Over the border: Uttlesford Council loses its planning powers

Planning / Wed 9th Feb 2022 am28 06:39am

UTTLESFORD District Council has had its decision-making powers on major planning applications stripped by the Government.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced today (February 8) Uttlesford District Council is being designated, meaning developers can now apply directly to the planning inspectorate reports the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

It also said 16.5 per cent of its major planning decisions were overturned at appeal during the two years before March 2020.

The council said it was “disappointed” but not surprised by the decision, and will recommit to improving its planning function.

Uttlesford borders on Harlow with areas such as Sheering, Hatfield Heath and Little Hallingbury in its area.

Opposition councillors said “things are getting worse not better” and claimed it could cause “environmental damange” to the Uttlesford countryside.

The authority said in a statement: “The council will put together a response to the government’s letter over the coming days, and will recommit to making the substantial improvements necessary to its planning function as set out in the peer review report.

“Councillors and planning staff are hard-working and passionately dedicated to delivering an effective planning service that supports quality development.

“Both the ongoing improvements to the planning service and the emergence of a new Local Plan are critical to the successful future of the district, and the council is already making steady and welcome progress in the right direction.”

Uttlesford District Council’s statement also said it had been notified that it was underperforming in October last year.

In its decision notice, the DLUHC said the Secretary of State “considers that there are respects in which the local planning authority specified below are not adequately performing their function of determining applications for planning permission for major development under Part 3 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990”.

‘Things are getting worse not better’

Cllr George Smith (Con, The Sampfords) told the LDRS: “This means that the district council will no longer be able to make major planning application decisions but will have to pay for the privilege of the planning inspectorate to do so, and worse they will no longer be able to collect the fees for those applications.

“At a time when the council’s budget is in serious trouble, that doesn’t help.

“I think the overriding issue here is the administration has continually refused to listen to officer advice and the advice of the professional experts that they employ and that is why over a series of time the planning decisions have been getting worse and worse.

“The designation status refers to decisions between 2018 and 2020, but the council’s own calculations show that the performance is deteriorating thereafter, so things are getting worse not better.”

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Melvin Caton (Stansted South & Birchanger) said: “It is very disappointing that Uttlesford have had the role in determining major planning applications (of over 10 houses) partially removed by the Government.

“It is likely to cause great environment damage to the Uttlesford countryside. Developers will now have choice of going straight to the Planning Inspectorate for decision.

“In those cases local people will no longer be able to lobby their local councillors with their views about whether a planning application should be granted or not. It is an attack on our local democracy.

“It could be two years before the council will get sole responsibility in deciding major applications again.”The number of decisions on major applications that have been overturned on appeal have exceeded the government target under both the previous Conservative administration and the current Residents for Uttlesford one.

“One of the main causes of that is Uttelsford does not have an up-to-date Local Plan which conforms to the national planning policy framework. Two attempts by the previous Tory administration failed.

“The last attempt was withdrawn by the current R4U administration in 2020. Our third attempt must be successful if we are to safeguard our local and global environment.”

A DLUHC spokesperson said in a statement: “Local decision-making is at the heart of the planning process, but the government will designate planning authorities who are underperforming to ensure communities have a fair and reliable system.

“Uttlesford District Council will now need to improve its performance and we will work with them so that the designation can be lifted as soon as possible.”

Designation means applications for major developments, or development of more than 10 houses or over 1 hectare, can be made directly to the Planning Inspectorate.

According to the council’s statement, it is now required to prepare an improvement plan.

The threshold for intervention is 10 per cent of decisions overturned at appeal in a two-year period.

According to its statement, The DLUHC will work with the council to ensure its coming action plan is  implemented.

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4 Comments for Over the border: Uttlesford Council loses its planning powers:

2022-02-09 11:17:51

So much for local democracy, and coming to avoincil near you.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-02-09 19:30:24

Uttlesford Council is controlled by an independent political Party called Residents for You (R4U) who have taken impressive steps to consult and engage with residents in it's policy making system and in turn has taken the bold step of ignoring officer recommendations and has now fell foul of the Planning Inspector and in turn the Government. This is a clear example of those in Parliament who say in public that local people should make decisions about what effects where they live and work, but sets up a process which favour investors in land and building companies.

David Forman
2022-02-10 09:57:51

The late Harlow Labour councillor and Cabinet portfolio holder Danny Purton repeatedly warned about the dangers of not having a Local Plan. Uttlesford District Council have now discovered that the hard way. As is stated in the article: "One of the main causes of that is Uttlesford does not have an up-to-date Local Plan which conforms to the national planning policy framework.". It also shows the dangers of adopting an intransigent approach and failing to listen to Council officers and consultants professional advice.

Marie Compton
2022-02-10 11:28:01

David Forman is quite right. Planning officers are there to advise councillors regarding the laws and regulations. Councils that take decisions based on whims rather than the rules, expose their residents to very costly appeals. If they continue, then the Government will intervene as has happened with Uttlesford. The same could happen if Harlow with the Stort crossing application. Any objections must have strong legal basis in accordance with Planning regulations. Councillors must be mindful of the legal/economic consequences for their residents.

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