Lidlington Action Group sends local plan letter to councillors  Image: ceebeestock AdobeStock_207781879

Letter has questions that LAG wants answered

The Lidlington Action Group (LAG) has sent a letter to councillors at Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC). The aim is to generate internal pressure on those submitting CBC’s response to the Inspector’s report at the end of April.

After the public examination last summer, the Planning Inspectors identified issues with the soundness of the Local Plan. They asked the CBC to look again at ‘reasonable alternatives’ to building 5,000 houses in Marston Vale.

CBC intends to publish their response on 30 April 2020 ahead of the re-convened examination in June.

LAG said that at the recent Marston Vale Stakeholder Group Caroline Danby, CBC’s Head of Strategic Planning, told the meeting that CBC still thinks allocating 5,000 to Marston Vale is right. Adding that it just needs to ‘be explained better‘ to the Inspector at the re-convened hearings.

Rob Booth, from LAG, said:

“When I’ve asked why CBC are so wedded to Marston Vale at that scale, the only answer I’ve had is that it offers rapid delivery and is therefore preferred to the ‘reasonable alternatives’.”

Group has received some positive-sounding responses

LAG claims that rapid delivery should not be a criteria for selecting which sites to develop. Also, that this is ‘unlikely to prove true in practice’.

It added that it believes that large sites are notorious for lengthy delays, such as HRN1 at Houghton Regis. LAG said that this hasn’t been built out five years after planning permission was granted.

“CBC could recommend a ‘main modification’ to the Inspector which could include reducing the allocation to Marston Vale and allocating the balance of the housing required to other local and deliverable sites.

“This would address the Inspector’s concerns, make better use of existing infrastructure, enable better management of the traffic impact and maintain the separate identity of villages in the Vale.”

The letter asks the councillors to ask Cllr Kevin Collins, CBC’s executive member for Planning and Regeneration and of Caroline Danby three questions:

  1. Are we intending to stick with our policy of allocating 5,000 houses to Marston Vale for the reconvened examination?
  2. If so, why are we running the risk of having the Local Plan rejected or withdrawn, given that we could choose alternatives which avoid or reduce that risk?
  3. Has any serious consideration been given to ‘reasonable alternatives’? If so, what did you conclude? If not, why not?

Rob Booth said:

“Is there something here we are not seeing or understanding which is driving CBC to stick with 5,000 at Marston Vale despite the obvious risk of it leading to the rejection of their Local Plan and despite the ‘reasonable alternatives’ being so obviously better in planning terms?”

Area for 5,000 new homes in Marston Valley Image: Central Bedfordshire Council Local Plan

LAG said since the letter was sent at the end of February the group has had some positive-sounding responses, including from one Conservative councillor.

The Chronicle asked CBC for an update on its response to the Inspector’s report and if it feels that allocating 5,000 homes to Marston Vale is still the best way to help meet its housing targets. A CBC spokesperson said:

“We remain as committed as ever to progressing the Local Plan and this is why we have proposed a timetable to the Planning Inspector that, if agreed, will see the Local Plan being adopted at the end of the year. Work is progressing as per the submitted timetable.”

“We need to ensure that growth is delivered in the right place and is of the right character and quality. We also seek to ensure that growth is delivered with supporting roads, schools, and services such as health, as well as retail, leisure and community facilities. Officers feel the strategy set out in the emerging Local Plan does this, is the most appropriate approach.

“The council has committed to producing further evidence and justification for some of the policies within the plan, following receipt of the Inspectors letter in September 2019. The outcome of this work, once available, will feed into the technical papers being produced to resolve those concerns raised.”

When asked if the Marston Vally site was chosen as it offers ‘rapid delivery’ the spokesperson said:

“The decision to allocate a site within the Local Plan is determined by considering a whole range of evidence and issues, in a comprehensive manner, in order to come up with the most appropriate strategy.

“Delivery timescales may form one of the considerations in this process but will not be the sole reason this site was taken forward.”

Updates on Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local plan can be found here.