Cabinet agree way forward for emerging Local Plan

An updated timetable has been agreed for the preparation of a new Local Plan that will guide the future development of Uttlesford up to the year 2040. It will include allocations of sites for new housing, infrastructure provision and policies to protect historic buildings and places.

Last month, Uttlesford District Council announced a pause to the plan-making process. This was to allow more time to complete further work ahead of publishing a draft local plan for consultation. This is a very important stage as the draft plan will offer people a chance to comment on the council's provisional choices of policies and site allocations to meet the needs of the area, including affordable homes, employment opportunities, schools, GPs, and transport, power and water supply infrastructure in the most sustainable locations. 

Whilst this delay is unfortunate, it will have the benefit to residents, parish councils and other stakeholders of a more accessible and clearly justified draft plan consultation document. The council will have to make very difficult decisions at every stage to balance the competing needs and aspirations.  

The Cabinet agreed an updated timetable at a meeting on 20 October. Broadly, the key activities and revised timings are as follows: 

·        Summer 2023 - the consultation Draft Local Plan will be published for consultation, with events held to explain the proposals and answer questions  

·        Autumn 2023 to Spring 2024 - the council will consider all the comments and suggestions received in response to consultation, and use these to help it decide what changes should be made to form the plan it wants to adopt 

·        Summer 2024 - the council will publish for consultation its proposed Local Plan (the one it wants to adopt) 

·        Autumn 2024 - the proposed Local Plan will be submitted for examination by an independent planning inspector along with all the comments received in that last round of consultation. The inspector will consider those comments, and use these to help decide whether the proposed plan is 'sound' and meets government and legal requirements, and can therefore be adopted, or whether it must be changed before it can be adopted

·        Winter 2024 - the independent inspector's examination continues until their formal decision letter as to whether the plan can be adopted 

·        October 2025 - (subject to successfully passing independent examination). the Local Plan is formally adopted by the council and comes into force 

The Local Plan Team is currently reviewing and updating the previous provisional assessments of the potentially available development sites that were put forward by landowners and developers. The council received over 100 responses from parish councils, landowners and others on these potential sites, and these representations are continuing to help further refine and develop this work.  

Once complete, the review of potentially available sites will be used to inform the decisions in later stages of the process, including the provisional allocations of sites for development to be included in the draft plan which will be consulted on next summer.  

Documents related to the local plan, as well as details of how people can sign up to receive regular newsletter updates, can be found at: www.uttlesford.gov.uk/new-local-plan

NOTES 

Having an adopted local plan is vital for an area as it provides the framework for determining the most appropriate way of proving the growth in housing and employment land that it must accommodate over the medium term. It takes into account all relevant factors such as local character, geography, demographics, housing and employment needs and demands, heritage, environment and infrastructure.  

Without a local plan in place, it becomes very difficult for a local authority to resist development proposals it does not favour. Preparing a local plan is a major, complex undertaking, usually taking a number of years and involving several rounds of consultation as potential proposals are identified, developed and refined.   

An area's council has an important and influential role in deciding how an area should develop, but does not have a completely free hand in deciding what goes in its plan. Government policy and other factors create onerous demands and restrictions which present any council with very difficult choices and balances to be struck. Uttlesford District Council started work in 2020 on a new local plan to cover the period to 2040. This process has included extensive public engagemnt, for which the council won an award from the Royal Town Planning Institute. Its previous proposed plan was withdrawn and abandoned following critical feedback from the planning inspectors examining it. 

The next major stage of preparation is the publication of a detailed Draft Local Plan, in summer 2023 for a major round of public consultation and engagement. This draft plan will include a clear statement of the provisionally favoured strategic approach, specific policies (such as on climate change, transport, flooding and so on), and site allocations to meet the binding target set by the government of 14,000 new homes to be built in the district over the next 20 years.  

Over the months following that, the council will review its draft proposals in the light of consultation responses, and the summer of 2024 will see the publication and new consultation of the council's 'final' proposed local plan. In due course, that proposed plan will be submitted, along with all responses to the latest consultation, for consideration by an independent inspector, whose examination of the plan will include a series of public hearings.   

The successive rounds of consultation as the plan is developed are designed to draw out comments and suggestions to help revise and refine the evolving plan through to adoption of a final local plan. It involves a huge amount of challenging work by planning professionals, with oversight, guidance and scrutiny from elected councillors. This democratic accountability includes Uttlesford's full council of 39 elected members voting whether to proceed at every key stage. 

31 October 2022