It may take the District Council’s planning department two years to get back on track, says District Councillor Alan Dean in his April column.

The last time I wrote in The Link was in October, when we were still awaiting the result of the planning appeal about development west of Pennington Lane. It was a relief to many people when the planning inspector’s decision to dismiss the appeal came through later that month – though after The Link had gone to press.

I mention that because in early February planning appeals brought about what is probably the biggest issue currently to confront Uttlesford District Council; maybe even the biggest shock since UDC was created in the 1970s.

Inadequate Performance

It all began on the 7th with a letter from the Minister of State for Housing saying: “The Secretary of State…considers that there are respects in which the local planning authority at Uttlesford District Council…is not adequately performing their function of determining planning applications for major applications [over 10 houses or over 1 hectare of land].”

This means that planning permission applicants now have the option of applying either to UDC in the normal way, or by bypassing the district council and apply- ing instead to the national Planning Inspectorate. Time will tell how this will pan out. I am aware that there are some new applicants who have decided to continue with the Council’s decision-making channels.

Designated Status

Uttlesford is now the only council in England that is currently in this so-called “designation” category. There has been no other council so designated for about eight years; it’s not common and it’s nothing to be proud of.

It has now come to light that the risk of this happening was first flagged up in 2018 and again in the past two years. However, few people within UDC knew. No-one did much or anything effective to tackle the underlying problems, which apparently are about the Council refusing too many planning applications that appeal inspectors think were in accordance with planning policy and rules, and so should have been approved by UDC.

There have been protests that the government’s deci- sion flouts local democracy. But quasi judicial deci- sions that planning officers and councillors make should conform with planning laws and regulations.

Two Years to Get Back to Normal

The planning set-up at Uttlesford is undergoing major changes of staff. Councillors involved in planning will also have to learn new skills. It may take around two years for UDC to get back its normal local planning responsibilities. In the meantime, I just hope that poor plans do not get through this unprecedented approval system that would have been avoided had the alarm bells been heard and acted on some years ago.