Ian Kemp; Programme Officer

I have not heard from Central Bedfordshire Council about whether I have been added to their list of consultees. So I hope I have not missed anything about how consultees can engage with the Inspector about CBC’s Local Plan 2015-2035 going forward?

In the meantime can you forward the attached to the Inspector. It is CPRE Bedfordshire’s response to a planning application to Central Bedfordshire Council and in our view represents but one example of the Council making a decision without having a Local Plan in place that provides the policy framework for making planning decisions. It would appear that a decision on this application is scheduled to happen prior to the public examination of their Local Plan 2015-2035!

Michael Stonnell; Vice Chair CPRE Bedfordshire

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On Planning Application CB/18/01969/OUT Land Between Brogborough, Lidlington and Marston Moretaine

Dear, Lisa Newlands; Case Officer

CPRE Bedfordshire objects to CB/18/01969/ OUT. The justification for our objection is the decision-making framework for this planning application, i.e. the policies for example, Policy SSA2 (set out in CBC’s Local Plan 2015-2035) have not been approved by a planning inspector via a Public Examination. Neither has the overarching justification for Marston Vale development, i.e. the ideas contained in the National Infrastructure Commission’s report; (‘Partnering for Prosperity: A new deal for the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford Arc’) been sanctioned by National Government.

Yours sincerely

Michael Stonnell

Vice Chair CPRE Bedfordshire and Area Planning Representative, Central Bedfordshire (North)

 

On Planning Appeal Decision 3190584, 59 Shefford Road, Meppershall.

According to Natural England’s ‘Nature on the map’, http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk/magicmap.aspx. Meppershall is not in the Green Belt. Therefore, Central Bedfordshire Council’s extant planning policies relating to building outside settlement envelopes in open countryside etc. are relevant when deciding whether to approve planning applications or defend appeals.

The planning inspector in Appeal Decision 3190584 set out a sophisticated argument for supporting Gladman. Essentially, the inspector gave greater weight to Central Bedfordshire Council’s emerging Local Plan policy than the Council’s extant planning policy. The inspector’s reason for giving greater weight to emerging Local Plan policy was because the past planning appeal decisions taken by other inspectors about disputed planning applications did not contain their reasons for giving greater weight to extant planning policy over the weight they gave to emerging Local Plan policy. However, at the time their appeal decisions were taken Central Bedfordshire Council did not have 5-year Housing Land Supply, so this factor would have outweighed both extant planning policy and emerging Local Plan policy.

Additionally, the inspector noted that in the past Central Bedfordshire Council had approved planning applications contrary to their extant planning policies presumably in order to achieve a 5-year Housing Land Supply. Effectively Central Bedfordshire Council had lost control of their planning policy and were taking perverse planning decisions because their first Local Plan failed its inspection and as a consequence they had no means of defending the people of Central Bedfordshire against unwanted development.

CPRE Bedfordshire should ask Central Bedfordshire Council to challenge this planning appeal decision because although they have regained control of their 5-year Housing Land Supply they still do not have the policies necessary to defend the people of Central Bedfordshire against unwanted development. This is because Central Bedfordshire Council refused planning permission for the Meppershall development and then lost the planning appeal against this decision!

I suspect Central Bedfordshire Council will refuse to challenge this planning appeal decision because it is likely the only reason they refused planning permission in the first place was to placate the Meppershall campaign group. Safe in the knowledge they would lose the appeal and that Gladman would get planning permission at some point in the future when Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan is approved. If they do refuse to challenge the appeal decision, then CPRE Bedfordshire should challenge it and the Meppershall campaign group should challenge it as well.

The arguments set out by the Meppershall campaign group about the capacity of the school and doctor’s surgery would have had greater impact if they were supported by evidence. Apparently, no such evidence was submitted by the campaign group. Therefore, their arguments were easily refuted by the Local Education Authority (Central Bedfordshire Council) and the inspector hearing the planning appeal. However, the inspector does appear to have taken the word of the Local Education Authority at face value rather than insisting the Local Education Authority provide evidence that the capacity of the school is able to cope with the additional pupil intake arising from the proposed housing development in Meppershall.

Regarding the capacity of the doctor’s surgery, it appears no evidence was sought from the relevant authority or testament given about the surgery’s capacity to cope. Therefore, the Meppershall campaign group’s assertion regarding the surgery’s capacity was dismissed by the unevidenced opinion of the inspector. I think this is one of the possible grounds that could be used by the Mepprershall campaign group to challenge the inspector’s planning appeal decision and another possible ground for challenging the appeal decision is the inspector did not seek evidence from the Local Education Authority about the school’s capacity.

A letter to an esteemed professor about the Natural Capital construct.

Thank you for raising my awareness of the Natural Capital construct at our recent Annual General Meeting. I appreciate you probably have first-hand knowledge of how the Treasury’s policy wonks operate and of the seriousness Michael Gove Secretary of State; for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has for improving England’s Natural Environment. You argue the Natural Capital construct is the best way to encourage policy makers at the Treasury to properly consider the quality of the natural environment when making investment decisions designed to produce economic benefit. You also claim the aims of CPRE are compatible with the aims of the Natural Capital construct.

I appreciate the construct may provide hope for professionals involved with the management of the Natural Environment, and the general public. However, this may be false hope, as I have heard from professionals how National and Local politicians have promised to support projects that enhance the value of the natural environment and improve public access to it, only to discover prior to project implementation the promised support does not materialise. Of course, those of us who are concerned about the Natural Environment can hope the attitudes and behaviours of all politicians will change but such a profound change could take decades unlike the superficial changes in the conduct of business claimed by private sector organisations and management educators.

From my experience of engaging with the general public the construct is far too complicated for most of them to effectively engage with, for example, during public consultations. The construct seems to have been produced and is intended to be implemented by members of ‘Plato’s Republic’. As well for civic groups like CPRE, the construct seems similar, apart from a few esoteric differences, to Jonathan Porritt’s failing Sustainability construct whose meaning has been corrupted by National and Local politicians since it began to feature in Government policy, for example, the National Planning Policy Framework. This framework being underpinned with the the oxymoron; Sustainable Growth.

You say the successful implementation of the construct requires a high degree of commitment and integrated decision-making between professionals working in National and Local Government, civic organisations and the general public. Justifying this view by citing the dubious planning decisions of distinctly separate Local Governments, for example Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. Such a high level of integrated decision-making is wishful thinking, as the direction of travel is the disintegration of whole systems of government, for example, the United Kingdom breaking away from the European Union, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland breaking away from the United Kingdom, the existence of Mayoralties such as Birmingham, Manchester, London etc., and the Sovereignty of LOCAL Authorities when plan-making.

