Planning decisions are always ideally taken locally. Therefore, I share the disappointment of residents that Uttlesford District Council may no longer decide on major planning applications. What is even more disappointing though is that R4U have once again failed local residents through its poor decision making.
As a Minister I was not involved in any stage of the Department’s decision-making process. This designation notice was issued by the Minister of State for Housing, you can read the full notice on the Government website here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/uttlesford-district-council-notice-of-designation. My involvement would constitute a conflict of interest given my role as the local MP. Any suggestion otherwise is simply untrue and totally unfounded. It is unfortunate that R4U are resorting to lashing out and making false allegations rather than taking responsibility for their own failures.
The planning performance regime was introduced in 2013 to ensure that all authorities are delivering the best possible service. Section 62A of the Town and County Planning Act 1990 gives the Secretary of State the power to designate a Local Planning Authority for poor performance. The Minister for Housing has recently considered the performance of local planning authorities in relation to the quality of decision-making. This is measured by the proportion of appeals that are successful against applications that are refused or not determined by a local authority – Uttlesford District Council did not meet the level expected and was subsequently designated with effect from 8 February 2022.
It is important to emphasise that whilst the decision was based on appeals that were overturned between 2018-2020, the most recent statistics for 2019-2021 show that the number of appeals overturned have actually increased further under the R4U administration.
I understand that Uttlesford District Council had the opportunity to cite exceptional circumstances as to why they believe designation would be unreasonable however the Minister concluded that the arguments put forward were not exceptional.
Designation does not remove any powers from the council, but instead gives applicants for major developments the choice of applying directly to the Planning Inspectorate should they wish. If applications are made to the Inspectorate, the community will have the opportunities to comment on proposals in the usual way, and I have been assured local hearings will be held as needed to consider the arguments in public.
In the official response from Uttlesford District Council, which can be found here: www.uttlesford.gov.uk/planning-designation-notice , the council whilst disappointed has stated they are not ’surprised’ by this decision. The council is now expected to prepare an improvement plan for approval by the Department identifying actions that address the areas off weakness that led to the designation.
I will be calling upon the UDC to work collaboratively with the Department and at pace to develop an Improvement Plan so this designation can be removed as soon as possible.
I have put together a Q+A to address some of the queries in my inbox which I hope is useful, however if you have any additional concerns or queries, please get in touch at email@example.com
Q: Why has Uttlesford District Council been issued a designation notice?
A: Uttlesford District Council is not adequately performing their function of determining applications for planning permission for major development (schemes of 10 or more homes).
The Government introduced a planning performance regime in 2013 to ensure that all authorities are delivering the best possible service. The Minister for Housing has recently considered the performance of local planning authorities in relation to the quality of decision-making.
This is measured by the proportion of appeals that are successful against applications that are refused or not determined by a local authority – Uttlesford District Council did not meet the level expected and was subsequently designated with effect from 8 February 2022.
Section 62A of the Town and County Planning Act 1990 gives the Secretary of State the power to designate a Local Planning Authority for poor performance.
Q: How is local authority performance ‘assessed’?
A: Authorities are assessed on the speed of their decisions for applications and the quality of their decisions. The assessment of speed is measured by the percentage of applications that have been determined within the statutory period and the quality is measured by the proportion of decisions on applications that are overturned at appeal.
The designation of major applications was issued based on the period of 2018-2020 for the quality of UDC’s decisions. UDC exceeded the 10% threshold for applications overturned at appeal at 16.5%.
It is important to note that for the period 2019-2021, Uttlesford District Council have further exceeded the threshold at 17.57%. These statistics can be found here: (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Planning Committee, 16/02/2022 10:00 (moderngov.co.uk)
In terms of comparison the average percentage of local authority planning decisions overturned at appeal in councils across England is 1.5%
Other district councils with a similar size district such as Breckland, Horsham, Mid Suffolk and South Holland have made decisions on almost double the number of major applications as Uttlesford yet have had no decisions overturned at appeal.
Q: Did Kemi Badenoch MP make the decision to designate Uttlesford District Council?
A: No, the Secretary of State, in exercise of the powers conferred by section 62A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, made the designation.
Q: Why did Kemi Badenoch MP not intervene to stop this?
A: As a Minister, Kemi Badenoch MP was not involved in any stage of the Department’s decision-making process. The designation notice was issued by the Minister of State for Housing on behalf of the Secretary of State, you can read the full notice on the Government website here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/uttlesford-district-council-notice-of-designation.
Any involvement by Kemi Badenoch MP would have constituted a conflict of interest as well as a breach of the ministerial code given her role as the local MP. Any suggestion otherwise is simply untrue and totally unfounded.
Q: What happens when a council is designated and what does this mean for residents?
A: Where an authority is designated, those submitting the type of application that the authority has been designated for may submit their planning application directly to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) who will decide it on behalf of the Secretary of State. The council will be asked to continue with some of the roles that it is best placed to do, such as putting up site notices and notifying residents.
If applications are made to the Inspectorate, the community will have the opportunity to comment on proposals in the usual way, and local hearings will be held as needed to consider the arguments in public.
Applications which are appealed already go to the Planning Inspectorate anyway. The only material difference with a designation is that applicants now have the option to do this directly to the Planning Inspectorate.
Q. How is a designation lifted?
A: The Secretary of State will decide once each year whether any designations should be lifted. In assessing whether a designation should be lifted, consideration will be given to whether the improvement measures introduced by the local authority have led to evidenced service improvement.
Q. What will the Government be doing to improve local authority performance generally?
A: Alongside proposals for planning reform, they are exploring options to monitor performance across all planning functions to support continuous improvement and enable early intervention if problems emerge within individual authorities.
Q: Have other councils been designated before?
A: Uttlesford District Council is only the fourth local authority to be designated since the designation regime was introduced in 2013 and is the first designation since 2014. The other three - Bromsgrove, Blaby and Trafford – were designated in 2013/14 and have since been de-designated.
Q: Why have UDC been designated now, when the Government haven’t designated any authorities for so long?
A: The performance of local planning authorities is considered on a case by case basis, and where the criteria for designation are met, the Government will act firmly to designate, recognising that issues need to be addressed, and supporting local authorities to identify and manage the performance issues that they are facing.
Q: I have read that this is a political decision by the Conservatives?
A: This is a completely false statement that was made by Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) councillors.
It is at best based on a confused understanding of how the planning system works and the role of neutral civil servants in the review of local council performance in accordance with the law.
At worst it shows ignorance of their own role as the council administration in delivering planning decisions that are fit for purpose.