On Stage 1 of the Examination of Luton’s Local Plan

Stage 1 of the Examination of Luton’s Local Plan starts a 10am on Tuesday the 19th July at the UK Carnival Centre in St Mary’s Road LU1 3JA

Here is a letter to the Planning Inspector who is conducting the Examination. It contains comments on Luton’s Local Plan.

Dear Mr Jeremy Youle

Stage 1 Examination Duty to Cooperate Sundon Parish Council Representation

The stated object of Stage 1 examination is Duty to Cooperate, in particular cooperation on housing, economy, transport, green belt and infrastructure. Sundon Parish Council is disappointed it has been unable to properly consider Duty to Cooperate as documents DTC 001b and DTC 001d cited in the Council’s answers to questions set out in their document ED003 are currently unavailable to the public on the Council’s website.

On cooperation on housing; clearly some discussions have taken place between the Council and Central Bedfordshire Council. However the outcomes of these discussions, if there are any, do not appear to have influenced the content of the Council’s Local Plan or Central Bedfordshire Council’s emerging Local Plan. Also within the Council’s Local Plan there is no obvious consideration of options that could increase Luton’s capacity for housing, such as regenerating its existing poor quality and overcrowded housing, using more ‘brownfield’ for housing rather than employment,or building upwards instead of outwards.

On cooperation on the economy; the Council’s Local Plan refers to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Sundon Rail Freight Interchange (RFI) as potential means of assisting the Council achieving its employment needs. However the map in Appendix 1 calls into question whether there will ever be a Sundon RFI as the map shows the RFI site ALP142 as Residential or Mixed Residential use.

On cooperation on the Green Belt; in ED003 the Council states the joint Green Belt study commissioned by it and Central Bedfordshire Council ‘in so far as it affects Luton is due for completion in the week beginning 1st August 2016’. Clearly Luton’s capacity to meet all of its housing need with the cooperation of Central Bedfordshire is still under consideration. Without knowing the outcome of this study an objective judgement cannot be made about whether the Council has effectively cooperated with Central Bedfordshire Council.

The impact of meeting any of Luton’s unmet housing need in Sundon Parish, if this were necessary, is profound as the Parish is within the Green Belt and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Parish Council is heartened by the statements of politicians regarding Green Belts, the protection given to Green Belts and AONB’s in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Green Belt planning case law. The Parish Council appreciates the purposes of the Green Belt are to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas, to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment and to assist urban regeneration.

The Parish Council cites three letters from Brandon Lewis MP; Appendix 2 Appendix 3 Appendix 4 that support these protections.  According to these letters housing need alone is not a reason for building on Green Belt. In particular the letter in Appendix 2 supports the choice of a Council not to meet all of the housing need identified in a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) due to Green Belt policy constraints. Also there is no apparent exceptional circumstance, i.e. no cooperation on infrastructure, for changing Green Belt boundaries, in either the Council’s Local Plan or Central Bedfordshire Council’s emerging Local Plan or in answers to questions you have put to the Council.

As it currently stands the Council’s Local Plan is incomplete because the Council does not have a 5 year land supply to underpin the delivery of its housing need.  Currently Central Bedfordshire Council does not have a 5 year land supply either; see the planning inspector’s judgement in Appendix 5. Also in this judgement comment is made on the deliverability of Local Plans containing Green Belt in its land supply.

As land around Luton is Green Belt it is very unlikely Central Bedfordshire Council will be able to deliver Luton’s unmet housing need, if it chooses to do so, without facing significant challenges. As any Local Plan involving building on Green Belt against Government policy intent increases the likelihood of legal challenges against it, increases the time it takes to deliver the plan, and therefore significantly impedes progress towards achieving the Government’s target of building 250 000 houses a year.

Finally it is obvious to Sundon Parish Council that Councils’ Duty to Cooperate has not yet concluded as Councils’ Local Plans are devoid of the outcomes of their cooperation. The Parish Council therefore concludes the examination of the Local Plan at this time is premature.

Yours sincerely

Michael Stonnell

Chair of Sundon Parish Council

Victorious Victim

Charlie Dean and her partner are dear friends. Charlie’s new book covers the life of her partner who along with his sister suffered years of abuse. The book is based on the reports of Social Workers and her partner’s experiences. The details of these experiences are horrific but their inclusion in Charlie’s book are necessary to help the reader understand her partner’s motivations for his outlandish behaviour.

Please follow this link to take look inside the book and to find out more about Charlie Dean https://www.amazon.co.uk/VICTORIOUS-VICTIM-Abused-Foster-Fights-ebook/dp/B01FV0208S?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Housing Strategy

Government Help to Buy and Right to Buy policy interventions into the housing market have had little impact on delivering its target of 250 000 homes a year by 2020 for people who need a place to live. Help to Buy has made home ownership for some people affordable but the policy has prevented house prices stabilising at a level people can afford without the support of Help to Buy. Consequently those people who do not qualify for Help to Buy support are finding it increasingly difficult to buy their own home. The Council’s analysis of housing affordability for people living and working in Central Bedfordshire shows that it is impossible for people on the national average wage to buy their own home.

Right to Buy has reduced the amount of rented social housing available. This housing to a limited extent has been or is intended to be replaced with affordable housing. With a few exceptions this affordable housing has been market housing and not rented social housing. As market housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for Central Bedfordshire residents rented social housing built and controlled by the Council is one means of providing residents with the houses they need. The Council appears to be ideologically opposed to providing rented social housing. Clearly this ideology has an adverse impact on hard working Central Bedfordshire families who earn less than the national average wage.

Starter Homes are another Government policy intervention. Stater Homes are for people below the age of 40. They are being promoted as solution to the problem of unaffordable housing. Outside of London the maximum price of a starter home should not exceed £250 000 but they can be priced at up to 80% of the value of the market equivalent. After a period of time these houses revert to market housing. As Central Bedfordshire residents on the average wage cannot afford houses priced above £250 000. Rented social housing that is affordable in perpetuity appears to meet these residents housing need better than the alternatives.

Analysis of the Council’s recent Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) shows the magnitude of housing need for Central Bedfordshire has been inflated. As approximately 50% of the housing it plans to build is for people who live outside Central Bedfordshire. Most of these people live to the south of Central Bedfordshire and in London where house prices and wages are far higher than in Central Bedfordshire. If these people choose to move into Central Bedfordshire it is probable the affordability of housing for Central Bedfordshire residents will be adversely affected.

The Council has identified affordability as a key issue to address with its Housing Strategy. However it has no policy of its own for dealing with this issue. The Council’s only response is to require developers to provide 30% affordable housing. This is not a credible response as the affordability of housing is dependent on the cost of borrowing or renting, both of which are affected by wages, and house prices. The Council has no control over any of these factors.

The Council’s Housing Strategy also considers the impact of the economic viability of a development on achieving its 30% affordable housing requirement. The viability of a development depends on its associated infrastructure costs and anticipated income from the sale of houses. The Council say the factors influencing viability are placing downward pressure on affordability. For example the costs of the Council’s A5 M1 and Woodside Link roads at Houghton Regis North has placed significant downward pressure on affordable housing and infrastructure delivery despite the Council choosing to increase developers housing income by approving plans to build more houses than is required to meet the needs of people living in this area. Any proposals for new roads, for example, an M1 A6 road will jeopardise the amount of affordable housing developers consider to be viable.

The Council is concerned about developers not ‘building out’ their sites. It is not in the interests of developers if housing supply approaches or exceeds housing demand. As this circumstance will adversely affect the profitability of their development sites and dividends they pay their shareholders. The amount of profit developers expect is also affected by the amount of affordable housing and infrastructure they are obliged to provide under Section 106 agreements or the Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy scheme. The Council’s Housing Strategy does not set out its policy for dealing with developers poor ‘build out rate’ performance. Without a policy incentive to increase ‘build out’ rates the Council is vulnerable to challenges to the credibility of its claim that it has a 5 year land supply.

The Housing Strategy covers the location of new housing in Central Bedfordshire. A large proportion of this new housing is proposed to be built on Green Belt. Building on the Green Belt is against Government policy. The Council has not yet conducted a review of the Green Belt however its Housing Strategy indicates it intends to propose a change to the Green Belt boundary to accommodate new housing North of Luton without having a reasonable basis for doing so. The withdrawal of the Council’s Development Strategy means the Council’s unlawful and unapproved North of Luton Framework Plan has been withdrawn as well.  The Framework Plan is a Supplementary Planning Document and therefore cannot be used as the reasonable basis for changing a Green Belt boundary as this is a matter for an independent Planning Inspector’s judgement and not the Council’s judgement. Any housing North of Luton resulting from a change to the Green Belt boundary will also adversely affect the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Best and Most Versatile (BMVL) agricultural land.

National infrastructure developments have clearly not influenced the Housing Strategy. The new East West Rail Link connecting Cambridge to Oxford will pass through Central Bedfordshire. Funding this infrastructure, including railway station upgrades, will probably require the support of developers through s106 agreements. The relocation of housing from the Green Belt, the Chilterns AONB and areas of distinctive Landscape Character to transport hubs along this rail link’s route would contribute to the East West Rail Link’s costs and preserve Central Bedfordshire’s most valued countryside. Relocation of housing would also improve its sustainability by attracting businesses to set up at these hubs and relieve congestion on Central Bedfordshire’s highways infrastructure.

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Environmental Framework Counsultation

I notice this consultation on the Environmental Framework was not included in the Council’s recently published Local Development Scheme (LDS). The LDS also lacks detail concerning its content, timing and who will be consulted at each stage of plan making. The Inspector involved with examining the Council’s withdrawn Development Strategy criticized the Council’s consultation process. A detailed LDS would help counter this criticism and contribute to improving the quality of comment from public and statutory consultees.