Do you honestly beleive Michael Gove is truly sincere? Can he be trusted to implement the Natural Capital construct? His track record in Government is poor as if he had been an effective Secretary of State for Education he would still be in that role.  Plus, on reading media accounts of his political behaviour one can only conclude this behaviour is duplicitous. Is Michael Gove’s view of the future Natural Environment and its management supreme? Is his view of the future of England’s NAtural Environment shared amongst Cabinet Ministers? Has he got the political authority to convince a majority of Members of Parliament to vote for the legislation necessary to implement the Natural Capital construct? Where in the construct are the details of how disputes between separate units of Government about the value of each unit’s Natural Capital resolved. Currently in the context of Local Planning, units of Government in Cabinet Ministers constituencies have less new housing  development in their jurisdictions than the constituencies of Members of Parliament who are not in the Cabinet.  If this circumstance continues when the Natural Capital construct is implemented will it be argued the Natural Environments of Runnymede & Weybridge, and Maidenhead, are more valuable than the Natural Environments of Mid Bedfordshire and South West Bedfordshire?

On Appeal Decision 3152707 Development at the former Readshill Quarry Clophill

After reading the Appeal Decision 3152707 I have concluded the Inspector hearing it was scrupulous in the examination of the evidence made available to him prior to and during the hearing. I hope the Inspector who will examine Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan 2015 2035 is as thorough.

The appeal decision reveals how totally inept Central Bedfordshire Council are at constructing arguments to use to defend appeals made by developers like Gladman Developments Limited against its planning decisions.  As according to the Inspector determining the appeal, providing Central Bedfordshire Council have a 5year land supply, their existing development framework policies arising from their Core Strategy 2009 are not out of date. In the particular case of development in Clophill at the former Readshill Quarry the Core Strategy can be used to protect the Greensand Ridge in a manner the residents of Clophill would support. Also, these policies could be used by Central Bedfordshire Council’s Development Management Committee to refuse planning permission for developments impacting on similarly distinctive Landscapes for example the North Chilterns AONB, developments directly outside Central Bedfordshire settlement envelopes and in the open countryside.

The Inspector also points out the Core Strategy covers the period up to 2026, so there is no good reason why Central Bedfordshire Council should rush through the development of its Local Plan 2015-2035 in response to a threat to intervene in plan making made by Secretary of State Sajid Javid MP in a speech during November 2017. As so far all of the Planning Authorities mentioned in the speech condemning tardy plan making have not faced any interventions in their plan making and because the planning status quo in Central Bedfordshire still has 9 years left to run!

The technical arguments put forward in the appeal decision regarding the content of the SHMA and its contribution in arriving at an OAHN for Central Bedfordshire can definitely be used to support arguments against the Central Bedfordshire OAHN. Nevertheless, these technical arguments justify an OAHN of 32000 houses over the period of 2015-2035 rather than the appellants justification of a 48540 OAHN over the same period. If an OAHN of 32000 houses is unacceptable to Central Bedfordshire Town and Parish Council’s? then these groups will have to generate their own evidence to justify an OAHN lower than 32000 so there is less impact on the Central Bedfordshire Green Belt and other nationally important landscapes and less impact due to smaller quanta of housing development in non-Green Belt parishes and at existing urban centres.

Finally, a significant point to note is in the appeal decision the Inspector acknowledges some of the technical OAHN related arguments used to determine the appeal will have to be more thoroughly justified at the examination of CBC’s Local Plan 2015-2035. Also, if the pre-submission Local Plan or a variant of it is approved or approved subject to review, Core Strategy 2009-2026 policies will become defunct if they are not in the approved version of Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan 2015-2035. If these policies do become defunct, then the people of Central Bedfordshire will have no defence against inappropriate development like the controversial housing development proposed at the former Readshill Quarry Clophill.

On Last Night’s meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council

The central political argument put forward at last night’s Council meeting was the fear of losing control over plan-making to Government if a Local Plan was not put in place very soon.

The following link to an article in the ‘Local Government Lawyer’ explains that Government intervention in plan-making although possible is unlikely if Council chose to resist the political threat of Government intervention by any of the means set out in the article.

Therefore the Council could take more time to improve the soundness of their plan and improve its popularity with the people who live in Central Bedfordshire if it wanted to.

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33362%3Alocal-plan-interventions&catid=49%3Acomment-a-analysis-articles&Itemid=9

Complaint About False Information From Central Bedfordshire Council

You may have begun to wonder about the outcome of my challenge concerning the Council providing me with false information. The issue set out in my 7th November 2017 blog post ‘More false Information from Central Bedfordshire Council? and my blog post 29th October 2017 ‘Is Central Bedfordshire Council’s Cllr Nigel Young misleading the Council’s Executive Committee with False Information?’.

I was advised by the Local Government Ombudsman to complain directly to the Chief Executive of Central Bedfordshire Council. For your interest here are some emails between myself and the officers investigating my complaint. Complaint

A key point I raised in my complaint was the timing of the judgement quashing the planning appeal decision of a Planning Inspector who heard the planning appeal I cited in the afore mentioned blog posts. For your information here is the order quashing the Planning Inspectors decision. Order 13.11.17_1 (2)

From reading my blog posts and complaint emails you should be able to conclude that the Council’s Director of Regeneration in his email to me on 31st October had falsely claimed the Planning Inspector’s appeal decision had been quashed shortly after the Planning Inspector published the appeal decision on the 21st August 2017 rather than on the 10th November 2017 the date the decision was formally quashed.

Clearly the Director of Regeneration chose to claim the Planning Inspector’s appeal decision had been quashed when the decision had not been quashed.

So far the Council’s  Chief Executive the person to whom I addressed my complaint has not formally responded to my complaint on behalf of the Council and as yet has not backed the Director of Regeneration’s statement about the quashing of the Planning Inspector’s appeal decision.

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan 2015-2035 and a perverse decision

Central Bedfordshire Council have recently released their Local Plan 2015-2035. When considering the content of this document I discovered a development site ‘Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray’ that was rejected for development after it was assessed by the Council has now been included as a development site in the Council’s Local Plan 2015-2035.

The following time line sets out the events leading to this perverse decision and  evidence justifying my conclusion.

‘Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray’ Time Line

1 ‘Land Off Eaton PARK Eaton Bray’ included in Call for Sites (May 2016).

Arial View Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray

Call for Sites Sites Map May 2016 Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray

Call For Sites Sites List May 2016 Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray

2 ‘Land Off Eaton PARK Eaton Bray’ rejected for development after site assessment (July 2017).

Call for sites Site Assessment Outcomes July 2017 Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray

3 ‘Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray’ site allocated for development in the Council’s Local Plan 2015 – 2035 (January 2018).

