This newsletter marks the end of our first year as district councillors. May of 2019 seems a lifetime ago! It has been a rollercoaster twelve months. To say there has been change is an under statement, most of it good, some of it frustrating and of course, the totally unexpected.
70% of UDC councillors are now independent of Westminster party politics. In our opinion this is a wonderful thing. From the outset we have said councillors should work solely for the benefit of the community, not party loyalty or vested interests.
The first action of the new council was to declare a climate change & ecological emergency. Every member except one (who abstained) voted for this. Care for our environment will define responsible government at every level for many years to come.
In January, after several months of intense scrutiny and review, the Planning Committee overturned the vote made prior to the elections to allow Stansted airport to expand to the size of Gatwick.
Also in January, the Planning Inspectorate recommended withdrawal of the draft Local Plan as created by the previous administration. There was widespread disillusionment with the plan and the way it had been forced through council ahead of the elections.
And then along came Covid-19 to turn life upside down. We shan’t know the full impact of the pandemic crisis on Uttlesford District Council for several months yet. It has fallen on UDC to manage an enhanced safety net of social care and community support while also striving to maintain its other services. Everyone at the council has risen to the challenge magnificently as have local volunteers throughout the district.
The pandemic lockdown has taken a heavy toll on UDC’s income and finances. The signal from central Govt is that local authorities (and ultimately that means our communities) will have to “share the pain,” which suggests councils will not be fully compensated.
Meantime there is a sizeable workload at UDC, not least shaping a new Local Plan, fighting greedy developers, protecting our countryside, evolving the council’s strategy on climate change and biodiversity, and developing a new budget to reflect the impact of the pandemic.
In our ward there are some distinct challenges. First, there is pressure from housing developers. For the most part this will affect communities along the main roads (B184 and B1383). Everyone in the ward will suffer if schools and healthcare resources are overloaded as a result. It makes getting a new and meaningful Local Plan in place all the more important and we will be working flat out to ensure a just and reasonable outcome.
School transport came to a head last autumn. We led the fight to get parents concerns properly recognised by Essex County Council and we have been working closely with cabinet members in the UDC administration to try and achieve a lasting solution. However the pandemic has cast a long shadow. We wait to see how many bus operators are still in business and willing to take on the education contract.
To read more on these and other topics click the links below.
It’s been a tough few months for everyone but what has been heartening is the way residents have responded and supported each other. We are fortunate to live in wonderful communities. Give yourselves a big round of applause!
Neil Gregory is chair of the Scrutiny Committee and a member of the Standards Committee. Richard Pavitt is a member of the Planning Committee and deputy chair of the Energy & Climate Change working group.
Blogs on other topics can be viewed by going to proudlyindependent.uk and scrolling down.