'Cosy chats' between council and developers mean affordable housing targets missed, claims campaigner

CPRE campaigner says charity is ‘very concerned’ over plans for 500-home development
Borough Hall, Bedford. Image: LDRSBorough Hall, Bedford. Image: LDRS
Borough Hall, Bedford. Image: LDRS

“Cosy chats” between Bedford Borough Council and developers are why the affordable housing targets are not met, a campaigner has claimed.

The claim was made as the council’s Planning Committee (March 25) was discussing an outline planning application for up to 500 new homes in Clapham.

Gerry Sansom, representing CPRE, told the committee that the charity is “very concerned” that the planning application had a “huge number of extremely important issues” set aside.

“Set aside to be decided in private between Bedford Borough Council and the developers under what are called reserved matters, with no further opportunity for members of the public to comment on the final agreements made, other than if a borough councillor decides to call in the application at the reserved matters stage when all decisions will have been made,” he said.

“No full consultation on reserve matters will be held, issues such as the amount in type of affordable housing, the design of the housing, an issue of importance to Clapham Neighbourhood Plan.

“These reserved matters discussions between developers, utility providers, and the council, or cosy chats as some call them, have so far resulted in the council’s affordable homes target not being achieved.

“The council is failing to achieve its target of 30 per cent of new homes should be affordable. The actual [percentage] for the period 2022/23 is 21.9 per cent, way below target.

“Homes for social rent aimed at people on the lowest income are almost non-existent,” he added.

“The way in which Bedford Borough Council handles planning applications and specifically the use of the reserved matters process cannot be allowed to continue.

“Their priority it would seem is to developers and landowners, and not to their electorate, the residents of this borough.”

Councillor Jim Weir (Conservative, Great Denham) asked the planning officer to confirm the process for reserved matters.

“[The speaker] seemed to [infer] that once reserved matters are entered into, i.e. the detail, it will be a close shop between planners and the applicant,” he said.

“I know that not to be true, can you just confirm the process that once reserved matters come up and what actually happens?”

The planning officer, Greg Logan, replied: “It is a public forum, we do consult on reserved matters applications, we go out to various technical consultees.

“But the parish councils and residents will also be informed of the development and they have the ability to comment on that.

“My understanding is that reserved matters can also be called in now, where they didn’t used to be. So if there was a concern about it, it could come back to committee and be scrutinised in that forum.”

The committee voted to defer the decision for the planning application (21/00332/EIA) on a different matter. The delay is to allow for further discussions on location of an all-weather sports pitch.