HN2 is the designation given to the development area west of Bidwell in Houghton Regis. HN2 together with HN1 are part of Central Bedfordshire Council’s Development Strategy. A planning application for this development area was submitted by the Bidwell West Consortium to the Council during January.
In February a Planning Inspector dismissed the Council’s Development Strategy on the grounds the Council failed in its Duty to Cooperate with Luton Borough Council. Currently the Council has not got an approved Development Strategy. The Council are considering a Judicial Review of the Inspector’s decision. The Council say assuming they are given permission to try to overturn the decision in the High Court the Judicial Review will not start until early autumn.
In April the Council signed a contract with Balfour Beatty to build the Woodside Link Road in Houghton Regis. At that time the Council said there was a £17 million shortfall in the funding of the road. The Bidwell West Consortium has this month supplemented its planning application with a document (here: Bidwell West Consortium) detailing the Very Special Circumstances it believes justify the Council granting it planning permission.
The basis of the consortium’s case for planning permission is it will be making a substantial contribution to HN2 infrastructure costs. In the document the consortium says they are prepared to fund signalling on the A5-M1 Link road and contribute to the shortfall in Woodside Link road funding. The consortium say the cost of the Woodside Link road is £42 million and the funding shortfall for this road is £12 million and they will be contributing a substantial, yet unspecified, proportion of this amount. So the consortium can make its funding contribution and maintain the financial viability of its housing development we wonder what variations to its planning application it will make, increases in housing, reductions in the quality of the built environment and the loss of open spaces and community facilities?
We are concerned that now the Council have ‘struck a deal’ with the Bidwell West Consortium it still has a funding shortfall of millions to raise from a decreasing ‘pool’ of developers. Therefore increasing the likelihood that this substantial funding shortfall will have to be paid for by either raising Council tax or increasing borrowing.
We are disappointed with the Council’s complacent approach to planning. This approach is characterized by Cllr Jamie Jamieson’s strategic error of awarding the contract to build the Woodside Link road without having all of the funding for it in place. His decision has given the ‘upper hand’ to developers who can now take time to negotiate their infrastructure funding contributions and variations to their planning planning applications knowing that the Council has contractually committed itself to a schedule of payments for the costs of the Woodside Link road.
The Bidwell West consortium’s Woodside Link road funding contribution depends on the Council granting planning permission for HN2. However because granting planning permission itself depends on a Planning Inspector’s approval of the Council’s Development Strategy the Council will not be able secure the consortium’s funding contribution until its Judicial Review is complete and the Development Strategy has been through its public examination sometime in the distant future.
We are deeply concerned the Council will disregard the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) by granting planning permission to HN2 without having an approved Development Strategy so it can secure the funding from developers it needs to meet its contractual commitment to pay Balfour Beatty. The reason for our concern is disregarding the NPPF and its associated Planning Practice Guidance means the Council is vulnerable to legal challenges on the grounds that it is implementing an unapproved and potentially unsustainable Development Strategy.
Michael Stonnell and Mary Walsh