My first preference was to entitle this debate “The Battle of Flitch Green”, but I was advised against doing so lest a Defence Minister be sent to the Dispatch Box. Nevertheless, a long drawn-out battle has taken place over this community.
Once upon a time, there was a sugar beet factory on the site of what is now the parish of Flitch Green. That, after it ceased operation, remained a monument on the landscape for quite some time, but in the wake of the Stansted airport inquiry in the 1980s, when sites were being considered for what was termed airport-related housing, the site there became one of those eventually selected and was then given the title Oakwood Park.
There were 485 houses in the original allocation, although that had been increased to 655 by 2001, and not many bricks had been placed on bricks before a further 160 were added, bringing the total to 815 houses. The original application was granted on appeal in 1998. The provision of social and community facilities was regulated by a section 106 obligation imposed by the planning directorate. There were specified a multipurpose community hall, a village car park, sports pitches, a local equipped area for play and a neighbourhood area for play. These were meant to be provided by the time the 501st house was completed. None was.
Not part of the obligation, but glowingly described in published literature, no doubt designed to arouse interest in the village, were locations for shops, a surgery and a pub, as well as a landscaped area. The brochures stated:
“Shops including a small supermarket will be provided to serve the local convenience needs of the new residents”, and
“A pub/restaurant with dedicated parking is proposed for a site overlooking the village green”.
The brochures went on to say:
“The village green will be of traditional form surrounded by avenues of large trees . . . and will be of a size to accommodate a cricket pitch and junior soccer pitch and could incorporate a small pavilion.”
Picture the scene; it might even have come from one of my books! However, there is no need to imagine, because there were colour illustrations in the brochures showing an idyllic village in a rural setting—but before my hon. Friend the Minister is tempted by my words to ring a local estate agent and ask about vacancies, he should beware. If he were to go there, he would not find any of the facilities that I have just described.
The good news—the only good news—was that the development company, Enodis, has built a community hall and laid out a young children’s playground. The bad news, however, is that the hall was only very recently adopted because, in the words of the planning authority, Uttlesford district council,
“its appalling construction required a great deal of remedial work to make it acceptable.”
That is the limit of what has been done at Flitch Green. Not even the roads are of adoptable standard.
The technique employed by the development company to delay the provision of facilities which, if not legally bound, it was honour-bound to provide, was to put in a fresh planning application for additional houses. In those circumstances, it seems that the court would not grant the planning authority an enforcement because it would theoretically be possible that some change might be made in the layout of the plans for the village.
The application would be refused by the district council, it would go to appeal, it would be turned down on appeal, it would go to judicial review, it would be turned down again, and then the process could recommence. Another planning application could go in. That is how the time has been spent—going to court, going to inquiry, and not providing facilities that people were entitled to expect. Enodis could fairly be called a sort of corporate artful dodger.
I make allowance for the fact that the contractor, Colonnade, which was to have built the village centre, went into liquidation, which has caused a separate hold-up. The district council has also given approval for another 98 homes, which brings the total to well over 900.
There are currently three planning applications before the council. First, there is an application for a village centre adjacent to the one that has fallen foul of the collapse of Colonnade. Secondly, there is an application for a sports field. It is not the original sports field, but a much better one that has apparently been given approval by Sport England. Unfortunately, it is not in the parish of Flitch Green, but in the neighbouring parish of Felsted. Thirdly, an application has been made for a further 107 houses. Even if Uttlesford district council were minded to approve the applications, Enodis, on past form, would probably build only the houses, as it would be under no obligation to implement the planning permissions given for the village centre and the sports field.
There we have it. Some of my constituents have been living in Flitch Green for 10 years, but there is still no sign of the shops, no sign of the pub or restaurant and no sign of the village green. In 2008 a leaflet was circulated by Enodis stating, “We want your views.” Of the then 650 households, only 18% responded—I suspect that most were completely feed up with Enodis by that time. To the question, “Do you want the playing field and large area of play the other side of the Stebbing brook?”, meaning in Felsted, as shown on Enodis’s latest planning application, 121 people said no and 34 said yes. Enodis took the number of abstentions to mean approval, and of course the people of Felsted were not asked. However, when views are expressed by the elected parish councils of Flitch Green and Felsted and the elected district council of Uttlesford, Enodis simply does not listen.
Enodis’s latest line is to say that there are deficiencies in Uttlesford district council’s five-year housing supply chain and that that should be a factor in determining the application for the final phase of Flitch Green. That would mean another 107 houses on the site that was designated as the sports field in the original master plan. The parish of Flitch Green would like the sports field to be in that original position. It does not approve of the line of Stebbing brook being crossed and the playing fields put on the other side. The parish of Felsted certainly does not approve of that, because it fears that in-filling would follow between the sports field and the present boundary of buildings in the parish.
What worries me is that, were the Government prepared to go along with the argument being put forward by Enodis, Uttlesford district council would be denied the ability to make its own plans for housing provision for the future. That would certainly flout the opinion of the two parish councils. In those circumstances, one would be tempted to ask, “What price localism then?” I say to the Minister, after this appalling history of manipulation, that Enodis’s disgraceful and contemptuous attitude shows that this is a battle it should not be allowed to win.