Pre Submission Local Plan 2015-2035 Site Allocation Map January 2018 Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray

Pre Submission Local Plan 2015-2035 Site Allocation List January 2018 Land Off Eaton Park Eaton Bray

I urge all Parish and Town Council’s in Central Bedfordshire to check whether there are any development sites in their area that were rejected after site assessment but now appear as development sites in the Council’s Local Plan 2015-2035 and inform me at michael.stonnell@btinternet.com of examples of these perverse decisions.

More False Information from Central Bedfordshire Council?

Here is the content of an email I sent to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Executive Committee on 6th November 2017 about false information, the subject of my last blog post on 29th October 2017, ‘Is Central Bedfordshire Council’s Cllr Nigel Young misleading the Council’s Executive Committee with false information?’.

Thank you for your reply to my email about false information. I have contacted the Planning Inspectorate about the planning appeal decision APP/P0240/W/16/3166033. They referred me to the Planning Court at The Royal Courts of Justice. The Planning Court undertakes judicial reviews of planning decisions and hears legal challenges to other planning decisions. One conclusion drawn after reviewing planning court listings and judgements is Central Bedfordshire Council has not legally challenged this planning appeal decision and neither has the Secretary of State quashed the decision of the planning Inspector hearing this appeal.

As none of you have responded to my request to publish your reply to my email about false information, another conclusion that can be drawn is your reply itself contains false information. Information that can be easily refuted by people who either have knowledge of legally challenging planning decisions or of the judicial review process, or can use Google to view the business of the Planning Court! Executive Committee members; to enhance your credibility amongst Councillors, Council planners and employees, developers and public, I encourage you to publish all evidence supporting your assertions made about a legal challenge and a quashed decision on the Council’s online planning database.

The report by Connie Frost-Bryant I cited in my email sets out the risks the people of Central Bedfordshire will face if the Local Plan’s shortened development cycle is not approved. These risks are; 1) no planning framework for determining planning applications or defending unwanted development because the Council’s planning policies will be out of date, and 2) the lack of a 5-year land supply due in part to delays in implementing Houghton Regis North Site1 development plans. These risks are significant and will probably occur before the Local Plan is approved irrespective of an approved shortened development cycle as it is unsustainable for the Council to continue to defend its planning decisions with threats of legal challenges to the decisions of planning inspectors who are ultimately responsible for approving the Council’s Local Plan. 

Because the Council’s threat tactic has merely resulted in a decision to rehear planning appeal APP/P0240/W/16/3166033; this appeal is from Gladman Developments Limited who want to build 78 houses on land between Taylors Road and Astwick Road Stotfold, the Council will not have a solid defence against unwanted development at Stotfold and across the rest of Central Bedfordshire, while it waits for a date for the rehearing of the appeal or for the approval of its Local Plan. Also in the short term, without a solid defence provided by a robust planning framework and a 5-year land supply the Council’s Development Management Committee (DMC) will not be able to properly determine planning applications. For example, on the 24th November 2017 another planning application (CB/17/04146/OUT) from Gladman Developments Limited who want to build 100 houses on land west of Astwick Road Stotfold, is scheduled to be determined by the DMC.   

A lack of effective leadership and decision taking by Cllr. James Jamieson and Cllr. Nigel Young over the past decade, and more recently, by the Director of Regeneration Jason Longhurst has left the people of Central Bedfordshire without a robust and effective development framework or a Local Plan that meets their needs (ref: https://en-gb.facebook.com/adamzerny/posts/1472333162884157 ).

Clearly the Council does not have a development framework, a 5-year land supply or a Local Plan due to the decisions taken by the Council rather than because of decisions taken by the Secretary of State; Department for Communities and Local Government and the Planning Inspectorate. Or to put it another way the Council has no one else to blame for not having these essential planning tools in place other than itself!

Is Central Bedfordshire Council’s Cllr Nigel Young misleading the Council’s Executive Committee with false information?

A recent report presented to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Executive Committee meeting on 10th October 2017 by Cllr Nigel Young Executive member for Regeneration contains false information.

Part of the report is about the legal implications of a shortened Local Plan development cycle. The report ( Agenda item 17a page 11 paragraph 26 ) authored by Connie Frost-Bryant the Head of Strategic Growth working under the supervision of Jason Longhurst Director of Regeneration and Business Support states;

‘Once adopted the Local Plan will form part of the statutory Development Plan and will be used to determine planning applications. Until this happens the existing adopted plans will continue to set the planning framework.’ 

The second sentence of this paragraph contains the false information. Because in a planning appeal decision made on the 21st August 2017 ( APP:P0240:W:16:3166033 ) the planning inspector hearing the appeal concludes the Council’s existing adopted plans are out of date and cannot be used to determine planning applications and planning appeals. Additionally the appeal decision goes on to say Central Bedfordshire Council currently does not have a 5 year land supply.

Elsewhere on this blog I have explained the importance of having a 5year land supply and up to date planning policies when deciding where new development should be located. On the basis of the false information presented by Cllr Nigel Young and the content of the planning appeal decision made on 21st August 2017 it appears the Council continues to fail to protect residents from unwanted development.

 

How to Defend a Planning Appeal without a 5 Year Housing Land Supply

To speed up the delivery of housing the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) stipulates planning authorities should have a rolling 5 Year Housing Land Supply (5YHLS). The consequences for local authorities without a 5YHLS or an approved Local Plan is existing policies become out of date. Plans for new housing must be approved if they provide sustainable development but local authorities lose control of where the new housing is located. Central Bedfordshire Council would normally refuse planning permission if new development was at inappropriate locations, for example, outside existing settlement envelopes.

In Central Bedfordshire developers are appealing refusal of planning permission on the grounds Central Bedfordshire Council does not have a 5YHLS. To prevent the need to defend appeals the Executive member for Regeneration is intervening into the decision taking process of the Council’s Development Management Committee. Telling the Committee to approve housing development that does not accord with the Council’s current policy DM4: Development Within and Beyond Settlement Envelopes as the Council otherwise the Council would lose costly appeals because it did not have a 5YHLS.

Losing an appeal because a local authority has not got a 5YHLS is not inevitable. A recent court of Appeal Judgement; the ‘Hopkins Judgement’ cited below means Council’s without a 5YHLS can use current policy relating to the preferred locations of development to refuse planning permission.

The following is a representation from CPRE Bedfordshire to the Planning Inspectorate who will be hearing an appeal against Central Bedfordshire Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for housing at Cranfield. The representation and its supporting appendices show how in this particular case the Hopkin’s judgement can be used to defend a planning appeal.

APP/P0240/W/16/3164336 Land between Crawley Road and Bourne End Road Cranfield

CPRE Bedfordshire base this objection on the appellant’s submission to the Council (appendix-1) downloaded from the Council’s website on 25th January 2017.