The Green Belt is a major contributor to maintaining Central Bedfordshire’s rural environment by preventing urban sprawl. We are disappointed the Green Belt does not feature in the Environmental Framework and Green Belt expansion is not being considered as a means of protecting Central Bedfordshire’s existing rural environment.

The Environmental Framework does not cover the design of new urban environments or the regeneration of existing urban environments.  There has been no assessment of the effects on people living, working and traveling in Central Bedfordshire due to their interactions with the natural, social, rural and urban environments.

The credibility and usefulness of residents and business surveys about the importance of the environment is dubious. The methodological basis of the survey is not included or cited.

None of the document’s hyperlinks accurately reference the evidence that underpins the environment framework.

Question 1 – How to evaluate environmental value

The NPPF says the allocation of land for development should prefer land of lesser environmental value.

– How should the environmental value of land across Central Bedfordshire be assessed?

The environmental value of areas of land has already been assessed and designated as Green Belt, AONB, SSSI, CWS etc. The environmental value of non-designated land should be assessed by communities.

– Are there some elements of environmental value more important than others?

No. They should all carry equal weight when deciding what land to allocate for development.

– Are there elements of environmental value that we have not assessed in this Environmental Framework?

Yes. Clean air, agricultural land, Green Belt, the built environment, the layout of new urban environments and the regeneration of existing urban environments. An assessment of the effects on people living, working and traveling around Central Bedfordshire due to their interactions with the natural, social and built environments.

Question 2 – Improving environmental standards and green features in development

As a council, we are keen to embrace innovation and ensure that development delivers the best outcomes for Central Bedfordshire. A key challenge is working with developers to deliver projects that go beyond the minimum statutory environmental standards. We would therefore like to get your views on:

– How do we encourage development to deliver to a higher environmental standard and what information, policy and guidance would support this?

Delivery of higher environmental standards should be delivered through policy, not guidance, and underpinned by incentives.

What “green” features would you most like to see in new developments? (Pick up to three)

– Solar panels on roofs

 – Green/brown roofs (roofs with plants / habitats on top)

 – Rainwater collection and reuse

Question 3 – Reflecting the importance of the environment in planning policy

How should the importance of the environment to Central Bedfordshire’s businesses and residents be reflected in the future Central Bedfordshire Plan

– Integrating environmental considerations across all relevant policies (e.g. locations for growth, site allocations)?

 – Having specific environmental policies?

 – A combination of the above approaches?

Specific environmental policies should be used to reflect the importance of the environment in Central Bedfordshire’s future Local Plan.

Question 4 – Landscape designations

National policy says that the planning system should protect and enhance valued landscapes. Central Bedfordshire has part of a nationally designated landscape (the Chilterns), but we do not have local landscape designations.

– Should we define what a valued landscape is?

Yes.

– Should we designate locally valued landscapes?

Yes.

– Should designations include different standards for development to areas not designated for landscape value?

Yes.

– Should designations have an emphasis on limiting development or be orientated more towards requiring additional landscape enhancement?

The emphasis should be on limiting development.

– Or should we rely on the Landscape Character Assessment to inform landscape enhancement and development decision making? 

The Landscape Character Assessment should inform choice of Designations.

Question 9 – Managing the Chilterns and their setting

What issue regarding the landscape of the Chilterns is of most concern to you?

Housing and infrastructure development are of concern.

How can the impact of recreational activities in the Chilterns be managed whilst urban growth and populations increase?

 The impact of recreational activities in the Chilterns should be managed by the Chilterns Conservation Board.

The AONB Board has produced guidelines to safeguard the “setting” (i.e. the area immediately around, but not within) of the AONB. Should we try to define and map this zone, bearing in mind the impact will vary depending on the type and scale of development proposed?

 The area around the Chilterns AONB should be mapped and accord with the Board’s guidelines on safeguarding its setting.

Question 15 – Use of sustainable drainage systems

National Policy requires Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) as standard in major developments (for example, 10 homes or more).

– Should CBC require SuDS as standard in all developments (i.e. minor and major, residential and commercial)?

 Yes.

– Should SuDS be used to provide more than just flood risk management? For example, to clean runoff water from developments, and provide amenity and biodiversity benefits.

Yes.

 Question 17 – Energy efficiency in new developments

Should new development be energy efficient and deliver carbon emissions reductions?

Yes.

National policy allows councils to set targets for renewable energy generation from new developments; should the Council be flexible and allow carbon emission reduction through both energy efficiency measures and renewable energy technologies?

 Yes.

 Question 18 – Generating renewable energy in Central Bedfordshire

Which renewable technology do you think is best for Central Bedfordshire?

Solar PV farms

Solar PV on commercial roofs

Solar PV on domestic roofs

Wind turbines on domestic properties

Solar powered Stirling engine energy systems

 

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Call for Sites Selection Criteria Consultation

We notice this consultation on site selection criteria was not included in the Council’s recently published Local Development Scheme (LDS). The LDS also lacks detail concerning its content, timing and who will be consulted at each stage of plan making. The Inspector involved with examining the Council’s withdrawn Development Strategy criticized the Council’s consultation process. A detailed LDS would help counter this criticism and contribute to improving the quality of comment from public and statutory consultees. We have alerted statutory consultees to this consultation of which they were unaware.

The Council’s approach to this consultation is dubious as a ‘call for sites’ is running in parallel with this consultation. Clearly this approach allows the Council to change its site selection criteria to favor sites emerging form its ‘call for sites’. We also note sites identified during the making of the Council’s Development Strategy will be subject to these selection criteria. It is unlikely many of these sites will be deselected as the Council’s ability to deliver a 5 year land supply will be adversely affected. So this consultation is a sham.

Selection Criteria

Size of Site; this criterion will mean a site of less than 10 dwellings will be excluded from selection. This criterion does not define a maximum amount of land required to accomodate 10 dwellings. We are concerned this will lead to the profligate use of land in high quality landscape areas, the Green Belt and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This will occur because developers will not want their sites excluded because they are too small to accommodate the size of dwellings they want to build. The larger the dwelling the more land is required to build 10 of them. We recommend sites of 10 dwellings or less are not excluded from selection and a maximum area of a 10 dwelling site is set so ‘land hungry’ sites at inappropriate locations are excluded from selection.

 Flood Risk; we are concerned this criterion will mean 50% of an unspecified size of development site cannot be excluded from selection. The Council has not specified the method it will use to assess flood risk. We recommend the Council uses the method found here  at http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/guidance/flood-risk-and-coastal-change/the-aim-of-the-sequential-test/ and here at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/flood-risk-assessment-the-sequential-test-for-applicants

Nationally Significant Designations; the nationally significant Green Belt designation is not included in this criterion. This will mean a proposal for an inappropriate development site within the Green Belt cannot be excluded from selection. We recommend Green Belt is recognized for what it is a nationally significant designation and therefore an exclusionary criterion.

We are concerned this criterion will mean 50% of an unspecified size of development site within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty cannot be excluded from selection. As well this criterion would allow development to abut this AONB adversely affecting the character of its setting.

This criterion will exclude from selection development sites within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI). We recommend the criterion should also exclude a development site from selection if it is adjacent to a SSSI and adversely affects the environment that sustains the sites special characteristics.

Brownfield Land; unlike the Green Belt – the Chilterns AONB, SSSI’s, County Wildlife Sites and heritage assets – brownfield is not a designation. Previously developed land in the Green Belt is Green Belt. We are therefore concerned this criterion will mean a new site on previously developed land within the Green Belt cannot be excluded from selection.

Community; the Council has not specified a criterion for assessing community support for a site in a designated Neighborhood Plan area. We recommend such sites are excluded from assessment until a Neighborhood Plan is supported by a referendum.

Agricultural Land; we are concerned this criterion will mean 50% of an unspecified size of development site on agricultural land grades 1, 2 and 3a cannot be excluded from selection.

We are disappointed there is no exclusionary selection criterion to protect nationally designated heritage assets, ancient woodland and footpaths.

Feeding into the ‘call for sites’ selection process is a Strategic Green Belt Review. We strongly object to need for a review. The Green Belt is immutable and is fulfilling its purpose. It is a justifiable constraint on urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is manifest in Central Bedfordshire on the Green Belt North of Houghton Regis. The Council has chosen to needlessly undermine the Green Belt and its prestigious Chilterns AONB contrary to the will of people who live in Central Bedfordshire.

 

Letter to Milton Keynes Council

Plan: MK Strategic Development Directions Options Consultation

I favour Strategic Development Direction 4 as historically the use of land within the Milton Keynes urban area has been profligate and wasteful. Milton Keynes does not have a ‘right to grow’ at the countryside and other peoples’ expense. Intensification and redevelopment of the urban area and maintaining existing Green Belt is the only way to stop Milton Keynes’s urban sprawl and encourage more effective use of its urban space.

I object to Strategic Development Directions 1, 2 and 3. Development within the North of the Milton Keynes area and into the West and South West, and East and South East is constrained by Green Belt, open countryside, woodland, agricultural land, Ouse Valley flooding, rural communities and the development plans of other local authorities.

Expansion outside Milton Keynes would be into the administrative areas of Aylesbury Vale District Council and Central Bedfordshire Council. These authorities both have an emerging development plan. Locations in the South East of Milton Keynes area also have their own development plans. Woburn Sands has an adopted Neighbourhood Plan and Wavendon has an emerging Neighbourhood Plan.

