Retirement community approved for Ampthill despite design and parking concerns

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There are also overlooking concerns at the town centre development

A retirement community project in the centre of a Bedfordshire town is “a missed opportunity” and not in keeping with its Georgian appearance, a meeting heard.

Applicant Grand Union Housing Group submitted full plans to demolish an office building, a block of flats and four bungalows and replace them with 39 affordable properties for over 55s in Ampthill.

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The company’s proposals create five blocks of one-bed and two-bedroom flats, with 55 parking spaces, at Katherines House and 1 to 25 Katherines Gardens in Dunstable Street.

The plans have been approved despite concerns. Photo: NW archiveThe plans have been approved despite concerns. Photo: NW archive
The plans have been approved despite concerns. Photo: NW archive

Consent has been granted previously for the change of use of Katherines House to residential under permitted development, according to a report to Central Bedfordshire Council’s development management committee.

Senior planning officer Eilis Edmonds said: “The site is partially within the Ampthill conservation area.

“The number of properties was reduced from 43, while the height of block five is lower. It will meet an identified need for the over 55s.”

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Dunstable Street resident Beth Woodward explained: “Before Katherine’s House became an office, it was a supermarket with a sizeable car park.

“Its most recent use allowed some residents’ parking, mainly at weekends and in evenings. Parking in Ampthill is a serious problem which will be severely impacted by this development. Residents, shoppers and visitors will compete for parking spaces elsewhere.

“The building will dominate the street scape and tower over the smaller historic buildings next to it. We welcome social housing but in proportion to the size of the site.”

Another resident Victoria Williams warned about “the overlooking of my property in Claridges Lane and the complete loss of privacy from a two-storey block replacing bungalows”.

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Green Party Ampthill councillor Susan Clinch said: “We don’t want a brownfield site left derelict and it’s an excellent location for this type of housing.

“But it’s not the best it can be. It has a huge impact with the displacement of parking. The application should be refused at this point.

“It tries to shoehorn in too many properties. There’s an unacceptable impact on neighbours’ privacy.”

Independent Ampthill councillor Mark Smith labelled it “a missed opportunity” with its “modern design, not in keeping with the Georgian nature of the town centre”.

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Independent Ampthill councillor Gary Summerfield added: “Parking locally is at a premium. We need more, not less. Ampthill town centre was built for the horse and cart, not the car.”

Director of operations for Grand Union Housing Group Phil Hardy described Central Bedfordshire as “our heartland”, saying: “Ampthill is where we started in 1994.

“We want the best possible homes for the town because of that special link. It’s a brownfield site in a fantastic location close to facilities.

“We’ve redesigned the scheme to avoid overlooking. This isn’t overdevelopment in a town centre location. Any reduction in scale wouldn’t be a viable option.

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“It’s private land. We made a decision to open the car park out of hours, and when we closed the office didn’t fence it off.”

Ampthill Town Council objected because of overlooking of properties in Claridges Lane and overdevelopment.

Councillors approved the development with eight votes in favour and three against.