Bedford's local plan will not be paused says mayor - as legal advice says it would be a 'huge risk' to town

During his campaign the mayor had called for the 2024 plan to be put on hold
Mayor Tom WoottonMayor Tom Wootton
Mayor Tom Wootton

Pausing the Local Plan 2040’s progress at the moment would be a “huge risk” to Bedford borough residents, the mayor has said after seeking legal advice.

During his campaign, mayor Tom Wootton called for the Local Plan 2024 to be paused.

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“The reason we wanted to pause is because Mr Gove [Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities] said the law is going to change [and housing targets] will be advisory,” the mayor explained.

Before the election, he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the then mayor should seek legal advice about pausing the plan.

“Because 55 other councils have said ‘we’re going to put this in the long grass because we want to have a little think [about it]'”, he said.

When asked for an update last month on the plans to enforce the pause, a Bedford Borough Council spokesperson said: “[Mayor Tom] has taken legal advice and considered the risks associated with not progressing the plan, and has decided to continue with the examination as programmed.”

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Mayor Tom explained that a meeting with a KC was held after the election.

The KC was “grilled” for around 90 minutes and went through various options on what the council could and couldn’t do, the mayor said.

“We can pause the plan, but there’s a lot of danger in that to this council from developers, who would then fire in their schemes,” he said.

“Because lots and lots [of developers] were rejected, so everybody who was rejected has got a ready-made scheme to fire in if we’re pausing the plan.

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“Let’s say we paused it for a day and somebody put a [planning application for a] thousand houses in, it’s got to be considered.

“So we’re in Mr Goves’ hands,” he said.

The mayor said that if Mr Gove gets in “a bit of trouble” the changes could be delayed while a pause is in place, which would be “a hell of a risk”.

The mayor explained that the council is still looking to pause the plan’s progress, but by taking a different tack.

“We wrote to the planning inspector and said we want to pause the plan if there’s a change in the law,” he said.

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“So that was the legal advice, it may be weasel words. But we’re going to pause that plan if we get one inkling from Mr Gove [that the law will change], because there’s a lot about the plan that we don’t like, there’s a lot about the plan that we don’t think is particularly edifying and doesn’t suit Bedford.”

The mayor said waiting for the law to change has safeguarded the residents.

“We’re making sure that all the developers can’t fire in their wacky schemes and their ambitions,” he said.

“So we have taken legal advice. and we are going to pause the plan if there’s a change in the law.

“Lots of councils have paused their plans, but they’re not as far down the line as we are. We were a long way down the pipe.”