Development Directions 1, 2, and 3 will have negative impacts on rural life for people living in the small communities affected; traffic congestion, increases in commuting time, air pollution, increases in demand for under resourced healthcare provision, and loss of rural amenities. All these adverse effects of expansion outside the Milton Keynes urban area is unnecessary when compared to the obvious benefits of Strategic Development Direction 4.

Direction 4 is not constrained by the probable conflicting development objectives of other Local Authorities and Neighbourhoods, or by environmental constraints, or the physical constraints of the M1 motorway and the East West railway. Clearly the minimal constraints on Direction 4 mean this option can be delivered quicker than either of the other development directions. Also the existing infrastructure within the Milton Keynes urban area will cost less to adapt or augment than the costs of the new infrastructure necessary to deliver growth in the other development directions.

Whichever development direction Milton Keynes Council chooses I intend to comment further on Plan: MK as details of this plan emerge.

Central Bedfordshire Council Fails Again

Central Bedfordshire Council has failed to convince a planning inspector it has a 5 year land supply. In the latest edition of CPRE Bedfordshire’s magazine Bedfordshire Matters (page 4) Jason Longhurst Director of Regeneration at the Council said the Council had a 5 year land supply. However a planning inspector in this report; Henlow Appeal [2045073] (paragraph 37) says the Council has not got a 5 year land supply. This means Central Bedfordshire is at the mercy of speculative developers. My recent blog post ‘Building Free for all as Central Bedfordshire Council abandons its Development Strategy’ explains the implications for Towns and Villages across Central Bedfordshire who were told by the Council that its development plans would protect them from speculative development.

Department of Communities and Local Government National Planning Policy Consultation Response from Sundon Parish Council

Currently the Department of Communities and Local Government are Consulting on proposals for changes to National Planning Policy. These changes can be found here National Planning Policy Consultation

Answers to Consultation Questions

Question 1. Do you have any comments or suggestions about the proposal to amend the definition of affordable housing in national planning policy to include a wider range of low cost home ownership options?

The definition of affordable housing should not be extended to include starter homes.  The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines affordable housing as affordable in perpetuity. This is not the case for starter homes which will enter the normal housing market after 5 years. Starter homes are therefore low cost market housing which is explicitly excluded from the NPPF definition of affordable housing.

The price of new housing in Central Bedfordshire is already unaffordable for most of its residents. New starter homes will mean Central Bedfordshire housing will remain unaffordable.  Starter homes will also result in fewer affordable houses being available for rent.  This will give to one section of the community that can afford starter homes and take from another less affluent section that cannot afford them.

Question 2. Do you have any views on the implications of the proposed change to the definition of affordable housing on people with protected characteristics as defined in the Equalities Act 2010? What evidence do you have on this matter?

No comment.

Question 3. Do you agree with the Government’s definition of a commuter hub? If not, what changes do you consider are required?

The two proposed qualities of a commuter hub are alternatives. Therefore policy will apply to a large number and mainline commuter routes into London for example Harpenden in North Hertfordshire and Harlington and Flitwick in Central Bedfordshire. The distance between railway stations in Harpenden and Luton is less than 4 miles, Leagrave and Harlington less than 3 miles, and Harlington and Flitwick less than 3 miles. Therefore large swathes of Green Belt in North Hertfordshire and Central Bedfordshire, and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Central Bedfordshire will be affected.

The definition does not indicate the types of land around commuter hubs affected by this policy.  The policy should apply only to land already developed, designated for development or, at least, within the development boundaries of an existing settlement.  It should not include Green Belt or AONB’s near to the relevant railway station, for example, Harlington in Central Bedfordshire. There should be a clear Government policy to this effect.

The use of non-operational railway land should be approached with caution so as not to develop land needed for future enhancements to transport infrastructure.

Question 4. Do you have any further suggestions for proposals to support higher density development around commuter hubs through the planning system?

No comment.

Question 5. Do you agree that the Government should not introduce a minimum level of residential densities in national policy for areas around commuter hubs? If not, why not?

The Council does not agree. A minimum density level will not encourage a better use of land at a sustainable location.

Question 6. Do you consider that national planning policy should provide greater policy support for new settlements in meeting development needs? If not, why not?

The Council does not oppose new settlements separate from existing developments, provided they are big enough to function as self-contained towns, not just dormitories.  However, there should not be a supportive approach to urban extensions which involve rolling back the Green Belt.  This is just the sort of development that the Green Belt was established to prevent.

Question 7. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of brownfield land for housing? If not, why not and are there any unintended impacts that we should take into account? 

The Council supports measures to encourage the reuse of brownfield sites and the development of small windfall sites within existing settlement boundaries.  In particular, we support effectively creating a presumption in favour of brownfield sites.  We consider that a register of brownfield sites, in accordance with the Housing and Planning Bill 2015, will assist in bringing forward brownfield development.  We also believe that in order to lessen the pressure on greenfield sites developers be encouraged to build on brownfield first.

Question 8. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of small sites for housing? If not, why not? How could the change impact on the calculation of the local planning authorities’ five-year land supply?

The Council supports the development of small sustainable sites immediately adjacent to settlement boundaries so long as it is clearly understood that development on the Green Belt is not considered sustainable development (NPPF para 14 and footnote 9.) Small sites have the merit that they are likely to be developed by small builders or as self-build, thus boosting the local economy.  They are also likely to be built more quickly unlike large scale developments in Central Bedfordshire that proceed at a glacial pace.

Question 9. Do you agree with the Government proposal to define a small site as a site of less than 10 units? If not, what other definition do you consider is appropriate, and why?

The Council does agree.

Question 10. Do you consider that national planning policy should set out that local planning authorities should put in place a specific positive local policy for assessing applications for development on small sites not allocated in the Local Plan?

The vast majority of Local Plans already include a criteria based policy on small sites; we do not see that it is necessary to put a requirement to do so in National Planning Policy.  The motivation of the National Planning Policy Framework was to make planning policy more concise.  It is important that the criteria applied respect other policies in the Local Plan, such as Green Belt policy. Just because a site is small, it is no reason to allow development in the absence of very special circumstances.

Question 11. We would welcome your views on how best to implement the housing delivery test, and in particular:

  • What do you consider should be the baseline against which to monitor delivery of new housing?

The Council considers the concept of the housing delivery test is misconceived and would create a lot of ‘red tape’.

It is wrong to see the failure to deliver development on land for which planning permission has been granted as the fault of the Local Planning Authority.  It is the responsibility of developers promptly to implement the developments for which they have permission.  The problem is financial.  It is not in the developers’ interest to develop quickly if that would reduce the profit they can make and the undeveloped land is appreciating and increasing the assets on their balance sheet.  Granting more planning permissions will not solve the problem. Nor will reducing the time within which a start must be made; as currently a token amount of ground work is sufficient to meet these conditions.  The developers need to be motivated to deliver their developments quickly.

The Council would like council tax to be payable from three years after the grant of planning permission, whether the development has been completed or not. There is also the problem of land-banking by companies who are not developers and yet own considerable areas of land to sell on to developers in due course. This is causing development to stagnate as the asset is more valuable in their balance sheet.

  • What should constitute significant under delivery and over what time period?

No further comment.

  • What steps do you think should be taken in response to significant under delivery?

No further comment.

  • How do you see this approach working when the housing policies in the Local Plan are out of date?

No further comment.

Question 12. What would be the impact of a housing delivery test on development activity?

 No comment.

Question 13. What evidence would you suggest could be used to justify retention of land for commercial or similar use? Should there be a fixed time limit on land retention for commercial use?

Any evidence needs to address the likelihood of the land being used commercially.  The Council considers there should be a time limit on the retention of commercially designated land, but with some potential flexibility. It would not be sensible to remove the commercial designation at the time limit if serious negotiations for its commercial use were under way.

Question 14. Do you consider that the starter homes exception site policy should be extended to unviable or underused retail, leisure and non-residential institutional brownfield land?

The Council does agree.

Question 15. Do you support the proposal to strengthen the starter homes exception site policy?

No comment.

Question 16. Should starter homes form a significant element of any housing component within mixed use developments and converted unlet commercial units?

The Council does agree.

Question 17. Should rural exception sites be used to deliver starter homes in rural areas? If so, should local planning authorities have the flexibility to require local connection test?

The Council does not agree with the idea of starter homes on exception sites in the Green Belt for the reasons set out in its answer to Question 1.  An essential feature of rural exception sites, as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework, is that affordable housing provided on these sites is affordable in perpetuity.  If the present proposal were to be adopted, after five years the rural settlement with an exception site would be back to square one.  There would be pressure for another generation of starter homes and Green Belt boundaries will be steadily eroded, contrary to the main purpose of Green Belt policy.

Question 18. Are there any other policy approaches to delivering starter homes in rural areas that you would support?

No comment.

Question 19. Should local communities have the opportunity to allocate sites for small scale starter home developments in their Green Belt through neighbourhood plans?

The Council does not agree with the idea of starter homes in the Green Belt being provided for in neighbourhood plans for the reasons set out in its answer to Questions 1 and 17. Starter homes are not the same as affordable housing.

If starter homes, which after all are market housing, are allowed in the Green Belt, without some other very special circumstances, developers will see this as the thin edge of the wedge. They will bring forward more market housing in the Green Belt which will be more difficult to refuse. Building a starter home in the green belt, because of the price of the land, will not be affordable to first time buyers within the criteria set out by the government. Starter homes would be an excuse for developers to insist on a quid pro quo of several 6 bed mansions in order to compensate for the starter home.

