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.