The appellant justifies its appeal against the Council’s reasons for refusing planning permission by citing the Council’s 5 year Housing Land Supply statement 1st October 2016 (appendix-2). The statement shows the Council has a 4.89 year housing land supply. The appellant claims the Council’s policy DM4: Development Within and Beyond Settlement Envelopes is out of date by citing NPPF paragraph 49.

The appellant further justifies its appeal by citing NPPF paragraph 14. The appellant argues because the Council does not have a 5 year Housing Land Supply there is currently a shortfall in housing need of 211 dwellings across the whole of Central Bedfordshire and its development proposal provides benefit by meeting this shortfall without any significant adverse impact.

CPRE Bedfordshire argue the Council’s policy can be given weight, there is not a shortfall in housing need specifically in Cranfield and the location of the development proposal does have a significant adverse impact.

CPRE Bedfordshire justify the Council’s policy is not out date by citing the content of a planning appeal for up to 30 dwellings at Brook Farm, 94 High Street, Wrestlingworth, Bedfordshire, APP/P0240/W/16/3150607 (appendix-3). The appeal was dismissed because the Inspector gave weight to policy DM4 because of a Court of Appeal Judgement for ‘the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Hopkins Homes Ltd (2016)’ (Hopkins Judgement). The Inspector’s reasons for giving weight to policy DM4 and refusing outline planning permission are explained in the Wrestlingworth decision.

CPRE Bedfordshire justify there is not a shortfall in housing need specifically in Cranfield by citing Office of National Statistics (ONS) Census Statistics 2011 for the Parish of Cranfield (appendix-4) and approved planning applications for new housing in the Parish since  2011 by citing the Council’s Housing Trajectory 1st October 2016 (appendix-5). ONS statistics show there were 1900 dwellings in the Parish in 2011. The Council’s Housing Trajectory, page 4, lists 6 approved planning applications for housing in Canfield since 2011, 526 dwellings in total, across the development plan period.  The number of dwellings in Cranfield will increase by more than 25%.

CPRE Bedfordshire justify a significant adverse impact on the grounds set out in our objection to the Planning Application CB/16/02039/OUT Land between Crawley Road and Bourne End Road Cranfield (appendix-6) together with the Council’s reasons for refusal 1 and 2 set out by the appellant (appendix-1).

In conclusion the housing needs of Cranfield residents will be met over the development plan period therefore the proposed development is unnecessary. The policy DM4 can be used to determine planning applications and the location of the development on land at Cranfield will have significant adverse impact.

Central Bedfordshire Council, Green Belt and an Alternative Fact

There has been widespread speculation about changes to legislation concerning the Green Belt. Parliamentary lobbyists are putting increasing pressure on the Government to soften regulations controlling building on the Green Belt. Lobbyists are claiming the Green Belt is preventing developers building the houses our country needs. During the run up to the General Election 2015 the Government gave a manifesto commitment to protect the Green Belt and when entering office Secretary of State Sajid Javid MP said the Green Belt is ‘sacrosanct’. Lobbyists justify their point of view with Green Belt statistics and claims that parts of Green Belts across England are not worth saving.

Annually Central Bedfordshire Council provide the Department of Communities and Local Government with statistics about changes to their Green Belt. According to these statistics published between March 2009 and March 2016 ( found here Green Belt Statistics Table 2 2009 and here Green Belt Statistics Table 2 2016   ) the area of the Central Bedfordshire Green Belt remains unchanged at 28 200 Hectares. This statistic to use a current idiom is an ‘alternative fact’. An analysis of approved planning applications for developments in South and East Central Bedfordshire shows 677 Hectares of Green Belt has been lost:

Houghton Regis North Planning Applications
CB/12/03613 262 Hectares
CB/15/00297 166 Hectares
Leighton Buzzard East Planning Applications
CB/11/01937 95 Hectares
CB/11/04444 22 Hectares
CB/11/02827 114 Hectares
CB/11/01940 18 Hectares
Total 677 Hectares

The Council’s Draft Local Plan when published is likely to propose more development on its Green Belt together with unprecedented levels of development within and around its rural towns and villages. If the scale housing developments are similar to those proposed in the Council’s failed Development Strategy then at least a further 615 Hectares of Green Belt will be lost.

As the Council is politically aligned with Government the Council’s choice to build on the Green Belt is clearly at odds with Government’s manifesto commitment and its national planning policy. The Council therefore is very likely to lose the votes of people ‘Escaping to the Country’ who thought living in the Green Belt meant they would be free from unnecessary large scale development impacting their rural way of life. Clearly the Council’s ‘alternative fact’ is means of avoiding criticism of its choice to build on the Green Belt and preventing a substantial number of votes from being lost.

 

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council and the New Homes Bonus

My recent Blog Posts looked at the implications for revenue and capital budgets and ultimately the council Tax payer if Central Bedfordshire Council were not to receive the Government and housing development income it has forecast. This post sets out the implications for residents due to changes in the Government’s New Homes Bonus (NHB) funding stream.

The New Homes Bonus was introduced in 2011 to provide a clear incentive for local authorities to encourage housing growth in their areas. It rewards local councils for each additional home added to the council tax base including newly built properties and conversions as well as long term empty properties brought back into use.

The New Homes Bonus is not ring-fenced and is grant paid by Government which allows local authorities to decide how to spend it, for example on frontline services or keeping council tax down, as Government recognises that local authorities are in the best position to make decisions about local priorities. Local authorities are expected to engage with their local community to decide how the money is spent, so residents feel the direct benefits of growth. Over the duration of the New Homes Bonus scheme the Council has been in the top 20 of all 350 local authorities receiving the bonus. According to recently published Department of Communities and Local Government figures the total bonus the Council will have received by the end of 2017 is £11 656 884.

The Council will publish its draft Local Plan towards the end of March. The plan is set to increase housing development to unprecedented levels because the Council has chosen to build more houses than are needed to meet the population growth needs of the people of Central Bedfordshire. Approximately 55% of the housing proposed in the draft Local Plan will be for people from London, North Hertfordshire, Luton, and Milton Keynes. The impacts of housing development on Central Bedfordshire’s towns, open spaces, the green belt, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, heritage and natural assets will be disproportionately high compared with other authorities nearby, for example Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Clearly the Council wants to continue to approve unnecessary, unwanted and harmful development to secure more New Homes Bonus from what will become an increasingly smaller funding stream. As the number of houses built in Central Bedfordshire increases and the amount of New Homes Bonus decreases the pressure on the Council Tax payer to provide funding to support unnecessary development and road infrastructure will increase.