Question 20. Should planning policy be amended to allow redevelopment of brownfield sites for starter homes through a more flexible approach to assessing the impact on openness?

The Council opposes this proposal. It is essentially to insert ‘substantially’ before ‘greater impact’ in the last bullet point in para 89 of the NPPF for starter homes developments.  It is difficult to judge what effect this would have; what is ‘substantial’? However, it seems that it must either involve a serious loss of Green Belt openness or else have little effect on the delivery of starter homes.

Critical Comment on Central Bedfordshire Council’s Budget 2016

Council budgets over the last 5 years have been ‘pay less get more’ budgets. The Council decided not to increase Council Tax and benefit from £75 million in efficiency savings across is operations. But was this a sustainable strategy? Clearly the strategy was unsustainable as the Council’s new Budget will raise Council Tax over the next 5 years. The Council blames Government spending cuts but it has known these cuts were on the way since the start of Government’s austerity programme in 2010. So why did the Council decide to pursue a strategy that drastically reduced its income, harmed its operations and contributed to the deterioration of its services provision?

The Council’s Budget 2016 is a ‘pay more get less’ budget. The proposed 4% rise in Council Tax by itself will contribute little to improving the Council’s substandard adult social care provision or prevent it from discontinuing its support for its non-statutory services. In May 2015 the Council stated in its Caddington Hall Care Home consultation documents;

‘The Council owns and operates seven care homes which we built several decades ago and which currently no longer meet the expectations of customers and regulators in terms of facilities and accommodation’.

The Council’s Executive decided to close Caddington Hall in July 2015. Without capital funding in addition to the proposed Council Tax rises the rest of the Council’s Care Homes remain under threat of closure despite increasing demand due to our ageing population. The implications of an ageing population for healthcare provision have been common knowledge since at least the turn of this century. Yet the deterioration of the Council’s Care Homes has been continuous since then. Clearly this service’s deterioration is an outcome of the Council’s unsustainable ‘pay less get more’ strategy.

The Council’s flagship Development Strategy launched 3 years ago by Cllr Jamieson with a flurry of ideological rhetoric has stalled because its ‘pay less get more’ strategy has harmed its capacity to produce an approved effective plan for creating jobs, and building affordable, and social housing. An outcome of this stalled strategy is the revenue income from planned housing and employment development is not being realised. The Council’s failure to get developers to ‘build out’ their sites quickly means the planned expansion of its revenue raising Council Tax base lags behind increasing demand for Council services and, affordable and social housing.

The Council’s other means of revenue income, the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), remains unapproved.  However if it were approved, one of the largest sources of income from the levy will be lost as the Council intends to set a zero levy on its Houghton Regis North development to improve the viability of building at this location. Considering Government cuts, and increasing demand for services, and Council Tax increases, is a zero levy for large housing developments an appropriate or sustainable strategy?

Council Tax will be a significant portion of the Council’s income over the next 5 years as planned cuts in Government funding begin to bite and funding from other sources such as the new homes bonus decline. The amount of new homes bonus payments depends on the number of houses built and is therefore affected by developer ‘build out’ rates. In future payments may depend on the Council having an approved Development Strategy. Currently build out rates are slow and the Council does not have a Development Strategy. The phasing of a new source of Council income from the retention of business rates means it will not be available to spend until towards end of the Council’s financial plan. Another potential source of income may come from the Council delivering services and infrastructure that are currently provided by the Government. However income will only arise if the Council can deliver these services and infrastructure for less cost than the Government can.

If the Council were to provide new infrastructure and services without a robust and sustainable financial plan there is a high risk of a shortfall between the costs of their provision and income they generate.  Any shortfall will have to be funded by the Council and paid for in part by further increases in Council Tax.  In the light of strategic errors the Council has made is the Council capable of producing a robust and sustainable financial plan?

The Council is considering spending £278 million on Capital Projects over the duration of its financial plan. The revenue implications of these projects have been accounted for in the plan. This means a portion of the proposed 4% rise in Council Tax is being used to fund them. The corollary is if our local representatives were to choose not to go ahead with some of these projects then large rises in Council Tax can be avoided.

The Council will soon be deciding whether to spend £42 million on highway schemes but what benefits will these schemes provide the people of Central Bedfordshire? Would electors prefer some of this money to be spent on adult healthcare and affordable and social housing instead of building roads to encourage migration from London into an increasingly overpopulated Central Bedfordshire?

Funding for capital projects comes from South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) and other similar agencies, bank loans, Government loans and loans from other Council’s. A recent Council Treasury Management Report shows the Council has taken on high risk Lender Option Buyer Option (LOBO) bank loans. The Budget 2016 report also shows the revenue implications of small rises in the Bank of England base rate. However, the report fails to highlight the risk of SEMLEP’s funding drying up if the UK decides to leave the European Union as most of its funding comes from the European Central Bank via Government.

Loans from other Councils may have an adverse impact on Central Bedfordshire countryside as the quid pro quo could mean our Council taking on other Councils’ housing requirements to protect their countryside by building their houses in Central Bedfordshire. Currently Milton Keynes Council is planning to develop land inside Central Bedfordshire around Hulcote, Salford and Aspley Guise. So far our representatives on the Council have not responded to their electors concerns about these planned developments.

Currently developers contribute to funding infrastructure through s106 agreements.  The application of this income will slow down and diminish over the next 5 years. Recent changes to regulations discourage Councils from pooling too much of this funding before it is spent. As well the Government wants the Community Infrastructure Levy to replace s106 funding as CIL will reduce developers upfront contribution to infrastructure costs. These changes will result in Council Tax payers funding in part the revenue costs resulting in shortfalls between the costs of infrastructure and income from s106 and CIL.

The Woodside Link Road at Houghton Regis North is one example of a £17 million infrastructure funding shortfall that will be funded in part by the Council Tax payer over the next 5 years. A study of recent planning applications raises further concern as s106 agreements will be used to fund the building of new social care homes on the back of increasingly unaffordable housing development. This strategy jeopardises the prospects of the delivery of social care homes at a pace commensurate with increasing demand.

Recently I have commented on the difficulty electors are likely to experience when they try to engage with the Budget 2016 consultation. My own experience and the experiences of other Green Belt Parish Councils in the Toddington Ward is our representatives Cllr Nicols and Cllr Costain have done nothing to explain the new budget’s content or the alternatives they and the Council can choose between. Assuming they understand the Budget and what the alternatives are.

There is a democratic deficit in the Toddington Ward and probably across the rest of Central Bedfordshire because the majority of our representatives regularly fail to meaningfully engage with electors and Town & Parish Councils on significant issues such as the Development Strategy and the Budget. Preferring to consult through questionnaires based on limited and false alternatives rather than by face to face meetings where they explain the choices they make on their electors’ behalf. Clearly this democratic deficit has arisen because our representatives do not want their electors to understand the reasons for their choices in case electors disagree with them and vote differently in future.

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Budget 2016 Consultation

Charles

Thank you for replying and answering my question about the revenue implications of the capital budget set out in the Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan. On the subject of the budget consultation process; The Council offers a telephone contact option for electors who want to ask questions about budget consultation documents. The telephone option I used last week put me through to a ‘customer service’ team after a wrangle with the automated answering service. I was assured by the team that I would be contacted with an answer to my question. I wasn’t. On calling the team again they said they were not qualified to answer my question. This why I contacted you and Cllr Wenham directly. I am sure you can appreciate the frustration this would cause any elector who wants to participate in budget consultation in an informed and more meaningful way through a better understanding of the alternatives electors’ political representatives can choose between.

Please forward these comments to whoever is responsible for the Council’s ‘customer service’ team and the budget consultation process.

Regards

Michael Stonnell

Chair Sundon Parish Council

Comment on Luton’s Local Plan

Duty to Co-operate

The Council asks whether respondents’ believe its Local Plan complies with the Duty to Co-operate. It is not possible to answer this question because the Council has not provided any DCLG Planning Practice Guidance evidence to support its statements about co-operation. The Council’s neighbour Central Bedfordshire Council has approved a Framework Plan for the North of Luton that cuts off South Central Bedfordshire Parishes’ access to Luton along Sundon Park Road. Luton Council say in their Local Plan there is limited access from the North to Luton and that this will cause increased congestion in the Borough over the period of the Local Plan. So for Central Bedfordshire to cut off access to Luton indicates a lack of co-operation on transport policy.

Policy LP2 Spatial Strategy

This policy is unsound because it does not deliver the 17 800 new houses identified in the Council’s Strategic Housing Market Assessment.

Policy LP4 Green Belt

This policy is unsound because it does not specify the special circumstances that permit inappropriate development. Large scale housing and commercial development on the Green Belt has been deemed inappropriate by Planning Inspectors. Luton is encircled by Green Belt and crossed north of Luton by the Chilterns AONB. Meeting Luton’s unmet housing in these areas constitutes inappropriate development.

Policy LP5 Land South of Stockwood Park

This policy is unsound because there is no master development plan for the area that could possibly achieve the policy objective of conserving and enhancing the appearance of the adjoining Green Belt, Area of Great Landscape Value, County Wildlife Site, QE11 Playing Fields and the Chilterns AONB.

Policy LP8 Napier Park

This policy is unsound because it does not deliver a large enough contribution towards meeting Luton’s need for 17 800 new houses. Land for office and industrial uses at Napier Park has been available since November 2014 and the site is yet to deliver any employment spaces.

