To receive questions from members for the Executive and committee chairmen.
The Chair said he would amalgamate Items 4 and 5 as a request had been received to extend question time. He said it was a busy agenda but he would allow 30 minutes in total for questions to the Executive.
The Leader highlighted the executive reports that had been included with the agenda papers, as well as circulated with the Members’ Bulletin. He said Executive members would report to Council as necessary and this practice would continue in future.
The Leader provided an update on the status of the Local Plan. The Inspectors’ letter had left Members with a very difficult decision to make as to whether to continue with the emerging Local Plan, considered to be flawed by the Inspectors, or to withdraw it altogether. He said there were pros and cons to both options and Members would have an opportunity to consider these at the extraordinary Council meeting on 31 March. He added that expert guidance had been sought and Local Government Association (LGA) advisors had been contracted to assist Members in reaching a decision. He added that he had written to all councillors, and all town and parish councils, to ensure that the relevant stakeholders were involved in this ‘early decision’ to either continue or withdraw the emerging Local Plan. Terms of reference for the programme would be circulated with all councillors as soon as they had been finalised. He said he wanted to ensure that the process was inclusive and that the best possible decision was reached.
Councillor Tayler said he hoped meetings and briefings were not cancelled at short notice, as they had been during the week, and that all members would be truly engaged in the process. He said it was very difficult for those members that were employed to clear their diaries and asked that schedules were kept to in future.
The Leader said current engagement levels were far higher than under previous Administrations. He said it would have been premature to have held a briefing session this week and due to the fluidity of the situation Members had been asked to hold a number of dates that were subject to change.
In response to a question from Councillor Dean, the Leader said there were no plans to engage with the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) as garden communities were currently “off the table”.
Councillor Dean said the Inspectors’ letter lacked clarity in regard to whether the Plan was undeliverable due to technical reasons. He asked whether the Leader would seek a clear answer from the Inspectors regarding the deliverability of the emerging Local Plan.
The Leader said there was no mechanism to communicate with Inspectors. Councillor Storah concurred and said it was now up to the Council how it responded to the Inspectors’ letter, either by revising the emerging Local Plan or withdrawing it altogether.
In response to three questions asked by Councillor Barker, Members were informed that a recorded vote would be held on the budget; that the £750,000 grant relating to development of garden communities would not be returned; and that the air space consultation surrounding Stansted Airport could not be included in the Corporate Plan as it had already been drafted and was being considered at tonight’s meeting.
Councillor Sell asked for clarity surrounding the Administration’s approach to garden communities. He said there were discrepancies between what was being said tonight, and previous comments that alluded to a commitment to these types of settlements. He asked if garden communities had a future in Uttlesford.
The Leader said progress had been halted on the current emerging Plan and therefore “everything was off the table, and everything was on the table.”
The Chief Executive said that whilst the Plan had not been formally withdrawn, all options were being considered.
Councillor Foley said that the Council had to re-evaluate its position and would look again at all options. Garden Communities had not been accepted by the Inspectors so Members had to keep their minds open.