Biggleswade and Tempsford ‘14,000 homes U-turn’ denied

Central Bedfordshire Council regeneration portfolio holder Nigel Young. Picture: CBC

Central Bedfordshire Council regeneration portfolio holder Nigel Young. Picture: CBC - Credit: Archant

Plans for large-scale future housing growth in parts of Central Bedfordshire have not been shelved and are set to remain in the Local Plan for the area, it has been revealed.

Confusion arose over an inspector’s initial input into the document, and the resulting changes Central Bedfordshire Council was advised to make.

Among the items raised was the potential housing growth at Biggleswade, Tempsford and Aspley, and where it should feature within the plan.

“I have to make it absolutely clear, there is no U-turn and the inspector has not raised major concerns,” Conservative Dunstable Watling councillor Nigel Young told an overview and scrutiny committee meeting yesterday.

“Just as the inspector said in relation to the Milton Keynes plan, these areas the council identifies for future growth appear in the body of the plan, but don’t have a policy associated with them,” he said.

“The inspector said they shouldn’t appear in the body of the plan, so we’ve said ‘OK, we’ll move them’.”

Mr Young referred to a social media post by independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny.

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“The headline is that the inspector appointed to consider our Local Plan raises major concerns over the Central Bedfordshire local plan and refers to a U-turn by the council,” said Mr Young, who is the council’s executive member for regeneration.

“Councillor Zerny does say they have gone away. They haven’t gone away. They are areas we’ve identified for future growth.

“In the case of Tempsford, we were always crystal clear you couldn’t build that volume of housing without additional infrastructure.

“That was primarily East West Rail and the Oxford-to-Cambridge expressway.

“Without East West Rail and a station between Sandy and Tempsford, there could only ever have been limited development there.

“It remains completely unclear when East West Rail will come forward and particularly where they might chose to put a station.”

He added: “They started with four routes and now have eight. It’s not got better. It’s got more confusing.

“We will rely on absolute clarity on East West Rail, and less so to the expressway.

“In the case of Biggleswade and the balance of some 5,000 to 7,000 homes – a scheme for 1,500 homes is currently in, which we’re working on.

“We have to deal with every application put to us based on what we are told and the evidence we are given in that application.

“We will determine it in due course. I have no idea when. It might be after the plan, it may be before.

“Any additional growth in Biggleswade is less dependent on East West Rail, probably more dependent on a new railway station, or a significantly renovated station. And probably more dependent on extra parking, because there is a significant commuter parking problem.

“We will make decisions in the refresh of the plan which may be appropriate for that area.

“It also moves land west of Luton until such time as we know about the appropriate infrastructure required for us to make an allocation there.”

Returning to councillor Zerny’s social media post, councillor Young told the meeting: “I would urge you to stop referring to the Local Plan as ‘Central Bedfordshire’s chaotic Local Plan’.

Quoting the post, which said the council had “very quietly backed down on a significant housing pledge”, Mr Young retorted: “We haven’t backed down. It’s not chaotic. And it wasn’t a pledge. It was an area allocated for future growth.”

He added: “This isn’t particularly damaging to the council. It’s very damaging to residents’ aspirations and the knowledge this council is giving them.

“I am really sorry that has happened. It’s essentially an interpretation of the current situation, regarding questions the inspector has asked us, which incites the general public, and I deeply regret that.

“On behalf of this council, I apologise to those who have been sucked into this and into believing it is as is said [on social media].

Mr Young warned Mr Zerny: “Have you really thought about what happens if you succeed with your opposition in bringing down the Local Plan?

“You won’t. But if you do, we’re back to development which is being run by the government for the government.

“We won a decision in Langford, so developers Gladman have challenged that in the High Court.

“They have sought to judicially review that inspector’s decision. They don’t need to carry on – lucky old Gladman.

“The Secretary of State has saved them a lot of money by consenting to judgment. He has now abandoned his inspectors completely.

“And if anyone brings a challenge, he’ll say ‘OK, sorry about that. Yes, that’s right, go ahead’.

“We can’t rely on the courts to get what our communities want. And we can’t rely on the Secretary of State to get what our communities want because he simply rolls over. It’s a disgrace.”

The council’s head of strategic growth, Connie Frost-Bryant, said: “You’ll recall we received questions from the inspector on August 9. Officers have responsded to those and those responses are available on the website.

“The next step is for the inspector to issue a formal response to our responses and then he will publish the main matters and issues.

“That’s what sets the timetable for the examination and sets the content for those hearing sessions, as well as the participants for those hearings.

“We eagerly await that, and until then unfortunately we don’t have a set timetable for moving ahead.”

Mr Zerny told the Comet after the meeting: “Councillor Young needs to spend a little less time reading social media and a little more time studying the words of the planning inspector, who clearly has major concerns about the council’s Local Plan.

“The inspector says the inclusion of this land near Biggleswade and Tempsford is ‘unjustifed’.

“I can appreciate why Councillor Young is keen to speak up for a plan he has put his name to, but he is absolutely wrong to say the council hasn’t backed down. Not only has CBC put in writing to the inspector it will remove the controversial sites but it didn’t even bother telling councillors, let alone the public!

“The council’s approach appears utterly chaotic and puts the residents of Central Beds at risk of suffering widespread unwarranted development, the very thing it is apparently trying to prevent.”

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