Battle of Biddenham is lost at crunch Bedford planning meeting

Fields outside Biddenham
Fields outside Biddenham

A flood of objections failed to stop Bedford councillors granting permission for up to 160 homes on farm fields on the outskirts of Biddenham.

And with a government planning inspector due to make a ruling in September over whether an earlier proposal for 249 homes can be built on the same site, village objectors believe the borough council may have shot itself in the foot.

“It does not seem to matter what the arguments are,” said objector Cllr Peter Chase, the chairman of Biddeham Parish Council, after the meeting. “They were determined to approve the plan.

“I fear they have opened themselves up for the inspector to approve the 249 homes on the site and may have shot themselves in the foot.”

The borough had received 1,049 objections to the plan, and one response in favour but only a smattering of objectors turned up to the committee on Monday, including Cllr Chase who had bicycled in from Biddenham.

Bedford Borough Council’s Planning Committee had previously refused outline permission for the larger proposal on the land off Deep Spinney and Gold Lane.

At that stage the council’s planning officers had said 249 homes would cause an unacceptable closing of the rural buffer between Biddenham and Bromham.

So the developers Lioncourt Strategic Land went back to the drawing board, and talked with planners behind the scenes. The resulting scheme was considered at Monday’s Planning Committee, held in the Harpur Suite.

Planning officers in their report, said that Lioncourt had satisfactorily met concerns. Further, the application had to be decided on Monday, because under planning law it should have been determined in March.

Objectors weren’t convinced.

Gerry Sansom, of environment group CPRE Bedfordshire, said the application was “opportunistic” and “subverted the democratic process” because it was being considered before the local plan, currently in draft form, was approved.

An inquiry into the local plan is due to start within days, Mr Sansom said, at which it may be decided to reject the site for housing uses.

“Applications like this are pouring in,” he said. “You should either defer until after the local plan is decided, or refuse it. The applicants can then come back at a later date.”

Speaking on behalf of Lioncourt, chartered town planner David Bainbridge, of Bidwells, said the 7.86 hectare site would “help contribute in a sustainable way to towards the council’s housing land supply”.

He said councillors should “stand behind your local plan and stand behind your local officers” and approve the scheme, which would make a financial contribution to council coffers as well as creating 48 affordable homes.

“All the technical matters with access and schools have been dealt with and Lioncourt is in full agreement with the conditions,” he said. “It is a doubly robust proposal.”

Mr Bainbridge added: “I can’t say what will happen with the appeal.”

Councillors debated whether there would be enough places in local schools. Cllr Alison Field-Foster said pressure on places at Sharnbrook Upper School had not been taken into account. But Cllr Wendy Rider replied: “There are other schools in the borough.”

And ward councillor Jon Gambold said: “If you approve the 160 homes, the developer will try to get 249. You’ve shot yourselves in the foot.”

The application was approved after a vote.