In an extraordinary act of defiance, the 5 Lib-Dem, Labour and Independent Councillors on the Local Plan Committee openly defied the unanimous democratic decision of Colchester Borough Council that a Plan B should be prepared, in case the Government Planning Inspector yet again finds the Council’s Local Plan Unsound or recommends major modifications to it.

The Local Plan defines the land use strategy for the next 15 years, and has been found unsound by the Government Planning Inspector because of serious flaws in the proposals for two new Towns, to be built in conjunction with Braintree and Tendring Councils. The Local Plan also sets-out a land bank for the five-year housing supply. If this is not approved, it would put the Council and the Borough at risk of speculative planning applications being permitted at appeal, and highlights the importance of having a new, valid Local Plan.

Back in October 2019, The Council unanimously supported a proposal from Conservative Deputy Leader, Cllr Lewis Barber for an alternative Plan-B to be formulated as a matter of urgency. This was in case the Government Planning Inspector rejects the proposal for two new towns totalling about 30,000 homes east and west of Colchester that the Liberal Democrats and Labour Groups are trying to force through without adequate public involvement or the necessary guarantee of infrastructure and services.

Yet at the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Independent Councillors showed absolute contempt for the unanimous decision of the Council by blocking the preparation of a Plan-B.

At the Local Plan committee meeting, Cllr Ellis (Conservative Spokesperson on Local Plan) said: “The report before the Committee was not an outline of a Plan-B.  Effectively it was just a timetable to achieving a new Local Plan. But disappointingly it contained nothing about how we tackle the various scenarios that could transpire from the Inspectors’ next letter. I feel strongly that the whole point of a ‘Plan-B’ was to do that contingency planning so that we would be prepared for a number of eventualities. It is essential the Council is not caught like ‘rabbits in the headlights’ when the Inspectors letter arrives.”
Cllr Ellis proposed that the Council’s ‘Plan-B’ directive might be salvaged if the Committee were to accept an officer’s offer of a private briefing for Councillors where those scenarios were worked up, so that all had a much clearer understanding of the ramifications of each possible decision and how we might tackle them.

Cllr Dennis Willetts (Lexden Ward & Conservative spokesperson on Governance) told the Local Plan Committee: “The Council has given a strategic direction to the Local Plan Committee to prepare the outline of a Plan-B, least the Government Planning Inspector yet again decides the Local Plan is unsound. The Borough Council instructed an outline to be prepared within 1 month of the completion of the Section 1 hearing at the end of January. But the Report before the committee shows that this has not been done. Instead the Report merely suggests that preparing a Plan-B will take longer than preparing an entirely new Local plan. This is nonsense and demonstrates that the Committee is unwilling to embrace a Plan-B.”

Cllr Paul Dundas (Conservative, Stanway Ward) added: It is essential that we have a Plan-B that explores the options and understand what happens if the Planning Inspector decides that either or both of the proposed New Towns on the borders of the Borough should be deleted from the Local Plan to make it economically sound. I cannot believe that these possibilities have not been discussed with our partners at Braintree and Tendring Councils. These are the options that must be explored in Plan-B. I have serious concerns that the Council of 51 Members decided unanimously to proceed with a Plan-B, yet 5 Councillors on the Local Plan Committee can defy the wish of the 51 members of the full Council.

After the meeting Cllr Ellis said, ‘ I’m incredibly disappointed that my proposal didn’t even make it to a vote. Five Councillors voting to do nothing now leaves us once again waiting on tenterhooks for a letter from the Planning Inspector which brings with it huge consequences for Colchester - whatever it might say - while having no strategy clearly thought through as to how we might deal with the various possible outcomes. The Lib-Dem, Labour and Independent Members of the Local Plan Committee didn’t just let themselves and full Council down, they let down the residents of Colchester.

Voting:
For preparing a Plan-B in accordance with the wish of the full Council (4 votes)
   Ellis (Conservative)
   Dundas (Conservative)
   Moore (Conservative)
   Willetts (Conservative)

Against Preparing a Plan-B (5 Votes)
   Scordis (Labour)
   Bourne (Labour)
   Goss (Liberal Democrat)
   Macarthy (Liberal Democrat)
   Oxford G (Independent)

2020-03-06