Policy LP9 Power Court

This policy is unsound because it does not deliver a large enough contribution towards meeting Luton’s need for 17 800 new houses. Luton’s previous 2001 – 2011 Local Plan allocated Power Court for development as a mixed housing and business site over 10 years ago. No developer has put forward a master plan for this area since 2006.

Policy LP16 Affordable Housing

This policy is unsound because it does not ensure the delivery of the 20% affordable housing the Council’s Strategic Housing Market Assessment says is needed. The amount of affordable housing depends on house prices, the cost of borrowing or renting and the economic viability of development sites. The Council has no control over house prices or the cost of borrowing. Nevertheless if a development site is unviable because of the need for 20% affordable housing the Council could provide support to ensure its viability.

Policy LP38 Pollution and Contamination

This policy is unsound because it does not stipulate air quality management for known poor air quality areas. The Council’s Annual Public Health Report 2013 – 2014 (page 64) sets out the number of deaths and reduced life expectancy caused by air pollution in Luton. The approaches to Luton Airport are not within an Air Quality Management Area therefore the impact of increased vehicle movements due to the recently approved expansion of operations at London Luton Airport is not being assessed and reported. The Council’s Air Quality Assessment 2012 says the airport approach has air pollution exceeding the Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000. The potential adverse impact of vehicle emissions on air quality caused by new development at Napier Park and Power Court has not been properly considered in the Council’s Sustainability Appraisal.

How flawed housing targets threaten our countryside

How flawed housing targets threaten our countryside

New research shows that local housing targets are driven by over-ambition rather than need

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is today calling for an overhaul of the way local authorities set housing targets in order to stop countryside being lost unnecessarily [1].

Extensive research commissioned by CPRE has shown that local authorities are in effect being asked to base their plans on aspiration rather than need, which is resulting in ever higher housing targets and the consequent, unnecessary release of countryside for development [2] – without resulting in an increase in overall housebuilding.

Among a large number of problems with how the targets are calculated [3], the research found a lack of clear guidance in the process, a lack of objectivity in the calculations, and a lack of concern for land availability and environmental impacts.

The research demonstrates that the unrealistic targets are putting undue pressure on the countryside. Setting targets far higher than what can be realistically built just means that developers have more sites to choose from: as static building rates show, higher targets do not mean faster delivery [4]. The disastrous consequence is that when these unrealistic targets are not met, councils have to identify even more sites for housing, and ever more countryside is released for more lucrative development while brownfield sites go unused [5].

Matt Thomson, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said:

“It is vital that we build more homes, but this will not be achieved through ever higher housing targets based on ambition rather than actual need. The current process is not only highly damaging to our countryside and the environment in general; it is also damaging to community well-being and extraordinarily frustrating for local people.

“Through its planning inspectors and the threat of expensive appeals, the Government is taking a top-down approach to impose and enforce housing targets – despite ministers calling for more localism. Instead, we need to see a more accurate definition of community need at the heart of all local plans, and more consideration for environmental concerns and land availability. Councils should not be penalised for failing to meet implausible ambitions for growth over and above actual housing need.”

To illustrate the unrealistic nature of the housing targets, CPRE has analysed the local plans passed in the past two years that have contained a new housing target. In those 54 local plans, the average housing requirement is 30% above the Government’s household projections, and 50% above the average build rate. Only seven of the 54 targets take environmental factors into account [6].

To ensure that we build the homes we actually need in the right places, CPRE is calling for community surveys to play a far greater role in determining true need; for available brownfield land to play a leading role in developing targets; and for planning guidance to include a clear definition of housing need that is designed to support those who lack housing, and to ensure local plans specify what kind of homes will meet this need.

Case studies

Oxfordshire

The Oxfordshire SHMA, published in March 2014, suggests the need for an extra 100,000 houses in the county by 2031. This is the equivalent to two new cities the size of Oxford in just 17 years. This could lead to roughly 200,000 more people – a 30% increase in the population – much higher than the 10% anticipated UK population growth for the same period. The SHMA figures would mean building at virtually double any previous rate. The housing targets in the SHMA are having a direct effect on the countryside, for example the draft Vale of White Horse District Local Plan proposes 1,400 houses in the North Wessex Downs AONB and 1,500 houses across four sites in the Green Belt, contrary to NPPF policy.

North Somerset

Communities and Local Government Secretary of State Greg Clark recently approved a planning inspector’s recommendation to increase housing targets for North Somerset Council. The council has been waiting for their local plan to be approved for three and a half years. The plan was given the go-ahead by a planning inspector in 2012 but the housing target was subsequently successfully challenged in the courts. Since that time the council has done more work on their housing target and arrived at a figure of 17,000, but a planning inspector said that this should be raised to at least 21,000 to meet figures set out in a housing assessment. Development potential in North Somerset is highly constrained by Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and areas at high risk of flooding. This means that the council cannot show that enough houses are likely to get built over the next five years to meet the higher figure. If this situation remains unchanged, it will trigger a national policy which voids the local plan and allows developers to pounce on greenfield sites that are not currently allocated for housing. It would also be likely to lead to the loss of Green Belt land.

Notes for editors

[1] CPRE, Set up to fail: why housing targets based on flawed numbers threaten our countryside, November 2015

[2] CPRE commissioned Housing Vision, housing market consultants, and Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design, to research and review the methodologies used to determine “objectively assessed need” for housing since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012. Their report is available from the CPRE website here.

Housing Vision and Tibbalds, Smarter SHMAs: a review of Objectively Assessed Need in England, commissioned by CPRE, November 2015.

[3] At the heart of these issues is the requirement for local authorities to identify the need for housing and then meet that need in full in their local plans. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out how to determine “objectively assessed housing need”. Online Government guidance in the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) provides a recommended approach to deciding” objectively assessed need” through a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA).

[4] Government data show that 242,000 houses were given planning permission in the year up to June 2015. Yet housing starts and completions show little sign of matching this number. Quarterly statistics on housing starts show that building rates have been static since the beginning of 2014 – at around 136,000 per year. The latest data show completions are currently at 131,000.

[5] The situation is then made worse because if housebuilding in an area falls below these five-year targets, the local plan that contains these targets – and the protection for land not classed as suitable for housing – no longer applies. Once that happens, local authorities can be forced to allow house building on greenfield land, whether it meets a community’s needs or not.

Meanwhile, CPRE’s 2014 report From wasted space to living spaces found that at least a million new homes could be built on suitable brownfield land across England, and that brownfield land is a self-regenerating resource. CPRE, From wasted space to living spaces, November 2014. 

[6] CPRE’s new research, distinct from that of Tibbalds and Housing Vision, assessed all local plans outside of London containing housing targets adopted between April 2013 and July 2015. See CPRE, Set up to fail, November 2015.

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Building free-for-all as Central Bedfordshire Council abandons its Development Strategy

Local countryside champion CPRE Bedfordshire is warning that villages could see a free-for-all in house building on green fields as developers take advantage of Central Bedfordshire having no Development Strategy.

In recent months, Cranfield, Langford, Houghton Conquest and Shefford have all fallen prey to speculative developers, who have been given permission to build hundreds of dwellings on the edge of their settlements.

Last month plans for a development west of Sandy between the River Ivel and A1 were put forward that includes over 200 dwellings and 15,000 sq ft of office space. Without a Development Strategy to demonstrate that the council has a five-year’s supply of housing land, Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) will have very few grounds on which to refuse it.

Although the Council had originally refused the applications for 110 dwellings in Langford and 140 dwellings in Shefford, the developers won their cases on Appeal, with the lack of an up-to-date Development Strategy given as a key reason in both cases. Since then CBC has approved developments of 230 dwellings in Cranfield and 125 homes in Houghton Conquest.

The Council has a duty to produce a Development Strategy for Central Bedfordshire, demonstrating a planned approach to meeting its future housing needs, including a five year supply of deliverable housing land. Without this the Council has little grounds with which to refuse planning permission for housing developments.

Earlier this year, Central Bedfordshire Council failed to get its Development Strategy approved by a Government Planning Inspector and last month issued a statement that it plans to withdraw it following an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a Judicial Review aimed at overturning the Inspector’s decision.

A spokesperson for CPRE Bedfordshire said: “Central Bedfordshire Council has failed in its duty to provide a Development Strategy for the area. We fear that this will open the floodgates for speculative developers to build hundreds of houses on the edge of local villages. The Council is now in a very weakened position with very few grounds to stop these.”

Notes to editors:

  1. In recent months, permission for up to 605 homes has been given in the following Central Bedfordshire settlements. These are:
  2. Langford (CB/14/00186/OUT) –  Application by Gladman developments for up to 110 houses – Appeal against refusal allowed 29/06/2015
  3. Shefford (CB/14/01726/OUT) –  Application by Catesby Estates for up to 140 houses –  Appeal against refusal allowed 2/9/2015
  4. Cranfield, Mill Road (CB/14/05007/OUT) – Application by Gladman Developments for up to 230 houses – Application granted by CBC’s Development Management Committee (DMC) 16/9/2015
  5. Houghton Conquest, Chapel End Road (CB/15/01362/OUT) – Application by Gladman Developments for up to 125 houses –  Application granted by DMC 16/9/2015
  6. Applications for an additional 200 homes west of Sandy and 50 in Houghton Conquest are currently with the Council:
  7. CB/15/03937/OUT  Land West of Sandy between A1 and River Ivel, Noth of Girtford Bridge – Outline planning application on the Land West of Sandy (Girtford Bridge) for up to 216 residential dwellings, 8 self build plots, 138-bed Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) and approximately 15,000sqft B1 (Office) development with all matters reserved, except access.
  8. Houghton Conquest, Bedford Road (CB/15/03706/OUT).  Application by Templeview Developments for up to 52 houses, currently under Consultation.    Consultation closes 3/11/2015.
  9. On the Council’s websites 7/10/15: “At the Council’s Executive Meeting on 6 October 2015, Members agreed to recommend to Full Council (19 November 2015) that the Development Strategy be withdrawn and to discontinue legal proceedings. Members noted that work would begin immediately on a new Local Plan.”

