The leader of Uttlesford District Council has sent a 'strong' response to a letter from Secretary of State Michael Gove, demanding that the council provide an update on its Local Plan timeline within 12 weeks.

Council leader Cllr Petrina Lees, of Residents for Uttlesford (R4U), said: "It was perplexing and surprising to receive this demand because UDC had already published the latest Local Plan timetable last October and sent it to his Department of State.

"In fact, since October council officers have also held positive update meetings with Westminster officials, who were fully briefed on the Local Plan progress.

Saffron Walden Reporter: Cllr Petrina Lees, leader of Uttlesford District CouncilCllr Petrina Lees, leader of Uttlesford District Council (Image: Residents for Uttlesford)

"So why did he send the letter when, as Secretary of State, he should know what his own department knows?

"Nonetheless, I have written to Mr Gove to remind him of the progress and timeline. We at UDC look forward to continuing to work effectively with staff members in his department.

"Meanwhile our administration continues to collaborate and work cross-party to deliver a Local Plan so that we can stop the decades-long speculative developer free-for-all left by the Conservatives and their failed policies."

Uttlesford Conservatives called an extraordinary meeting on January 17 to discuss the letter - a decision which was criticised by both R4U and the Liberal Democrat group.

R4U's Cllr Chloe Fiddy said: "The extra full council meeting expressly called to discuss it, demanded by the Conservatives at UDC, was a complete waste of officer time and taxpayer money.

Saffron Walden Reporter: Cllr Chloe Fiddy from Residents For UttlesfordCllr Chloe Fiddy from Residents For Uttlesford (Image: Residents For Uttlesford)

"Officers have better things to do, not least working on the Local Plan, than wasting hours pandering to the whims and petty politics of the Tory councillors, who seem desperate to delay the new plan by any means possible. In fact, they recently voted to stop it.

"Getting a Local Plan in place is the only way to stop the developer-led development that has and continues to seriously erode our district’s infrastructure."

However Cllr Susan Barker, the leader of the Conservative group, explained that the purpose of the meeting was to bring the matter into the public domain and challenge Cllr Lees' response.

Saffron Walden Reporter:  Cllr Susan Barker, leader of the Uttlesford Conservative group Cllr Susan Barker, leader of the Uttlesford Conservative group (Image: Uttlesford District Council)

Cllr Barker argued against the claims that delays to the timetable were used to improve the housing strategy, saying that the strategy was "blown out the window" following the approval of 1,200 homes in Little Easton days before the public consultation.

Fellow Conservative councillor Ray Gooding also raised concerns about school provision, and what they saw as a "lack of collaboration" with Essex County Council.


Cllr John Moran questioned if there was a strategy for the villages - for example where allocated houses will be built in Ashdon - and voiced residents' concerns about housing levels in Thaxted, which are set to increase by over a third.

A spokesperson for the Conservatives said: "If the new timeline experiences any delays it will miss the Government’s submission deadline of June 2025.

"With so many shortcomings identified at this early stage, councillors and residents will be wondering how realistic the proposal is and what the consequences of failure will look like."