Environment charity says plans for 20,000 new homes are ‘untenable’

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An environmental charity has said it has serious concerns about the number of new houses Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) is proposing over the next 20 years.

CPRE Bedfordshire called the council’s splitting of its Pre-Submission Local Plan into two parts “untenable”, claiming residents who believed huge developments on their doorstep, which have been shelved, could be back on the table by next year.

The council’s plans for 20,000 new homes and 24,000 new jobs is now out for public consultation. The biggest area planned is for up to four villages of 5,000 homes in Marston Vale.

The initial plan had been for 54,000 homes, with huge developments in Aspley Guise, Tempsford and Biggleswade, which CBC has taken out of its Pre-Submission Plan until plans are further along for the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Bedford-Cambridge Corridor scheme.

CPRE said: “In our view, this situation is untenable – residents of Central Bedfordshire will be quite rightly, totally confused and not a little amazed.

“Having gone through all the work and consultations over more than three years, if the plan is finally approved by the end of 2018 – the residents of Central Bedfordshire will still have to go through a further detailed Partial Review which could see all that has gone before come to naught!”

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It also fears the Corridor agreement signed by Council leader James Jamieson last year, could see massive plans pushed through with virtually no consultation.

It also said:

>the plan is rushed after fears that a recent Government consulation could see the borough forced to build around 52,000 homes by 2035

>CBC see the East-West Rail the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway and improvements to the A1 as a massive opportunity for huge further development

>It will encourage 100,000s of people to migrate into Bedfordshire and will be of little benefit to local people

>Claims of up to 20,000 homes is disputed as almost 20,000 new homes are already in the pipeline and not included in the Local Plan

>The 24,000 new jobs mean many people will still have to commute to work outside Central bedfordshire

It urged people to have their say during the consultation which runs until February 22. Previous submissions to the draft Local Plan will not be considered so residents will have to submit further comments.

But in response Cllr Nigel Young, CBC Executive Member for Regeneration, said: “Central Bedfordshire Council is currently in consultation on the Local Plan, which we believe is a transparent, engaging and open dialogue with our communities.

“We are therefore very concerned that the CPRE’s misleading, inaccurate and emotive piece which, presented incorrectly as fact, could raise unnecessary fear and alarm for our residents.

As a perceived voice of rural communities, the CPRE should be providing balanced and accurate statements, rather than incorrect figures or pejorative statements such as the plan is ‘rushed’. This could not be further from the case.”

He added: “The plan is a well-thought-out strategy, based on evidence and technical studies, plus feedback from residents and previous consultations, which seeks to ensure that growth is planned for in a way that benefits Central Bedfordshire. That means in a way that delivers the new jobs, infrastructure and services – such as schools, roads and health facilities – that go hand-in- hand with new homes.

“We are not in a situation where we can hide away from the fact that we need new homes. It is very important that people understand that growth is happening because Central Bedfordshire residents and their children will need places to live and work in the future.

“The government is very clear that we need to plan for this growth, so having an up-to- date Local Plan will guide this in a sustainable way but also, crucially, protect us from speculative development.”

Cllr Young continued: “What is also clear, is that a failure to have a plan could result in us having many more homes imposed on us than we are planning for.

“So, the Local Plan that we are consulting on is for up to 20,000 new homes and this figure is derived using the standard national approach of calculating the homes required. ‘New’ is the key word here, but of course there are 23,528 homes that are either already allocated, have planning permission or are already being built. These are mentioned in the Local Plan but reason these are not written about prominently is not for any perceived reasons of deception but because these houses have already gone through the planning process.

“Certainly, the inaccurate figure of 54,000 homes that the CPRE piece quotes are not planned for in our Local Plan at all and there is also no ‘contingency’ within this misleading total figure, as has been claimed. 

“There is, however, potential for considerable infrastructure investment in Central Bedfordshire. We are at the centre of the Oxford-Milton Keynes Cambridge Arc, so when East-West Rail and the Oxford- Cambridge Expressway progress we will need to review our Plan. This is a normal part of planning for our future.

“For the reasons of transparency, we have made all the figures, plans and evidence and technical studies available via our webpage www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/localplan. These pages, plus a series of videos, leaflets and other promotional materials have all summarised the plans, but we have also presented the full Local Plan on our website as well.

I would strongly urge every resident to read as much of this available information as possible and have their say before February 22 (5pm), as this will all go forward to the Secretary of State, ahead of the Local Plan’s public examination.”