Letter from Greg Clark MP Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government

I have just received a response from the National Planning Casework Unit about Sundon Parish Council’s request for the Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government to intervene in planning applications for developments at Houghton Regis North (see my blog post of 27th July).

The Secretary of State Greg Clark MP has decided not to ‘call in’ these planning applications for the reasons that can be found in his letter 150918-notify_sundon_parish_council

Sundon Parish Council’s response is:

Sundon Parish Council wants a Local Plan that best meets the needs of Central Bedfordshire residents. In principle the Council is not against development. Although the Secretary of State says decisions where possible should be made at a local level he doesn’t appear to take into account the plan making competence of local decision makers. As a consequence Central Bedfordshire residents will have to suffer outcomes of an unsound Local Plan and according to recent legal advice an unlawful North of Luton Framework Plan. (This advice can be found here Harlington Parish Council advice – Sarah Sackman – 14.09.15 ).

The Secretary of State should be reminded these unsatisfactory outcomes have occurred within the context of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) he introduced. Therefore he is ultimately responsible for allowing the incremental implementation of unsound and unlawful plans.

Objections to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy and Planning Obligations Strategy

1) The levy is unsound because the charging schedule is not credible

Central Bedfordshire Council does not have a Local Plan to use as evidence to support its Community Infrastructure Levy proposal. Current Planning Advisory Service and Planning Inspectorate opinion is there is no legislative reason why Local Authorities can not gain Community Infrastructure Levy approval without having a Local Plan. The Council does not have a Local Plan because its Development Strategy was declared unsound during its examination in February 2015. The Council’s strategy was unsound partly because it failed in its ‘Duty to Cooperate’ with a neighbouring authority. However the examiner explained other reasons why the strategy was unsound. Planning Advisory Service and Planning Inspectorate opinion about Local Plans and their relationship with the Community Infrastructure Levy does not cover unsound Local Plans.

The Council’s Infrastructure Delivery Plan contains evidence the Council is unable to fund in the way it intended the critical infrastructure needed to deliver the Houghton Regis North Strategic Urban Extension. According to the Council’s Development Strategy presented at its examination the Woodside Link Road was to be funded by a Section106 agreement. However the Infrastructure Delivery Plan shows a funding gap of £16.5 million for this road. Failure to secure Section106 funding for the Woodside Link adds weight to the Inspector’s conclusion that the Council’s Development Strategy is unsound.

The Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy proposal does not contain information about the success it has had securing Section 106 infrastructure funding. Neither does it contain an assessment of the outcomes of its affordable housing policy. Community Infrastructure Levy Planning Practice Guidance says these assessments are evidence that should be included in a Community Infrastructure Levy proposal. This evidence aids judgements about the Council’s ability to deliver infrastructure and affordable housing. Planning Practice Guidance about Planning Obligations says the content of Section 106 agreements should be published in the Council’s Planning Register. The Council does not clearly ‘sign post’ how the public can access these agreements if they are in the register.

The Infrastructure Delivery Plan shows the number of expected Section106 contributions needed to fund all its critical infrastructure exceeds the pooling restrictions in the revised Community Infrastructure Levy Regulation 123 that came into effect in April 2015. The plan also shows several projects with zero funding gaps, for example, £100 million of critical road infrastructure to connect the M1to the A6 within the Luton North Strategic Urban Extension. The total funding gap shown in the Infrastructure Schedule Summary is £191 million. It is unrealistic to assume projects will have zero funding gaps. This £191 million gap could increase significantly if there was for example a 15% funding shortfall in all critical infrastructure projects with zero funding gaps. A 15% funding shortfall is credible because the £16.5 million Woodside Link Road funding gap is 40% of the total project cost.

Some essential and desirable projects in the Infrastructure Delivery Plan are to be funded by the Council. This funding will come from the Council’s Capital Budget. As a contract has been signed with Balfour Beatty to deliver the Woodside Link Road the costs of this critical infrastructure are currently being funded by the Capital Budget. This unplanned capital expenditure together with planned expenditure and the prospect of future shortfalls in critical infrastructure funding call into question the Capital Budget’s sustainability as it consists of £13.5 million of high risk Lender’s Option Borrower’s Option (LOBO) loans.

The Community Infrastructure Levy proposal is unsound because the charge for Strategic Urban Extensions is zero and the charges for other parts of Central Bedfordshire are too low. These cannot be credible charges given an unsound Development Strategy, the failure to secure Woodside Link Road funding, unrealistic assumptions about zero funding gaps for infrastructure projects, Section 106 pooling limits, and risks to capital budget sustainability that can only be mitigated by increases in the revenue budget of which Community Infrastructure Levy charging income will be an important part.

The evidence for the levy in the Three Dragons report is not transparent. The evidence does not allow sound judgements to be made about the viability of Strategic Urban Extensions. The public can not assess from the evidence whether a developer’s profits, an important consideration in viability assessment, are at risk if the charge was set above zero. It is not possible from the evidence to assess whether setting a zero chaerge for Strategic Urban Extensions is a policy judgement chosen to encourage development in a particular geographical area or a viability judgement. Community Infrastructure Levy Planning Practice Guidance says the choice of charges should be based on viability not policy.

An often declared advantage of a Community Infrastructure Levy scheme is the areas affected by new development directly benefit from the revenue charges generated by the development. The Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy proposal enables Parishes affected by development to benefit by a minimum of 10% of the charge raised. Clearly a zero charge for the Luton North Strategic Urban Extension does not benefit Chalgrave, Chalton, Sundon, Streatley and Harlingon, the Parishes most affected by it.

2) The levy is unlawful because it is not State Aid compliant

Community Infrastructure Levy Planning Practice Guidance says ‘It is the responsibility of aid givers to reassure themselves that the actions they take are state aid compliant’. A zero charge gives a competitive advantage to developers of Strategic Urban Extensions as developers of land outside these areas have to pay a higher charge. Government Guidance on European Union State Aid Law says ‘State aid is any advantage granted by public authorities through state resources on a selective basis to any organizations that could potentially distort competition and trade in the European Union’. Central Bedfordshire Council has not provided any explanation or evidence their Community Infrastructure Levy proposal is legally compliant with European Union State Aid law.

3) The levy consultation is unlawful because it is not Regulation 11 (1) compliant

There is a significant omission in the Council’s Statement of Representations concerning a ‘statement of modification’. The statement of representations does not include Regulation 11 (1) of the Community Infrastructure Regulations 2010. Community Infrastructure Levy Planning Practice Guidance explains the purpose of Regulation 11 (1). A ‘statement of modification’ should be published that sets out any changes to Community Infrastructure Levy documents after public consultation and before they are submitted for examination.

4) The Planning Obligations Strategy is unsound because it exempts developments of 10 units or less from Affordable Housing obligations

On the 31st July 2015 a High Court ruling on West Berkshire District Council & Reading Borough Council v Department of Communities and Local Government overruled Planning Practice Guidance about the exemption of developments of 10 homes or less from Affordable Housing obligations.

5) The levy is unsound as because it allows ‘vacant building credit’ through exemption from Community Infrastructure Levy charges

The High Court ruling cited in objection 4 also overruled a Ministerial Statement by Brandon Lewis MP in November 2014 on ‘vacant building credit’ exemptions.

Letter to Greg Clark MP Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government

This is the content of a letter I sent recently to the Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government. It requests his urgent intervention in planning applications affecting Houghton Regis North.

I request the Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government intervenes in planning applications relating to Green Belt developments in Central Bedfordshire situated on land North of Houghton Regis. An example of one of these applications is Application CB/15/00297/OUT Land West of Bidwell (Houghton Regis North Site 2). For details of this particular application please refer to Agenda Item 6 of the enclosed Reports Pack. Central Bedfordshire Council’s Planning Office has sent this application to the Secretary of State under paragraph 3 of The Town and Country Planning Act (Consultation) (England) 2009.

My request to intervene is planning applications for North of Houghton Regis currently under consideration are parts of a Strategic Land Allocation described in Central Bedforshire Council’s Development Strategy (Local Plan). This strategy failed its Inspection during February this year for the reasons in the enclosed letter from the Planning Inspector. The Council have recently had their request for a Judicial Review of the Inspectors decision denied by the High Court.

I have objected to planning applications of which the Bidwell application is one example on the grounds set out in the letter enclosed to Jason Longhurst Head of Regeneration at Central Bedfordshire Council. Taken together these applications represent the incremental implementation of an unsound Local Plan. These applications are for developments in the Green Belt and contrary therefore to National Planning Policy, the statements of Government Ministers and other politicians regarding their commitment to Green Belt protection. There is a great National public interest that these planning applications and others affecting over 5 square miles of Green Belt and the North Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are properly considered.

On the prospects of the delivery of Houghton Regis North Infrastructure

CBC’s Development Management Committee approved today an outline planning application for Houghton Regis North development. The decision process is webcast here at http://www.centralbedfordshire.public-i.tv/core/portal/home so you may like to view the quality of debate surrounding this site’s approval and the committee’s dismissal of Houghton Regis Town Council’s very reasonable requests for modifications to the plan.

