Further delays to Uttlesford Local Plan is 'gambling on community's future'
Uttlesford District Council (UDC) says it needs more time before publishing the first draft of its Local Plan – its blueprint for development in the district – for public consultation.
It is the latest in a series of timetable amendments by the council's Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) administration. Cabinet members want to further consider proposed development sites before its third attempt at setting the district's future planning policy framework is revealed.
Two previous Local Plans were thrown out by the Government.
But the leader of the council's Conservative group, Cllr George Smith (The Sampfords), warned the administration was "gambling on the community's future" and risked not meeting the 2023 deadline for submitting its finalised Local Plan.
He said the first draft was originally due for publication in March, was pushed back to June and it was now unlikely the public would glimpse the document until the end of the summer.
"The Government have set a hard deadline of the end of 2023 for the council to submit a new Local Plan," said Cllr Smith. "Residents for Uttlesford started work on a new Local Plan knowing that this came with a fixed deadline. The continuing delays in starting this consultation does not demonstrate confidence in their plan. Worse, the risk of these delays is that the council misses its deadline, which could result in the Government imposing a plan on the district instead.
"Should that come to pass, it will be the fault of an indecisive administration refusing to take the hard decisions that being in public office requires."
A statement from UDC said: "Following a request by members of the cabinet, the chief executive of Uttlesford District Council [Peter Holt] has agreed more time will be given for members to consider the sites and evidence base ahead of publishing the draft Local Plan for public consultation.
"The Government last week also published the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will have an impact on the emerging Local Plan and better understanding its implications prior to publication will be beneficial.
"Publishing the first draft of the plan... is a critical milestone and the council wants to ensure it gets this stage right in order to produce the best plan possible for the district.
"The Local Plan leadership group (May 18), cabinet (June 7) and full council (June 15) meetings will therefore be moved to accommodate the additional time required – new dates will be confirmed shortly. The council still intends to publish the draft Local Plan for public consultation in the summer."
Cllr Smith responded: "By linking the decision to defer the consultation to a piece of legislation that is freshly announced and entirely lacking detail, the administration is gambling all of our community’s future on another political ploy."
Leader of the council Petrina Lees (R4U, Elsenham and Henham) said she would be explaining the decision in more detail to the scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday (May 26).
"The short delay is for reasons which should benefit the quality of the Local Plan. We are determined to get this right. We plan to meet the deadline of end 2023. We will also extend the consultation by a fortnight in recognition of lots of people taking a week or two of holiday over that period.
"I am disappointed that the other elected members have decided to use this as political point-scoring again, as when we had the leaders meeting the rationale was explained and agreed on. With nods of assent. When I stated very clearly that we want to change the way local politics worked, we meant it – of course, I forgot that others might not want to change."
Leader of UDC's Liberal Democrat group Cllr Melvin Caton (Stansted South and Birchanger), whose party has formed an opposition alliance with the Greens ahead of next year's local elections, said they were also concerned about "slippage of the timetable".
"There's the potential that the next plan to be delivered could be delayed by the elections next spring and we are pushing the limits to get to the deadline.
"Everybody has their fingers crossed that the Government will not take it over – that would be a travesty of local democracy."
He added: "As I understand it, the delay is because certain other options have been proposed very late in the programme and they wish to examine whether these proposals are feasible."