Uttlesford united over expansion
IF there is one burning issue about which most Uttlesford politicians agree it is Stansted Airport.Few in the sparsely populated Essex district want to see their fields and woodland paved over with the runways, additional roads and housing that would result from any expansion of the site.
IF there is one burning issue about which most Uttlesford politicians agree it is Stansted Airport.
Few in the sparsely populated Essex district want to see their fields and woodland paved over with the runways, additional roads and housing that would result from any expansion of the site.
They are similarly united in their reluctance to see tens of thousands of new homes built on their doorstep, in line with Government proposals for the London to Stansted/Cambridge M11 corridor.
With general accord on such important matters, it might be expected that this year's elections will be a rather lifeless affair. All 44 council seats are up for grabs – and candidates can still find plenty of scope for disagreement.
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The council, formed in 1974, has a budget of £25 million a year to provide local services for nearly 69,000 people in North West Essex. Bordering Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, Uttlesford covers the largest area of all the Essex councils but has the second lowest population.
Some 14,700 live in the quintessential English town of Saffron Walden, while there are 6,300 in Great Dunmow and 5,600 in Stansted Mountfitchet. The remaining residents are scattered throughout the 100 or so villages and hamlets that make up the district.
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Currently overall control of the council is held by a Conservative/Independent alliance. There have been two defections to the Independents. Elizabeth Godwin, standing in Birchanger, has switched allegiances from the Conservatives and Ray Clifford, for Stansted North, has moved from the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Clifford, who formed the Stansted and District Liberal Association 35 years' ago and has lived in the area for 50 years, said he had lost all confidence in the Lib Dems over the past four years.
"I believe in getting things done, not just talking about it and getting lost in spin and propaganda. I did not feel my integrity could be served by staying with the group. I have a record of achievements I'm proud of. I have lived here with my family for a very long time and believe I have a debt to serve to the community. If I can do that under the Independent label then all well and good. I haven't got time to spend in endless chat."
Independent group leader Margaret Caton is standing down after eight years on the council, with regrets that Thaxted will now have no Independent candidate.
James Ketteridge, Conservative candidate for Saffron Walden Shire and chairman of the council, said that retaining the rural character of the district in the face of potential development was of paramount importance.
He added: "People may have different views on how to achieve that but as a council we need to unite around those issues and speak with one voice."
He recognises the need for affordable housing in the area but believes it can be provided without major urbanisation. He was also keen to curb anti-social behaviour in and around Saffron Walden.
Labour leader David Green, a candidate for Saffron Walden Shire, also highlighted anti-social behaviour.
A district and borough councillor for 30 years, he said: "We are still neglecting some very important issues, such as our teenagers. We still need more places for young people to go out socially such as cinemas and bowling alleys without having to hang around pubs drinking beer.
"I am also very sad about the lack of provision of houses to rent. There are some young women out there in desperate situations whose partners have left them with young children and nowhere to live.
"We will never get things running smoothly until we base our decisions on human relationships and how people conduct their lives nowadays."
Alan Dean, Lib Dem leader and candidate for Stansted South, said: "With such pressing issues as urbanisation and the airport expansion we will need a strong district council which is on the ball and able to stand up for the area."
He added there was concern over steep rises in council tax, conceding that this was mostly attributable to the Essex County Council and stressing the need to demonstrate value for money.
He also criticised the current administration for lacking focus in its priorities and failure to demonstrate improvements. He was "quietly confident" that the Lib Dems would win more seats adding that he believed they had a "fair chance" of winning overall control.
"I think people realise the present council is not up to the job and are looking for a change," he said.