On what services has the Council been spending its New Homes Bonus? Over the first 5 years of this funding stream the Council has levied 0% Council Tax to the detriment of its adult social healthcare provision.  Has the Council engaged with the local community to decide how the New Homes Bonus is spent? Have you been asked what services you want the bonus spent on? Has your community directly benefited from the New Homes Bonus? Currently Parliament is being petitioned by campaign groups across the country. The petition asks Parliament to ‘Give communities back the right to decide where house are built’. If you agree you can sign the petition here at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/177333

Additionally the Council’s track record on engaging with the people of Central Bedfordshire on how other funding streams are spent is woeful. Recently the people of Potton have had unwanted development foist upon them and any S106 funding from this development earmarked for spending on infrastructure developments in Biggleswade. The Council has also steadfastly failed to introduce a Community Infrastructure Levy scheme that would benefit communities with Neighbourhood Plans and that would give them direct control on what the levy is spent on rather than the Council deciding on how the levy should be spent.

The Government intends to stop the New Homes Bonus for housing approved on appeal. The consequence of this has been the approval of unnecessary and harmful development in Potton and Blunham. As the Council has chosen to meet the housing growth needs of other local authorities the Council currently does not have a 5 year housing land supply. Recently the Council has lost an appeal against its decision to refuse planning permission for housing at Flitton. One reason for losing the appeal was the lack of a 5 year housing land supply. The portfolio holder for Regeneration and his deputy recently intervened in the Development Management Committee’s decision making process. The committee were about to decide whether to approve housing at Potton and Blunham. Both the portfolio holder and his deputy told committee members to approve both developments because if the committee were to refuse planning permission developers would appeal their decision on the basis of a lack of a 5 year housing land supply and as a consequence the Council would lose New Homes Bonus income.

Reply to Cllr Wenham on the Central Bedfordshire Council Budget 2017-2021

Thank you for your reply restating what you have already explained in your previous comment to me. I hope you don’t mind if I published your comments?

The capital budget is based on estimates of costs and forecasts of income.  Section106 income in the capital budget cannot be guaranteed as the amount of s106 is negotiable and contingent on the viability of each quanta of development and the timing of its delivery, and may in turn affect the proportion of affordable housing each quanta of can deliver. Also currently there are restrictions on the size of the s106 item pool that can be held by the Council before the funding has to be spent.

My substantive point is the Council tax payer will have to underpin the costs of capital if forecast levels of income aren’t realised as the Council is clearly planning to borrow capital in advance of receiving forecast income. To put it another way if income was certain in amounts and their timing there would be no need to borrow money to fund roadway infrastructure in the first place.

It is interesting what you say about Woodside Link Road funding as it appears that although developer funding is substantial that quanta of funding does not meet the entire costs of the link. So how is the shortfall going to be funded?

According to the planning Inspector presiding over an appeal (APP/P0240/W/16/3154220) concerning the Council’s decision not to give planning permission to housing development in Flitton, the council is nowhere near achieving a 5 year housing land supply, as much of the housing development at Houghton Regis North cannot realistically be delivered within a 5 year period that started over 18 months ago.

 

Reply from Cllr Wenham on the Central Bedfordshire Council Budget 2017-2021

Thanks for your follow-up email dated 19thJanuary 2017 regarding the Central Bedfordshire Council Budget (2017-2021) Consultation.

As previously identified, it is not considered that there is any discrepancy in the estimated costs of the M1-A6 Link Road. Rather, the initial thoughts on the potential costs were identified based upon the most relevant and up to date information available at that time.  Since then, further work has been undertaken and a revised cost of £55.855m has been identified and this is therefore, the amount identified within the Council’s Capital requirements for 2017-2021 as it is considered to be the cost of the scheme at the current time.  As previously identified, £11 million towards the cost of the scheme has been secured through the Local Growth Fund (Round 2) and is guaranteed, and a further £31m is currently being sought through Round 3 – we are awaiting a Ministerial announcement on this which is expected to be made in February. Work to identify the final costs of the road are still ongoing, however, the remaining scheme costs would be reclaimed through developer funding and will not ultimately be paid by the Council.

The M1-A6 road scheme is a priority piece of infrastructure identified by Central Bedfordshire Council as needing to be in place in order for housing to be delivered within that location, and as such it has been identified as ‘critical’ within the Infrastructure Delivery Plan.  The scheme, which is also above a recognised £20m threshold and therefore a DfT retained scheme, is also deemed to be strategic by DfT as it supports the delivery of housing growth and employment. It is further supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

With regards to CIL, as previously commented, we are currently awaiting the outcome of the CIL review which is still underway but which is expected to identify significant changes to the CIL regulations.  Further, it is not possible to adopt a CIL charge without having a Local Plan also in place.  In relation to the 0% charge previously identified by the Council, this was applied to the strategic large-scale, mixed use developments identified within the Development Strategy, including North Houghton Regis.  However, that does not mean that new infrastructure required as a result of development, or any wider community benefits would not be realised.  These are to be provided directly by the developer through Section 106 Agreements.  It is also worthy to note that developer contributions as a result of the North Houghton Regis development has provided a significant quantum of funding towards the A5-M1 link road, the new Junction 11a and the new Woodside Link  – these not only allow the delivery of much needed housing growth within the southern part of Central Bedfordshire, but also enable significant improvements to be made to Dunstable town centre which will undoubtedly improve the quality of the environment for both existing and future communities as well as shoppers and visitors to the area.

In relation to the 5 year housing land supply, the Council is very close to achieving this through permitting developments which are considered to be policy compliant and in a sustainable location. By permitting appropriate developments and achieving a 5 year supply, the Council is in a much better position to refuse schemes that are not considered appropriate, are in unsustainable locations or are not policy compliant.

 

Reply to Cllr Wenham’s Letter on the Central Bedfordshire Council Budget 2017-2021

Thank you confirming there is a £43 145 000 discrepancy in the estimated cost of an M1-A6 Link Road. It is unusual for estimates of infrastructure costs to be revised downwards by such a large amount. You say the Council has secured £11 000 000 from the Local Growth Fund towards the cost of the link road. It appears the Council is yet to receive these funds from Government otherwise the link road’s Capital requirements 2017-2021 would be £44 855 000 instead of £55 855 000.  You go on to say the Council may get £31 000 000 from the Local Growth fund in the future. Unlike the A5-M1 Link Road the M1-A6 Link Road is not a Highways Agency project so from the Government’s point of view the link road is not ‘critical’ strategic infrastructure needed to ensure a national economic benefit. When the Government considers whether to fund roads like the M1-A6 link road its decisions will reflect its own priorities rather than Councils. If the Council does not receive Government or European Union funding the entire revenue costs and potentially the capital costs of the link road will be paid for by the people of Central Bedfordshire through further rises in Council Tax rather than sharing the cost of the link road with all United Kingdom tax payers.

