Council is at a key point in the process of deciding where thousands of new homes should be built over the next 17 years.

    After its first attempt was thrown out by an independent inspector at the end of 2014, the authority has to allocate around 4,600 extra properties in the Local Plan up to 2033 on top of 7,900 already approved or built in the current 22-year plan period.

    In his report, Inspector Roy Foster rapped the Conservatives’ calculations and derided proposals to put at least 2,100 homes in a new settlement between the Liberal Democrat villages of Henham and Elsenham – branded ‘Hellsenham’ by opponents.

    Uttlesford was one of only 15 councils in the country to have been sent back to the drawing board because its development blueprint was so flawed that it could not be fixed in less than six months.

    After 18 months the council has come up with a new strategy and Liberal Democrat group leader and Stansted member, Cllr Alan Dean is optimistic about the outcome.

    I think it’s been gone about in a much better way this time, in an open and transparent way

    Officers have considered five options for the distribution of development and members have backed their recommendation that a hybrid strategy – housing across a combination of one or more new settlements and in existing towns and villages is the most sustainable solution, although specific sites have not yet been singled out.

    Cllr Dean believes the public can have confidence that the new proposal is based on sound evidence rather than political machinations behind closed doors. The Lib Dems walked out of the previous process because they believed it was so flawed, but are now playing a full part in formulating the new strategy.

    “I think it’s been gone about in a much better way this time, in an open and transparent way,” he said.”

    • Alan Dean says:

      Indeed; better but clearly not yet good enough to achieve a sound plan.

    • Matt North says:

      Andrew – I don’t get your point. Alan said he felt the plan process was going well back in July. This clearly isn’t the case now.

      Alan also said in July specific sites hadn’t been chosen. As at the last meeting of the PPWG that was still the case.

      The next thing we know is that a Tory Cllr is briefing the press on the “preferred sites” before the final recommendation and accompanying evidence has been seen by the PPWG. The story is also presented as though a decision had already been made – this smacks of spin.

      At the last PPWG a couple of weeks ago John Lodge asked for the timetable to be paused due to missing evidence. His request was turned down by the chair. Yet a couple of weeks later this is exactly what has happened but it appears that opposition councillors have been left completely out of the loop.

      We hear from the Dunmow town council meeting that we can’t build in Gt Chesterford because discussions have been had with South Cambridgeshire and they’re not willing to play; but we then are also being told that there are problems with the site next to Braintree because we haven’t been speaking to them. Why the different approaches when there is a duty to co-operate?

      The process has gone off the rails and one has to ask why. Is it because the emerging evidence didn’t fit the plan that had already been decided on?

  5. Hugh Jarse says:

    Confidence in the Local Plan process in Uttlesford was already lost long ago…this fiasco just reinforces those opinions….and still I predict no one responsible will fall on their sword ! UDC planning is an abysmal laughing stock but it’s much worse than that, in the interim we continue with ‘unplanned’ housing being forced upon communities and a high financial cost and high risk of uncertainty placed upon the Uttlesford community at large….not a way to be spending ‘our’ money or controlling ‘our’ lives with the power these Councillors are bestowed with

  6. Roger Townsend says:

    I happened by pure fluke to find out about a meeting last night about this matter. I came away no more enlightened about the plan except to say I was appalled by the level of confusion and obfuscation. If Land Securities have this to deal with then they will eat them for breakfast and with the connivance of Central Govt this plan will go ahead. Not democracy. Not transparent. Not in the best interests of the people of Dunmow.

  7. Geoff Powers says:

    Alan, an addendum to my comment above. I find the fact that you received no substantive response to your quite legitimate enquiries as LibDem Group Leader, from either executive members or officers over the past few days very disquieting. This fact raises questions about the position and role of the new Chief Executive. A primary duty of the council’s senior officers is surely to promote open government, and not to proceed in a ‘cloak and dagger’ fashion as seems to be the case here, announcing a timetable of events which is then promptly disregarded as inconvenient. Any external authority looking in on our council’s procedures would be quite within their rights to reach the conclusion that something was seriously amiss. I think we have – and have had for some years – a serial case of local mis-government in Uttlesford. I sincerely hope that the Planning Inspector will be able to step in at an early date.

    • Alan Dean says:

      Hi Geoff, some of the muddle can be put down to key officers being on leave this week and having to come back to deal with the situation part-time. But is doesn’t excuse the apparent fact that many Tory councillors knew what was going on by Wednesday afternoon, whilst those of us from other parties who are supposed to be working with the Tories on this “non-party political” project were kept in the dark. So much for trust!

  8. Keith says:

    How can you talk about ‘trust’ when obvious Tory members have consistently acted in an untrustworthy manner?

    S. Barker is a county councillor as well as a district councillor and as such should remain silent on planning matters, particularly the gerrymandering schemes that she finds so attractive (Elsenham comes immediately to mind and her involvement in that debacle is a matter of public record)

    Interesting that Rolfe has kept his head below the parapet this time or is he on holiday too, or just recovering from the excitement of the Tory conference? Maybe it is simply that the matter is too complicated for him to understand, as is so often the case.

    Anyway, the usual suspects think that kicking the can down the road substitutes for proper management and a rude awakening lies in their future when the planning inspector casts a professional forensic eye over their latest steaming pile, sorry, ‘draft local plan’.

    I can’t see the words ‘Uttlesford’ and ‘draft local plan’ in the same sentence without laughing out loud. As Oscar Wilde put it, one would need a heart of stone not to laugh. Unfortunately for residents, this never ending comedy so beloved of Rolfe and his stooges has a heavy cost and potentially serious consequences, as will be made clear next year.

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