District Councillor’s Update: September 2023

District Councillor’s Update: September 2023

A draft Local Plan may be ready for the public to look over this autumn, reports District Councillor for Stansted North Alan Dean

Time is running out!” — is what a resident recently said regarding finishing and agreeing a draft Local Plan by October 2023. This was said on 26th of July 2023 at the first meeting of the Council’s Local Plan Leadership Group following May’s local elections. He continued: “As a resident, I feel totally uninformed.” As a district councillor, I also am being kept totally in the dark about a document that is meant to shape the district for the next few decades and is due to be published in one- or two-months’ time.

Uttlesford’s Local Plan — its blueprint for development — is supposed to be updated at least every 5 years. You may be surprised to know the latest one is dated 2005; a near 20-year gap! The existing plan is substantially out of date.

Any new Plan needs to be sound or risks being rejected by a government inspector for a third time. Without a Plan, the Council can’t be sure to achieve delivery of affordable homes for people who are unable to buy homes on the open market, and it may not achieve other high standards such as energy efficiency. Instead, we will get what developers want to build and where they want to build them.

Meetings/workshops about specific details such as climate change measures will be held in private prior to the publication of an initial draft plan. The whole idea about publication is to release the plan in its entirety in the autumn, rather than in dribs and drabs, to avoid giving some landowners and developers an advantage over others.

Despite that intention, concern has been expressed by both the public and by some elected Members of the Council about the secrecy surrounding what’s been going on. The public will be allowed a six-week consultation in the autumn of this year (and hopefully not again over Christmas) on the assumption that the Cabinet and Full Council meetings agree to the release of the Plan.

We are promised that all the policies in the new Plan will be joined up and be consistent, and that there will be evidence to demonstrate that they are sound and will satisfy not just the planning Inspector, who has to approve the final Plan by 2026, but hopefully also satisfy the residents of the district that the plan is the best possible, even though many people may not like the inevitable changes that the Plan will contain.

At the moment, much of the development that is occurring in and around Stansted —and further afield — is based on what landowners and developers want to happen. That is because of the failure of councillors in recent years to make sensible decisions about creating a Local Plan.

At least one member of the Local Plan Leadership Group (LPLG), which is supposed to be steering the Local Plan process, raised a concern about whether it actually is a Leadership Group or rather is a Listening Group. That councillor was clearly feeling left in the dark. I fear the whole process could go pear-shaped yet again when the LPLG, or the Cabinet or the Full Council is required to make the key decision in a public meeting that takes the Local Plan forward to the public for the important public consultation stage.

All I can say is WATCH THIS SPACE…