I note you have not commented on the amount of CIL income lost since the Council failed to get its Development Strategy approved. The Council’s previously published draft CIL scheme sets a 0% levy for the developments at Houghton Regis North and Luton North.  These developments together with Leighton Buzzard East will be the largest in Central Bedfordshire and therefore potentially the largest revenue contributors to the Council’s funds. So if the Council’s new CIL scheme sets a 0% levy on these housing developments Council Tax will probably increase further. The Government intention is for CIL to benefit the people living in areas directly impacted by development. A 0% levy would mean Houghton Regis and Leighton Buzzard Town Council’s will have to manage the consequences of largescale housing developments without receiving CIL funding for developments within their communities. Currently the Council is failing to deliver a 5 year housing land supply and as a consequence is approving inappropriate housing developments in Potton, Blunham and Clophill without sound policy reasons for doing so. So unless any CIL levy set for development in these areas is applied retrospectively these communities have lost out on financial mitigation for the consequences of these inappropriate developments. The potential loss of CIL income for Potton is significant because it has an emerging Neighbourhood Plan and therefore would expect to gain approximately 35% of the funds raised by the levy.

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Budget 2017-2021

Central Bedfordshire Council is consulting on its Revenue and Capital Budgets for 2017-2021. The Capital Budget 2017-2021(a) sets out the capital required to fund the critical infrastructure in the Council’s emerging Local Plan.

‘Critical infrastructure is that which has been identified as infrastructure that must happen to enable physical development. These infrastructure items are often known as ‘blockers’ or ‘showstoppers’, and are most common in relation to transport and utilities infrastructure. Failure to provide these pieces of infrastructure could result in significant delays in the delivery of development.’ (b)

The Council’s Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 was produced to show the costs of infrastructure in its withdrawn Development Strategy. One critical infrastructure contained in the strategy was a link road between M1 (J11a) and the A6. The delivery of this infrastructure was planned to start during 2017 and consists of Phase 1: M1 (J11a) over the East Midlands Mainline railway to Sundon Park Road, an estimated cost of £48 000 000 (c) and Phase 2: Sundon Park Road to the A6, an estimated cost of £52 000 000 (d). Another critical infrastructure planned to start in 2021 is the Capacity Improvement of M1 (J11a) the estimated cost of this work was under consideration at the time the delivery plan was being produced (e).

On examining the Council’s Capital Budget a large discrepancy in the cost of the M1-A6 Link Road has been identified. The total costs of this critical infrastructure in the Council’s infrastructure delivery plan was £100 000 000 plus the unspecified costs of M1 (J11a) capacity improvement. However the capital programme says the total cost of the link road is £55 855 000 (f). The discrepancy in the cost of the link road is £44 145 000 plus the cost of M1 (J11a) capacity improvement. According to the capital budget there is exceptional uncertainty associated with the capital and revenue costs of this most expensive ‘show stopping’ infrastructure in the Council’s emerging Local Plan (g).

A consequence of Brexit means the Council cannot expect any EU funding from South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) to support the link road’s cost. Therefore the Council will have to fund the total cost of the M1-A6 link road through its Capital Budget and hope it will get equivalent funding from s106, s278, the Community Infrastructure Levey (CIL), the retention of business rates and the Government. As the Council failed to get its Development Strategy approved in February 2015 the Council has not been able to raise funds from CIL and therefore is losing £7 700 000 of income a year (h) until its CIL scheme, if approved, comes into effect during February 2019. The retention of business rates could be used to contribute towards the Council’s capital requirements. However this source of income will not be available until 2022 and is likely to be ‘swallowed up’ by the increasing cost of adult social care and the implications of continuing austerity. Another consequence of Brexit is slow economic growth, higher inflation and higher interest rates. These factors will impact Government and private sector capital funding and increase the cost of Council borrowing.

The M1-A6 Link Road cost discrepancy is perplexing and is likely to be greater than £44 000 000. According to the infrastructure delivery plan the cost of M1-A5 link road is £162 100 000 (i). The length of the M1-A6 link road is greater than the length of M1-A5 link road because of the need to accommodate the excessively large housing development proposed North of Luton. On the basis of a cost per Kilometre comparison between the cost of the M1-A5 and the M1-A6 Link Roads plus the cost of bridging the East Midland mainline railway at Chalton the final cost of the M1-A6 link road could be at least £200 000 000.

Irrespective of the magnitude of the cost discrepancy why is there a discrepancy? The discrepancy could be due to the Council’s inability to coordinate the delivery of the infrastructure necessary to connect the Sundon Rail Freight Interchange site to the East Midland mainline railway. Thus reducing the potential profitability of the site and therefore the amount of funding the site’s developers can afford to contribute towards the cost of the M1-A6 Link Road. The discrepancy could be an indication of the loss of EU funding due to Brexit. The discrepancy could be due to changing priorities as it appears more infrastructures and housing development is being planned for Rigmont, Salford & Hulcote, Cranfield, Brogborough, Lidlington and Marston Morretaine, than the development proposed in the withdrawn Development Strategy. A proportion of the discrepancy could represent the total CIL income lost from 2015 to 2019.

Whatever the reason for the discrepancy, if external funding is below the Council’s expectations and the cost of borrowing is greater than forecast, the revenue implications of the capital budget will impact the people of Central Bedfordshire through further service reductions and increases in Council Tax at least until 2021.

References:

(a) Capital Programme 2017-2021

(b) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 2

(c) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 20

(d) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 20

(e) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 20

(f) Appendix B Capital Programme 2017-2021: Detail page 3

(g) Budget and Medium Term Financial Plan 2017-2021

(h) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 3

(i) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 20

Letter to Councillor James Jamieson

CPRE Bedfordshire is extremely concerned with Central Bedfordshire Council’s failure to deliver a 5 year Housing Land Supply. We first raised this issue and its consequences; a ‘building free for all’, in our campaign magazine Bedfordshire Matters and our online blog Green Belt Parishes. In Bedfordshire Matters the Director of Regeneration & Business Support claimed the Council had a 5 year land supply. Also at the conclusion of a ‘call for sites’ for housing land during May 2016, the Executive Member for Regeneration, claimed plenty of land had come forward to deliver the Council’s emerging Local Plan. However a Planning Appeal decision on Land off Greenfield Road Flitton (Ref: APP/P0240/W/16/3154220 ) taken during November 2016 revealed this claim was false because the Inspector hearing the appeal judged the Council was unable to justify a 5 year land supply.

We are astonished by the reason for the Council failing to deliver a 5 year land supply. The Council had given planning permission to a consortium of 10 land owners who have yet to choose what house builders will develop their land at sites at Houghton Regis North. Therefore the Inspector concluded it was unrealistic to include Houghton Regis North sites in the Council’s 5 year land supply because housing on these sites was unlikely to be delivered until at least 2020.

