Cllr Alan Dean

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Stansted North on Uttlesford District Council and former Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Learn more

“Not me, guv!”

by Alan Dean on 30 August, 2020

That’s the sign one weekend commentator suggested Boris Johnson should have on his desk at No. 10. “Not me, I’m not responsible for what goes wrong.” That contrasts with US president Harry Truman’s actual desk-top sign “The buck stops here”.

Even Conservative MPs are now speaking out against a Johnson cabinet of incompetent people whose only qualifications for office are blind loyalty to Johnson and the Brexit ideology. Whether exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, our children’s examinations, return to school and university plans, or illegal planning decisions to save Tory Party donors £millions, today’s government ministers put the blame for their own mistaken actions on civil servants, who are expected to sacrifice their careers by becoming ministers’ scapegoats.

Such is the depth of shamelessness to which politics at Westminster has sunk. It’s what you get from a populist government which is brilliant at meaningless campaign slogans that deceive the public into handing over their votes, but is useless at delivering on what it promised.

Westminster is not alone in deceiving the public. We have local parallels here in north-west Essex – at Uttlesford District Council. Unlike at the Westminster election of December 2019, which saw the Conservatives achieve a majority of 80,  seven months earlier the local Conservatives were almost wiped out by the Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) Party and a few Independents.

This coalition of politicians claims not to be a party of politicians, but rather a saintly grouping of holier-than-thou residents “untainted by and definitely not instructed by any national party headquarters”. This, they believe, places them on a superior plane from those who wear a national party label – Conservative, Green, Liberal Democrat; those whose members have a common ethos and similar values.

The problem in September 2020, sixteen months after we were all elected, this  R4U coalition has delivered next to nothing that is new and better than was established under the last Conservative administration. On the contrary, the Council and district are now in a perilous position. This situation cannot be blamed on the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet, there is some hope. We are promised the first plan of what they intend to achieve in September, so action may finally be underway by Christmas.

The elephant in the room is a blank sheet of paper. It’s the long-awaited Local Plan. We must hope that doesn’t turn into an origami white elephant; though the risk is high. R4U won the 2019 election for their opposition to the previous draft plan and what was in effect a promise everywhere of “vote for us and there will be no new homes near yours”. They also promised to ask residents what development they do want to happen. So far, so good.

But, but, but….! If present residents are offered no change, many will, understandably, opt for no change. R4U worked on and backed the withdrawn Local Plan, alongside the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, until they were asked to put their name to it…..when they saw an election a few months away. When they won decisively, they didn’t withdraw the plan they had declared was no good. They wasted almost a year waiting for a planning inspector to tell them the plan was undeliverable. Why was it undeliverable? One fundamental reason was that the Council Administration party – R4U – had promised not to deliver what was in the Local Plan.

And now the Conservative government has pulled the rug, floorboards and foundations from beneath the Council’s feet with their latest attack on the English planning system. Uttlesford won’t be required to deliver 600 to 700 homes per annum, as was the case with the plan withdrawn in April. Secretary of State Robert Jenrick says Uttlesford must plan for over 1,200 new homes to be ready for occupation ever year from 2020 to 2040. That would mean this district would have over 60,000 households by 2040, compared with 25,000 homes at the end of the 1900s.

It does seem that R4U should have listened to the Lib Dems before pulling the plug on the old Local Plan, by trying to improve on any deficiencies based on the existing housing target. The risk now is that every town and village could double in size in little over 40 years.

The Lib Dems will try to persuade R4U and the Independents to challenge the new Tory targets. The Conservative idea that you can make local homes cheaper by flooding the market; by ramping up new builds, is flawed and reckless. The idea that developers will overwhelm the housing market with new properties, so that prices drop to bring them within the reach of poorer people is fanciful. Developers and landowners need to maintain prices and profits out of self interest – and to fund their donations to the Conservative Party. Mr Jenrick is in that line of business, according to recent reports.

The solution to the absence of truly affordable or social housing for many people is for either the state to acquire land at knock-down prices or for councils to be able to use other mechanisms for subsidising homes for the less wealthy. Twenty percent discounts below market levels for today’s so-called “affordable housing” is not good enough. So far, I have heard nothing from the Residents for Uttlesford administration that they will make this one of their highest priorities for change for the better. I do hope they don’t fall for the latest algorithm-driven policy initiative from central government. I’d like to think that all political groups at UDC will make a stand against Mr Jenrick’s Housing Algorithm for the Happy Affluent – HaHa’s!

It’s time for all political parties – including those who like to pretend the aren’t politicians – to wear the Truman badge – “The Buck Stops Here”!




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