Lack of land supply in for housing in Bedford borough is tilting decisions in favour of developers

One of the development sites is opposite the war memorial in Kempston
One of the development sites is opposite the war memorial in Kempston

A flick of a Whitehall bureaucrat’s pen has given the edge to developers across Bedford borough.

A sudden change in the way that councils calculate land earmarked for housing has plunged Bedford borough from a legally required 5.8-year land supply down to 3.01 years.

“The council’s most important policies for determining housing applications are regarded as out of date,” said planning officer Raymond Lee in his report into one of the applications discussed at Planning Committee on Monday.

“What this means is that the balance at the start of the assessment is tilted in favour of approval.”

The committee was told that this won’t change until the Local Plan 2030 is adopted, estimated to be in October. Until then, applications for housing even in previously protected areas of the countryside are being ’tilted’ in their favour.

On a number of applications being considered by councillors at the Planning Committee, the officers advised that “the balance at the start of the assessment is tilted in favour of approval”.

Areas can only be protected if national policies provide a way to significantly or demonstrably “tip the scales the other way”.

> One such application was for a two storey, five bedroom house with a detached garage, in paddock land off Ravensden Road, Renhold. In the time it has taken for the plan to reach the committee, the officers’ advice changed and it was recommended for permission. Councillors decided to defer making a decision so they could visit the site.

> Land supply was also an issue in a plan to build three chalet bungalows on the former site of the Three Horseshoes pub in Top End, Renhold, which was demolished in 2014 after a fire. Councillors voted to approve the proposal by six votes to nil.

> Developers are also using the argument in their proposals, including Liza Woodray, of Gladman Care, who had applied to build 60 flats for elderly people on the site of the now demolished Lidl store in Bedford Road, Kempston.

“It is a way of contributing to the five year land supply, as well as 16-20 new jobs,” she said. “The significant benefits outweigh any harm.”

Some locals did not agree, claiming that the flats would overlook their properties but councillors voted by seven votes to nil to give the plan the go-ahead.

> Councillors voted by eight votes to nil to support the principle of building between one and six homes on a triangle of land off Oakley Road, in Clapham, after being told that the balance was tilted in favour of approval by officers.

Council development management chief Janine Laver said developers had triggered a five-week fast-track application process with a shortened public consultation to test the council’s opinion.

“This is the first of its kind in Bedford Borough,” she said. “It is five week application seeking the principle of development, with all other matters reserved. All we are dealing with is the principle.”