When granting planning permission to sites at Houghton Regis North the Council accepted the consortium’s following statement of very special circumstances justifying building on the Green Belt;

‘The development proposal has agreed to contribute towards the costs of the necessary transport infrastructure to support additional signalisation of the A5-M1 Link Road and a pro rata contribution toward the remaining funding toward the Woodside Link, which will generate a substantial amount of economic benefit to the wider area.’ Statement of Very Special Circumstances Addendum June 2015; DP Planning Ltd

We believe the Council has been too eager to please the consortium by not incentivising it to quickly select house builders to develop its land, to decide which builders will provide and fund infrastructures set out in the Houghton Regis North Framework Plan, and to decide who will contribute to the Woodside Link Road funding shortfall. As these reserved matters have not been settled the prospects of the timely delivery of high quality affordable housing and supporting infrastructure for the people of Central Bedfordshire is in jeopardy and the justification for building on the Green Belt fatuous. We consider this justification unexceptional and therefore contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as infrastructures like the Woodside link Road are routinely funded through S106 agreements.

The Council has let down the people of Flitton by failing to prevent unsound development at Greenfield Road. The Council’s defence at the appeal hearing was very weak. The Council claimed a reason for not granting planning permission was the potential impact on new housing of a smokehouse for curing ham. However the Council failed to present the evidence to justify the smokehouse’s impact on the people of Flitton’s quality of life.

The basis of the Inspector’s land supply judgement set out in the Flitton appeal decision was the Council did not present evidence to justify the delivery of planned housing within 5 years. As the Council claims it has plenty of land to deliver its emerging Local Plan we wonder whether the Council withheld land supply delivery evidence because it wanted housing development at Flitton to go ahead but did not want to overtly support it against the wishes of the people of Flitton. The absence of this evidence meant the Inspector had no option but to uphold the appeal, so the Council gets the housing development it wants while appearing to support the people of Flitton and the Council can claim the Inspector’s judgement was unfair. A political win, win, win for the Westoning, Flitton & Greenfield Ward Councillor.

Unless the shortfall in land supply is remedied within the next month and the Council makes a concerted effort to present a strong robust defence of its decisions not to grant planning permission it will lose its appeals to stop unsound development, at Land off Hitchin Lane Clifton (Ref: APP/P0240/W/16/3154829) and Land at the former Readshill Quarry Clophill (Ref: APP/P0240/W/16/3152707), thus causing disappointment to electors in the Wards of Arlesey and Ampthill. There are also planning applications in the pipeline for large scale developments at Potton and Biggleswade. The applicants cite the Council’s shortfall in Housing Land Supply to justify approval of their development proposals. Clearly the Council is losing control of planning in Central Bedfordshire.

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan Consultation

Currently underway in Central Bedfordshire is a consultation called ‘Shaping where you live 2035.’ This consultation sits outside of the statutory consultation defined by Regulation 18 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012. Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Development Scheme sets out the timetable for the delivery of its Local Plan. According to this timetable Regulation 18 consultation starts in December 2016 and ends in February 2017. There will also be a further opportunity to comment on the plan when Regulation 19 consultation starts in July 2017 and ends in September 2017. The plan will then be submitted to the Secretary of State during December 2017 and its public examination will start in March 2018.

‘Shaping where you live 2035’ has no significance in planning as this consultation’s outcome will not be considered by a Planning Inspector during the Local Plan’s public examination. Nevertheless the Procedural Practice in the Examination of Local Plans 2016, the ‘Gold Book’, directs an Inspector to consider the outcomes of Regulation 18 and 19 consultations when judging whether a Local Plan is sound. Given the significance in planning practice of Regulation 18 and 19 consultations Town & Parish Councils, local groups and the public affected by the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan should prioritise their responses to these consultations over their response to the ‘Shaping where you live 2035’ consultation. Town & Parish Council’s with emerging Neighbourhood Plans should also consider how their residents’ response to the shaping where you live consultation impacts their emerging Neighbourhood Plans.  

The Public Examination of a Local Plan is the means for judging a plan legally compliant and sound. The public can participate in the examination if they are seeking to change the plan and have indicated they wish to attend the examination at the time they respond to statutory consultation. Generally Town & Parish Council’s, local groups and the public do not attend examinations of Local Plans and as a consequence the views of property owners, developers and Local Authorities are the only views heard. This democratic imbalance can be remedied if all those whose interests are affected by a Local Plan and who seek to change it attend the examination to ensure their views are heard.

 

 

On the Examination of the Luton Local Plan

The second stage examination of the Luton Local Plan concluded at the end of September. The examination is a peer review with the purpose of identifying weaknesses in the plan and providing recommendations on how the plan can be modified to remedy any weakness. At the first stage Planning Inspector Mr Jeremy Yule decided Luton Borough Council had fulfilled its statutory obligation to cooperate with Central Bedfordshire Council.  Councillor Paul Castleman of Luton Borough Council and Councillor Sue Clark of Central Bedfordshire Council had signed a Statement of Common Ground (SOCG) in which Central Bedfordshire agreed to work towards meeting Luton’s unmet housing need. During the second stage the Inspector identified deficiencies in parts of the Luton Local Plan and concluded there was a significant amount of work still to be undertaken before he would approve it.

Deficiencies in the Luton Local Plan include at what locations in Central Bedfordshire Luton’s unmet housing need will be met and the impacts of meeting this on the Green Belt, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), transport infrastructure, schools, heritage assets and the natural environment across Luton and Central Bedfordshire. Luton’s unmet need is 9 300 houses and Central Bedfordshire’s need is13 200 houses.  Over the period covered by both Local Plans 31 000 houses will need to built in Luton and across Central Bedfordshire to meet the housing needs of Luton and Central Bedfordshire, and to encourage people to move to these places from elsewhere but principally from London.

During the second stage Highways England reported on the traffic impacts on the M1 and the roads feeding into it due to new housing and new employment located at Napier and Century Parks, Butterfield Green, Luton Airport and at unidentified locations across Central Bedfordshire. The impacts on the road network are increases in congestion, journey times and roadside pollution. Highways England traffic modelling identified roads including the M1 would be operating at 95% of their capacity at peak journey times. The inspector was concerned planners had not identified what changes to the road network will be necessary to mitigate these impacts and how they would be funded. For those people commuting via the M1 their journey time will lengthen as any mitigation would require Government to fund increases in M1 capacity if this were possible. Motorway capacity through Luton is currently constrained by existing housing and employment areas and will be further constrained by new housing and employment development.

