Government puts the brakes on controversial housing plan in Willington, near Bedford

The Government has ordered the council not to grant planning permission for a controversial housing scheme in a borough village.

By David Tooley, local democracy reporter
Thursday, 5th December 2019, 4:28 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th December 2019, 4:28 pm

Campaigners in Willington wrote to the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government after the council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead in October to 46 homes being built off Grange Way.

Alan Bertram, on behalf of the Willington Neighbourhood Development Plan Steering Group, welcomed the Government’s halt to the decision, which could lead to the Secretary of State taking it away from the council.

The issue centres on whether the planning committee should have given greater “weight” to the village’s neighbourhood development plan when making its decision.

The horse paddock lies behind Grange Way, Willington

While not yet formally completed and adopted, it is at an advanced stage after years of work.

Mr Bertram, who enlisted the support of former MP Alistair Burt and borough councillor Stephen Moon in his letter to the Government, said he believed planning officers were wrong that the development plan should carry “no weight”.

The planning committee was advised at the time that because the council is not considered to have a five year supply of land for housing, that this should take precedence.

Planning applications for new homes are deemed to be “tilted” in favour unless their are overwhelming reasons not to.

But Mr Bertram said: “It has always been our belief that the planning officer guidance that the Neighbourhood Development Plan should carry no weight in the decision was wrong.

“It was also disappointing to see national politics play out at a local level when the Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the planning committee combined forces to vote in favour of this development, despite the strong arguments against.”

The village’s neighbourhood plan has identified sites in the village that would “deliver a greater number of houses, in locations that are less harmful to the character of our village and at a lower density than this site.” The horse paddock in question was not on their list.

Mr Bertram said: “Our NDP is detailed in its content and supporting information and we look forward to submitting it to the borough this month following the conclusion of our consultation on the draft.”

A spokesman for Bedford Borough Council confirmed that it had received a “holding direction” from the Government.

“The council has not received a time frame for when the Secretary of State – or the Planning Case Work Unit on the Secretary’s behalf – will determine whether to call in the application in or not.”