Council apologises for 'embarrassing' delay over plans for TV studio near Bedford

Council says sorry after deferral of plans after two-hour debate over late publication of planning report appendix
An artist's impression of the studio campus. (c) CorkeWallis and V1An artist's impression of the studio campus. (c) CorkeWallis and V1
An artist's impression of the studio campus. (c) CorkeWallis and V1

A council was left red-faced and apologised after deferring a planning application, following almost two hours of debate, when councillors had voted earlier against deferral.

The embarrassment for Central Bedfordshire Council was over a firm’s hybrid plans for a film and TV studio campus at Quest Pit, Ampthill Road, Houghton Conquest.

Applicant Quest Pit Limited had brought a team of experts to the local authority’s Priory House headquarters in Chicksands.

The problem related to an appendix to the main officer’s report to councillors, which had only been on the council’s website for around 24 hours.

CBC’s planning solicitor told the committee: “As Appendix A has only recently come to light, I’m concerned that any decision today (Weds, June 28) could be subject to legal challenge because it couldn’t be consulted upon.

“My advice would be to defer to allow that quick consultation on this document, which would enable a safe decision beyond any reasonable doubt,” he explained.

“It’s procedural as there’s a risk with judicial review, depending always on how strongly someone objects to something.

“I appreciate it’s difficult. During that (deferral) vote, I was checking with the planning officers when that information was available and if it was in a different form in the past.

“That document hasn’t been in the public domain,” he added. “It only went on the website yesterday, so wasn’t there when the committee papers were published.”

After an initial vote to defer the plans was defeated, with four votes in favour, six against and one abstention, Conservative Dunstable West councillor Nigel Young moved a planning officer’s recommendation of approval.

He described the situation as “ridiculous”, saying: “If I’m advised by the legal officer to withdraw the motion (to approve), I’ll do it with great reluctance because we’ve reached a point in that debate where we’ve covered everything. The motion is withdrawn.”

Independent Potton councillor Tracey Wye said: “I want this to be approved with the full facts and we’ve been advised there’s an opportunity to expose us because we haven’t had that document, as we didn’t know to look for it.

“Wouldn’t it be sensible to wait a few weeks? There’s plenty riding on this and we need to get it right.”

Independent Flitwick councillor Gareth Mackey suggested deferral for two cycles, subject to reconsultation on Appendix A.

“Let me take this opportunity, as committee chairman, to acknowledge that it’s embarrassing to reach this position after so much debate,” he said.

“I thank you all for coming here today, objectors, everyone from the Quest project and our officers, and apologise to members as well. We need to look into why we got into this position because it’s deeply unacceptable.”

Councillors agreed with six votes in favour and five abstentions.

Councillor Young added: “I hope the council has realised and will consider how much this may well cost the applicant because you’ll have to start again and re-examine this.

“All these people, including any objectors, will have to return in eight weeks’ time because we didn’t get a consultation right. It’s our fault.”