Amongst other important issues Houghton Regis Town Council raised was the fact the Framework Plan for this site included a relief road within the site. But the Council said this was no longer a feature of the plan for this site and that Framework Plans were a discussion point for developers and the Council’s consideration, and not intended to represent the final layout or content of any development site.

Also of interest were comments about the provision of healthcare i.e. a Doctors Surgery large enough to administer to the forecast population growth in the area. Although notionally there is space allocated for this purpose there is no funding to provide a surgery at the moment. Consider the current state of the NHS and ask yourself when will this funding be available? Also ask yourself are Houghton Regis North sites sustainable without healthcare provision?

Section 106 agreements have yet to be agreed with the developers of HN2 so if the comments I have made so far about CBC’s Development Strategy are correct the things residents thought the Council would deliver on this site will soon start melting away.

Comments that the open spaces on the HN2 site were very generous in comparison with other development sites were made by Councillors Young and Nicols. So do not be surprised if open space is lost during this site’s detailed planning.

Objection to Houghton Reigs North Planning Applications

Houghton Regis North Planning Applications

As you will be aware a Planning Inspector examined the Council’s Development Strategy and concluded the Council failed in its duty to cooperate with a neighbour. On the 16th June 2015 at a hearing a judge ‘threw out’ the Council’s request for a Judicial Review of this decision on the grounds the Government had ‘no case to answer’. Currently the Council does not have an approved Development Strategy.

The Council’s Development Strategy contains all of the 5 sites listed;

  1. Thorn Turn development of 4.5 hectares of B2-B8 uses with ancillary offices (CB/15/01928/REG3)
  2. Windy Willows Nursery site Sundon Road (CB/15/03057/OUT)
  3. Land adjacent to the Old Red Lion Bedford Road (CB/14/03047/OUT)
  4. Land at Bedford Road (CB/14/03056/FULL)
  5. Land West of Bidwell HRN2 (CB/15/00297/OUT)

The National Planning Policy Framework, paragraph 83, says local planning authorities with Green Belts in their area should establish Green Belt boundaries in their Local Plan (Development Strategy) which set the framework for Green Belt and settlement policy’. The soundness of the Council’s policy for changing the boundaries of its Green Belt is accepted when the Council’s Development Strategy is approved by a Planning Inspector or the Secretary of State.

The National Planning Policy Framework, paragraph 87, says ‘As with previous Green Belt policy, inappropriate development is, by definition harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances’. There are many examples of planning applications for housing developments within the Green Belt being refused because they are inappropriate and harm the Green Belt.

The planning application to develop land west of Bidwell (HRN2) is supported by a ‘Statement of Very Special Circumstances’. The Council does not have a policy that explains what very special circumstances justify changing Green Belt boundaries to accommodate a development site. The Council’s ‘Policy 36: Development within the Green Belt’ stipulates a presumption against inappropriate development. It states new buildings are regarded as inappropriate except in very special circumstances. The Policy does not explain what very special circumstances justify building within the Green Belt. The policy is clearly only concerned with permitting small scale development in very special circumstances.

The proposed HRN2 site is within the Green Belt and the plan is to provide new buildings on this site. Planning permission for the site should be refused on the grounds the development is inappropriate and contrary to the Council’s ‘Policy 36: Development within the Green Belt’. All development sites are within The Green Belt. Sites 1, 3, 4, and 5 are contiguous. HN2 by itself comprises 1850 houses therefore planning permission for each site should be refused for the same reason as HN2 and because the scale of their cumulative impact is inappropriate.

The approval of individual planning applications for Houghton Regis North sites is unwelcome as they represent the incremental implementation of this Strategic Allocation. This allocation together with the Luton North Strategic Allocation means the cumulative economic, environmental, and social impacts of all sites within them and across the remainder of South Central Bedfordshire and Luton are not being properly considered.

The Council’s failure to produce a sound strategy and then pursue a costly application for a Judicial Review despite clear Government advice calls into question the Council’s plan making competence and therefore the presumption its Development Strategy is sound and sustainable.

CPRE Bedfordshire wins secrecy battle with Bedford Borough Council over Cardington Airship Shed planning application

After a year-long battle by CPRE Bedfordshire, Bedford Borough Council has been forced by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to release documents crucial to the case to build 600 homes around the iconic Airship Sheds in Cardington.  
A Freedom of Information complaint to the ICO by the countryside campaigners has led to the disclosure of documents that had previously been deemed secret by the Council and withheld from the public – including the Planning Committee Members making the decision to grant planning permission for the development.  

Having reviewed the documents now available on the Borough Council’s website, CPRE Bedfordshire believes that had the general public and Planning Committee members been allowed access to scrutinise these key documents, the planning application might never have succeeded. What papers now available to the public reveal is very serious: 

1. When the application was re-submitted in 2013, the Council claimed that it was supported by a new Viability Report and a new Independent Assessment. It has emerged that these documents in fact never existed! Instead, according to the Council’s legal officer, there were a series of discussions with the applicant and a letter to the Council from the Independent Assessor.  

2. The letter from the Independent Assessor (dated 22 November 2013) which has now been made public, far from endorsing the application, continues to raise serious issues regarding the way in which the value of the Airship Shed was established by the applicant. The Assessor does no more than give the benefit of the doubt to the Council should it wish to accept changes made by the applicant to the issues raised in the first Viability Study. 

The issue relates to a planning application which was submitted in 2012 by the owner of Cardington Airship Shed No.1 (which is Grade 2* listed) to build around 600 homes on land around the Airship Sheds. Part of the land was designated as “open countryside” in the Council’s Local Plan and should not have been built on.  

At this time, the applicant had argued, using a Viability Study, that by being allowed to build the houses, reducing the number of affordable homes and obtaining a range of other reductions to planning obligations, they would then be able to repair Shed No.1 at an estimated cost of £10.9m. 

At the time, CPRE Bedfordshire scrutinised the document and submitted representations to the Council which showed that the Viability Study was incorrect and that it would benefit the applicant to the tune of several £ms. These views were substantiated by the report of an Independent Assessor appointed by the Council which confirmed CPRE Bedfordshire’s claims and raised a number of other serious issues. 

The planning application was then withdrawn and a year later re-submitted with, what the council said, was a revised Viability Assessment and a new Independent Assessment – this time both deemed to be secret and withheld from the general public and members of the Planning Committee. According to the Council, this was because they contained confidential commercial information. 

When the application went to the Planning Committee in January 2014, CPRE Bedfordshire attended the meeting and advised Committee members of the secrecy issues.  

A minority of members of the committee were so concerned that they took the previously unheard of step of requesting a vote of the Committee to return the application to Planning Officers for further consideration. The vote was lost and the application was approved by the majority of the Committee despite the very serious secrecy issues. 

A CPRE Bedfordshire spokesperson said:  

“CPRE Bedfordshire fights for an open and democratic planning system that the public can rely upon to work fairly in their interest.

“This is an extremely important issue and we are really pleased that the ICO has agreed with us that Bedford Borough Council should never have concealed key documents from the general public or indeed Planning Committee members in the first place. 

“Those members of the Planning Committee that stood up against the secrecy issues surrounding this application need to be commended for their actions.  

“We have met with the Chief Executive of Bedford Borough Council and asked that he should establish an external enquiry into all aspects of this case which CPRE Bedfordshire believes has resulted in the owner of the shed being given public funds, either directly or indirectly, which will almost entirely fund the £10.9m cost of refurbishment. In addition, we believe that the public and members of the Planning Committee have been seriously misled. He has refused our request.”  

CPRE Bedfordshire will be writing to the Chair of the Planning Committee (Councillor Gerard) to ask for a meeting with her and Committee members in order that we can make them aware of the very serious issues raised by this case. 

With the support of local MP Alistair Burt, CPRE Bedfordshire has now brought the case to the attention of the Local Government Ombudsman. 

Notes:

1. The link to the specific area in the Borough Council website with the released documents is as follows – http://www.publicaccess.bedford.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=LWK7SFCU03200 Documents can then be view by selecting the “documents” tab. The specific documents released are named:

a. 11 02685 V66 VIABILITY REPORT WITHDRAWN REPORT – this is the first viability report produced for the applicant by Turner Morum in July 2012 which was later withdrawn by the Council.

b. 11 02685 EIA VIABILITY – This is a series of documents from the Council’s Independent Assessor Jones Laing LaSalle including the first Independent Report commissioned by the Council dated October 2012 together with letters from them dated Nov 2013 which relate to the second resubmitted planning application – including the letter referred to in the Press Release, which can be found at the end of the document.

 
2. Applications 11/02686/EIA and 11/02685/EIA relate to a development of approx 600 homes to the Eastern and South Eastern Land Parcels around the Cardington Airship Sheds. They were granted planning permission by the Bedford Borough Planning Policy Committee on Monday 27th January 2014. The application was widely opposed by a number of bodies including English Heritage and Cardington Parish Council. Objections to it included; the siting of the houses doing significant harm to the setting of the Grade 2* sheds, the future operational use of the airship sheds and the development on land designated as “open countryside” – outside of the land identified for housing development in the recently adopted 2013 Bedford Borough Council Designations and Allocations Plan.  

 3. The development of the land is linked to the restoration of Shed No 1. In 2007, the Council committed to the release of land for residential development to fund the restoration of Shed No 1. The then owners gained planning permission to develop the Eastern Land Parcel (ELP) subject to an agreement that committed the developer to funding the full cost of repairs to the Shed No 1. In 2010 the land was sold to Fosburn Manufacturing, who advised the Council that more extensive development of land together with other support would be necessary to generate enough funds for the restoration of Shed No 1.  

