Uttlesford last produced a Local Plan in 2005. The district should have had a new plan in 2015.
The most recent attempt, in 2019, failed because of an overly ambitious plan by Conservative-led councils in north Essex to build 5 new towns (gloriously termed garden communities) totalling approx. 60,000 houses. Two of the sites were Uttlesford projects plus a cross-border project shared with Braintree district council.
This focus on a few big sites failed to deliver sustainability for existing communities, many of which had suffered years of development without additional infrastructure. Also, big developments take longer to get off the ground and therefore mean slower delivery of new housing in the early years of a plan. For these and other reasons the Planning Inspectorate rejected the Uttlesford plan. Later the North Essex Garden Communities project was deemed not to be viable. The only one of the five to survive is the Tendring/Colchester Borders Garden Community.
It meant Uttlesford had to go back to the drawing board. In 2022 the Planning department was reconfigured, headed by a senior planner recruited from the Housing ministry. A new Local Plan team was put in place followed by a complete re-evaluation of what a new Local Plan should be achieving and how it would meet Govt housing targets. Behind it all is a determination to remove the district from the clutches of speculative developers.
Making Local Plans and having sensible national policies governing land use is a common sense approach to coping with a growing population. However, problems arise when the process is distorted by narrow political interests and allowed to be dominated by market-driven monetisation.
Since 2011, the population of Uttlesford has grown by 14.9% which is much greater than the average for England as a whole of 6.6%. This growth in Uttlesford has been driven by house building, predominantly targeted at inward migration of people working in London and Cambridge. This in turn, has pushed up house prices.
Whether we like it or not, Uttlesford is seen by central Govt as an overspill to London (and increasingly so for Cambridge) and that is what sets our house building target. We also have London’s third international airport within the district (only just, the district’s south western boundary is barely 1km away) and that has a distorting effect on what the district council is expected to deliver.
The specifics of the draft Uttlesford Local Plan 2021 – 2041 are discussed elsewhere; but it helps to understand how Uttlesford got to this point in time.
Planning in England (and in Uttlesford after the district’s formation in 1974)
On top of the pre-war housing shortage, nearly half a million homes were destroyed or made uninhabitable by war time bombing, and many slums still remained. Plans made during the war were enacted in earnest from 1945 to relieve the acute overcrowding in British homes.
1947: The planning system in England as we know it today was the result of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which laid down procedures to control urban sprawl into the countryside and implement a ‘plan-led’ system for the first time.
1953: Annual Council housebuilding peaks at 253,000 p.a.
1961: The Land Compensation Act 1961. This piece of legislation could be said to contain the root cause of today’s sky rocketing development costs and high house prices.
1968: 425,830 new homes built. The highest annual output achieved in the UK.
1974: Uttlesford created as one of 14 districts within Essex amalgamating many smaller districts.
1980: Right to Buy is introduced in the Housing Act 1980 allowing council tenants to buy their home at discount. The failure to build new council housing to replace much of that sold would later contribute to housing shortage and homelessness.
2003: UDC election: Liberal Democrat majority.
2004: The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 establishes a new Local Plan process.
2005: Adoption of the first (and still only) Uttlesford Local Plan prepared under ‘old’ rules.
2007: UDC elections: Conservatives gain control from LIbDems.
2011: UDC Election: Conservative majority.
2012: Introduction of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) to govern development in England and set a framework for the delivery of sustainable development.
2013: UDC increases housing target from 338 to 415 p.a.
2014: New local plan for Uttlesford is rejected by the Planning Inspector for multiple failures including the process by which sites for new homes were selected. Housing target increased to 523 p.a.
2015: UDC Elections: Conservative majority. Scheme for a big development at Elsenham is rejected by the Secretary of State. Major expansion at Saffron Walden is abandoned. Housing target increased to 568 p.a.
2016: Ready-to-publish draft for a new Local Plan is withdrawn at the eleventh hour under mysterious circumstances, reputedly because of protest by Conservative district councillors in the south of the district.
2017: UDC publishes draft Local Plan based on 3 new towns at Great Easton, Great Chesterford and west of Braintree near Stebbing. Housing target increased to 641 p.a.
2018: Housing target increased to 705 p.a. from 2022. Independent review finds multiple failures in the sustainability appraisal supporting the draft Local Plan resulting in delay and re-appraisal.
2019: UDC Election: Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) gain control from Conservatives. Local Plan as brought forward in 2017 is subject to 9 days of public examination and later (in early 2020) withdrawn on recommendation of Planning Inspector.
2020: Process starts again. Running total of cost at this point approx. £6m.
2023: October – New Local Plan comes forward based on proportionate growth of existing towns and principle villages. The timetable envisages two stages of public consultation followed by examination in public late 2024/early 2025 and adoption of the plan in 2026.