The prospects of Central Bedfordshire and Luton delivering a road linking the M1 to the A6 and the A505 was discussed as this road could relieve some of the impacts of increases in traffic within Luton and Central Bedfordshire. The intention is for land North of Luton to be safeguarded for an A6 A505 link road as currently there are no plans for its delivery. Also funding for the M1 A6 link road is uncertain due to changes in the priorities of the South East England Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) because of the emergence of the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) proposal for an Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge ‘Growth Corridor’. The potential loss of a proportion of the M1 A6 link road funding due to the UK leaving the European Union is another cause of uncertainty. The ‘Growth Corridor’ could result in the expansion of Milton Keynes into the Marston Vale in North Central Bedfordshire, and proposes the widening of the A421 between Milton Keynes and Bedford, and the upgrading of the West-East railway in the Marston Vale and its extension through to Sandy and on to Cambridge.  The Marston Vale includes Councillor Sue Clark’s Ward of Cranfield & Marston Moretaine.

Historic England made it clear the impacts of the M1 A6 link road’s route together with new housing and employment development could not be mitigated as they affect nationally significant heritage assets at Drays Ditches, Stopsley Common and St Mary’s Church Lower Sundon. Natural England expressed its concern about the potential impact of large scale housing development abutting the Sundon Quarry Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI). Although the Chiltern’s Conservation Board did not attend the examination it made a written representation criticising the impact of new housing and the M1 A6 link road on the Chilterns AONB. Questions raised during the examination about projections of Luton’s population growth revealed a shortfall in early years’ school places within the next few years that will worsen over the duration of the Luton Local Plan. Luton planners had failed to identify this potential shortfall and put in place plans to provide enough school places.

The outcome of the second stage is the Inspector’s recommendation that Luton and Central Bedfordshire Councils work together to produce a deliverable Growth Options Study (GOS) to be ready for examination during the first week of December and prior to consultation on Central Bedfordshire’s draft Local Plan at the end of December. Additionally if the Luton Local Plan is approved an early review of the plan, within a few years from its start, should take place to ensure the plan is delivering its objectives. The growth options strategy arising from the GOS will define areas of growth across Central Bedfordshire and set out the scale and nature of new development within these areas. During the examination Luton Borough Council indicated areas in Central Bedfordshire where it would like to see its unmet housing need located. Two of these areas are North Luton encompassing the Green Belt parishes of Chalton, Sundon and Streatley, and West of Luton in the Green Belt parish of Caddington & Slip End. Government Policy provides for a high level of protection to the Green Belt as building on it will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances. The Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Sajid Javed MP has recently said the Green Belt is ‘sacrosanct’. This policy protection and political support for the Green Belt would have to be blatantly ignored by Central Bedfordshire Council if new development were to go ahead in the Central Bedfordshire Green Belt because meeting unmet sustainable housing need is not an exceptional reason for building on the Green Belt.

Recently Luton Borough Council legally challenged Central Bedfordshire Council on the grounds that it had approved development on its Green Belt North of Houghton Regis. However this legal challenge was probably disingenuous as the quid pro quo for Central Bedfordshire Council’s support for the Luton Local Plan is likely to be no further legal challenges to plans to build on the Green Belt North and West of Luton. Nevertheless the Luton Green Belt remains intact because Luton Borough Council has chosen not to ignore Government Green Belt policy and build on its Green Belt to meet its housing need.

Duty to Cooperate; ‘Behind Closed Doors’

Here are links to documents setting out the details of the extent of cooperation between Luton and Central Bedfordshire Councils, and other Local Authorities. The documents are not normally found in the public domain so it is unlikely the general public and media will have seen them until now. They give an insight into planning decisions  made ‘behind closed doors’. They show how planners set the parameters of ‘independent’ studies used as evidence to support their planning decisions to get the outcomes they want from them. One such study is a review of the Green Belt. Although this study is yet to be concluded its outcome is predetermined; there will be a substantial loss of Green Belt across Central Bedfordshire.

Duty to Cooperate Document Bundle 001b

Duty to Cooperate Document Bundle 001d

 

On Stage 1 of the Examination of the Luton Local Plan

Mr Jeremy Youle

Thank you for your work on conducting the Stage 1 Examination of the Luton Local Plan. Irrespective of the outcome Sundon Parish Council was disappointed with the examination process. The separate issues of Duty to Cooperate and soundness were conflated to such an extent during the examination it appeared you were conducting an examination of Stage 2 matters during the examination of the Council’s Duty to Cooperate obligation.

The conflation of these issues led to hypothetical discussion and tacit agreement between the Council and Central Bedfordshire Council about a quantum of the Council’s unmet housing need and its location at Houghton Regis North and the Green Belt north of Luton part of which is in the Chilterns AONB.

Sundon Parish Council appreciates the potential benefits of an agreement between the Council and its neighbours. However, this should not override sound evidence for a particular quantum of housing and its location.

During the examination the Council stated the studies that will provide evidence for or against an overall quantum of unmet housing need and its location had not been completed. One example of these studies is a Green Belt Review. Sundon Parish Council does not want to believe evidence from this review and other pertinent studies will support a predetermined negotiated outcome. But it is becoming increasingly obvious this will be the case.

Michael Stonnell

 

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Town and Parish Council Conference

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Town and Parish Council Conference held on Wednesday 13th July 2016

There is a contradiction between the views of Henry Cleary and Councillors about the effects on Parishes of the Council’s Local Plan. Henry is the Chair of the Council’s Development and Infrastructure Board. Henry a retired Government functionary whose credentials can be found here at National Historic Ships; says the outcome of the independent Green Belt review and site selection process will provide evidence either for or against building warehousing around Sundon Parish’s cherished historic English Heritage asset, St Mary’s Church in Lower Sundon, housing in distinctive Landscape Character Areas (LCA’s), the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and in the Green Belt.

Councillors Sue Clark, Tom Nicols and Nigel Young support the Green Belt review and the site selection process. Tom Nicols has threatened Green Belt parishes; accept several thousand houses and many warehouses or accept half as many being built! It appears the outcome of the ‘independent’ Green Belt review and site selection process is pre-determined.

The consensus amongst many of Central Bedfordshire’s Parish Councils is the Council’s consultation process is a sham. The law on public consultation found here at Government Legislation implies poor quality public consultation is not unlawful. Is Central Bedfordshire’s costly public consultation meaningful or is it merely a ‘tick box’ exercise?

The Council’s Community Planning consultation adjunct is divisive. It encourages Parish Councils to accept unsustainable development or direct this development onto other parishes. Parishes are not planning authorities. The Council is a planning authority; it is its responsibility to decide on the locations of new development not parishes! If parishes don’t want unsustainable development then it is up to the Council to justify the need for it.

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

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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.