 
4. The Applicant’s Viability Assessment is central to the application because it sets out in some detail the financial case for the reduced contributions to the council in S106 planning obligations, affordable housing and land. In the 2012 application for development of this site, this Viability Assessment was in the public domain and able to be scrutinised, with inconsistencies found by CPRE Bedfordshire. The same application then returned in 2013. This time Bedford Borough Council said that there was a new Viability Assessment but that it would be kept secret following legal advice. At the Planning Committee meeting on 27th January 2014, following a CPRE Bedfordshire presentation concerning the secrecy of the Viability Assessment, some councillors tabled a motion to adjourn the decision of the planning application until the secrecy of the documents could be investigated. This was defeated. CPRE Bedfordshire put in a Freedom and Information request to see the legal advice, but was refused. Finally, CPRE Bedfordshire appealed to the Information Commissioners Office. This resulted in the ICO telling Bedford Borough Council that they should release the documents. 

 
5. (i) Reduction in S106 contributions alone will cost the Council £2.5m – this figure was calculated by Council officers. 

 
(ii) According to the applicant’s initial Viability Assessment, Gross Profit earned by the applicant on Affordable Housing is 6% against 20% for “normal” housing. Affordable housing will be reduced from 30% to 10% – a reduction of 120 affordable housing units. 

 
(iii) CPRE Bedfordshire’s estimate of at least £10m includes financial gains to the developer from (i) and (ii) above plus a further substantial gain from the release of agricultural land for development. 

 
6. Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Bedfordshire is an independent local charity affiliated to the national CPRE organisation. We work for a better future for Bedfordshire’s countryside, one that everyone can value and enjoy. Our volunteers monitor and fight planning applications that pose a significant threat to the countryside, campaign on local rural issues and run the Living Countryside Awards that recognise and celebrate what is good about rural Bedfordshire. 

Is CBC about to grant planning permission to HN2 without having an approved Development Strategy?

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

On the prospects of the Sundon RFI being connected to the rail network

When Central Bedfordshire Council approved the Luton North Framework Plan it provided documents supporting the planned Sundon Rail-freight Interchange. One document contains Network Rail’s response to the Council’s Development Strategy consultation (here Network Rail on the CBC’s Development Strategy) and two letters one from Network Rail to Prologis (here Network Rail to Prologis) and the other from Network Rail to Network Rail (here Network Rail to Network Rail).

These documents are of insufficient importance to be used to justify going ahead with the Sundon RFI. As they contain no evidence that a proper study of the viability of the RFI has been undertaken or of the feasibility of connecting the planned warehousing to the railway. A letter I received today from Network Rail (here Response to FOI2015 00271) confirms that a feasibility study of the RFI project has not been done.

I am concerned because the Council has approved the North Luton Framework plan based on insufficient evidence of the viability of the Sundon RFI. These circumstances coupled with the timescales for including a feasible railway connection project into Network Rail’s future Enhancements Delivery Plans and the project’s execution mean it is unlikely the Sudon RFI will be completed within the timescale set out in the Council’s Development Strategy.

A bridge too far?

Network Rail in their response to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Development Strategy consultation in March 2014 say the Council ‘need to enter into an agreement with Network Rail as regards the design and delivery of a new bridge over the Midland main line as part of the provision of the strategic (M1 A6) link road’. A road bridge across the Midland mainline at Chalton is a key determinant of the successful implementation of CBC’s currently stalled development strategy. Without a road bridge located at the new M1 Junction 11a the road can not link to the M1 to the A6 North of Luton.

Network Rail are currently consulting stakeholders on its Enhancements Delivery Plan which contains their proposed development projects for the planning control period CP5 that ends in 2020. The Enhancements Delivery Plan is a ‘contract’ between Network Rail and the Government. It is used to monitor the quality of Network Rail’s delivery of the projects in the plan. Also an estimate of these projects costs signals to the Treasury how much the plan will cost. Once the Enhancements Delivery Plan is agreed it is unlikely to be changed unless the Government allocates more funding. It is crucial that projects such as bridging the Midland mainline at M1 Junction 11a are featured in the Network Rail’s control plan CP5 otherwise they will not start until at least 2020.

The delay in the delivery of the planned Midland mainline station at the Wixams housing development is directly attributable to the failure of its sponsors and local authority planners to get the project into the CP4 Enhancements Delivery Plan ending in 2014. More worrying for the current residents of Wixams and new residents who will move into Central Bedfordshire Council’s planned Wixams extension is the fact the planned railway station at Wixams is not part of Network Rail’s CP5 Enhancements Delivery Plan. It looks like current Wixams residents will not get the railway station they were promised when the first residents moved there in 2008 until sometime after 2020!

The bridge across the Midland mainline at Chalton which is part of the planned M1 A6 link road North of Luton has not yet emerged from Network Rail’s project screening activities. These activities are set out in its Guide to Rail Investment Process (GRIP). The significance of this is the bridge project will probably not be implemented until after 2020 as it has not been included in Network Rail’s CP5 Enhancements Delivery Plan. If the road bridge suffers the same implementation problems as the Wixams Railway station then the economic sustainability of CBC’s Development Strategy is in jeopardy.

Why the Sundon RFI will never be connected to the rail network?

On the 31st March 2015 Central Bedfordshire Council’s Executive Committee approved its Framework Plan for the North of Luton. This plan includes the proposed Sundon Rail Freight Interchange (RFI) at Sundon Quarry. On examining the minutes of this meeting it was stated the Council had a letter from Network Rail confirming the connection of warehousing at this site to the Midland Mainline railway.

Network Rail’s Enhancements Delivery Plan identifies rail infrastructure projects to be completed within 5 year Control Periods (CP). The current control period CP5 covers 5 years from 2014 to 2019. Progress towards the completion of these projects is reported on annually. The most recent progress report was published in March 2015 at http://tinyurl.com/lsp5r7t . In January 2015 Network Rail published for consultation the rail infrastructure projects it intends to deliver on the Midland Mainline railway during CP6 2019 to 2024 at http://tinyurl.com/m28m8rl .

After examining Network Rail’s Plans we have become concerned the Council are misleading the public about the Sundon RFI. The reason for our concern is that on reviewing the list of approved CP5 projects and the list of proposed CP6 projects the connection of RFI warehousing to the Midland Mainline at Sundon Quarry is not part of either of these plans.

It is becoming increasingly apparent the Sundon RFI sponsored by Prologis will never be connected to the railway network. The lack of a connection to the rail network will increase vehicle movements to and from the site, reduce the nature and scale of its operation, and consequently reduce the number of jobs the Council says the RFI will create. Without these jobs the economic sustainability of the Council’s Development Strategy is called into question as these jobs were necessary to support planned population growth North of Luton and Houghton Regis.

Comment on Bedfordshire on Sunday’s ‘City Overspill Spells end of Bedfordshire’s Green Belt’

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Russell Beard comments that Central Bedfordshire has to allow its Green Belt and Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be built on because ‘London is shoving its housing need up here’.

A recent report by Sterling Ackroyd, at http://tinyurl.com/mo8fk2j , says there are planned development projects that will deliver 570 000 homes in London. Therefore we would question the Mayor of London’s need to shove his housing need up to Central Bedfordshire.

Jason Longhurst says unless Central Bedfordshire Council builds on its Green Belt and Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty there will be a ‘shortfall in housing over a 20 year planning period’.

A recent letter from the Conservative Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis MP, at http://tinyurl.com/pyd5glt , comments on housing need and Green belt and AONB policy constraints. Council’s do not have to meet housing need need if meeting that need means building on the Green Belt or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Central Bedfordshire Council has chosen to build on the Green Belt and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty although there is no need to!

Chilterns Conservation Board Objects to Central Bedfordshire Council building on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Chilterns Conservation Board, the Government agency set up by statute to control development in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), sets out its objections to Central Bedfordshire Council’s intention to build on the AONB. In its letter, at http://tinyurl.com/nqattst , to the Council the Board expresses its deep concerns about the route of the proposed M1 A6 Link Road that will pass through the AONB.

The route of the M1 A6 Link Road is controversial as its path has not been open to public consultation for over 10 years. Also Environmental Impact Assessments required by current legislation have not been carried out to determine whether alternative routes to the route proposed would be less damaging to the Chilterns AONB and the general environment North of Luton.

Brandon Lewis MP says Housing Need is not a Justification for Building on the Green Belt

Brandon Lewis MP says in his letter, at http://tinyurl.com/pymh823 , to the Planning Inspectorate that building houses to meet all of the housing need identified in a Council’s Strategic Housing Market Area (SHMA) is not a justification for building on the Green Belt or an AONB. Central Bedfordshire Council however have chosen to build on its Green Belt and the Chilterns AONB!

Is Central Bedfordshire Council’s Request for a Judicial Review about to be quashed?

Recently we wrote a post on this blog about whether the Council’s Judicial Review was justifiable. This post can be found here http://tinyurl.com/l3zt6v2

We have learnt the Government are contesting this request on grounds similar to those we put forward when examining the Council’s justification for the Judicial Review. The Government’s grounds for contesting the Council’s request for a Judicial Review can be found here Summary Grounds of Defence_tcm6-65301

Toddington Open Spaces and Countryside Under Threat?

A ‘Call for Sites’ was recently carried out by Central Bedfordshire Council. The call is an opportunity for landowners, developers and other interested parties to put forward sites for residential development in the Green Belt. For a site to be considered for development it must be capable of accommodating between 15 to 500 houses. Do you recognize these open spaces and countryside in and around Toddinton and are they on the Council’s list of sites to be built on?

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