Central Beds Council Give Go Ahead to Build on Houghton Regis Green Belt

by Alan Winter

Two applications were given the go ahead by Central Bedfordshire Development Management Committee today. Up to 231 homes could now be built on the land, currently vacant.

The full application by Taylor Wimpey will see the meadow between Churchfield Road and Bedford Road developed for up to 169 new homes including 30% affordable housing, on a 6.4ha site with open space footpath and roads. 

The other site is on the north of Plaiters Way, west of the old Red Lion public house, and that now has outline planning permission for up to 62 dwellings on a 3.2ha site with up to 1.6ha of that reserved for informal open space.

Both applications were recommended by officers for approval and were considered by Central Bedfordshire Councillors.

Taylor Wimpey Application

Meadow west of Churchfield Rd, Houghton Regis

Clare Evans, the Houghton Regis Town Clerk, spoke on behalf of the Houghton Regis Town Council, emphasising the Town Council's objections to the Taylor Wimpey application. Mrs Evans said the application was an infill development site that needed to be considered in relation to the Houghton Regis (North) Framework Plan; she highlighted concerns about congestion on Bedford Road; cited that the plans showed more than one access onto Bedford Road that could jeopardise safety; complained that 40% of the proposed houses were for 4 bedroom homes that would not meet the housing needs of the local community.

Mrs Evans also read a prepared statement from the Bidwell Farm community who were concerned that the application was an infill development, would create additional traffic problems, and that natural drainage arrangements in the area would be compromised by tarmac.

Mr Kelly, speaking on behalf of Luton Borough Council, said his Council wanted 50% affordable housing; that the development was inappropriate in a green belt area, and that the application was premature as the Green Belt designation was still applicable. When questioned by Cllr Nigel Young, Mr Kelly said there was no National Planning Policy requiring a neighbouring council to designate 50% affordable housing.

A spokesman for DLP, speaking for the developers, said that Luton Borough Council had not made a written objection to their scheme, despite asking for one. He said that the 169 new homes would form part of the Houghton Regis Site 1 allocation. He said the site was sustainable and that there were very special circumstances for permitting development as the A5-M1 link was being built and it was strongly held by Planning officers that the Green Belt would be rolled back to that road.

CBC Ward Councillor, David Jones, appealed to the committee to support the town of Houghton Regis, and urged rejection, or delay of the application. He argued that the 2012 Framework Plan set a limit for housing which was clearly going to be broken, as 7,000 homes had been agreed but this development, and others in the pipeline, were additional schemes. He argued that safeguards had been promised for the village of Bidwell, and that green corridors had been agreed, and that councillors had to take into account the cumulative impact. He pressed for refusal or delay of this application until site allocation for HRN1 had been agreed.

The Highways officer said that the junctions of Thorn Road/Bedford Road, and Bedford Road/High Street operated at over capacity, with marginal queuing. With 10,000 vehicles a day already using Bedford Rd, Highways had no objections to the scheme as the new level of traffic movements would be "imperceptible".

Tithe Farm Councillor, Peter Williams, said he agreed with what Cllr Jones had said. In his view the Taylor Wimpey site was not included in the Framework Plan, and the application should be refused as it is an urban infill on green belt land. The application relied on an assumption that the green belt would be rolled back.

Toddington Councillor, Tom Nicols, said he was uncomfortable with the application. He was not satisfied that it met the Framework Plan. He complained about the design for the scheme, saying it was lacklustre. Growth areas were, he argued, designed to raise an area, and this plan was designed to mimic Tithe Farm, which he did not want. He suspected that it was so poor because the Council had "sucked out all the cash for section 106 agreements."

The planning officer told the meeting that the Framework Plan was not a masterplan, but rather an aspirational plan. He said the scheme would be subject to a section 278 agreement for road works that would include traffic calming measures for Bedford Road, a new footpath on the western side, as well as new pedestrian crossings.

Members of the committee voted (Note: there are no Houghton Regis councillors on the committee) 9 were in favour, 2 against, and 2 abstentions. The Development Infrastructure Group Manager is now authorised to grant planning permission subject to the prior consultation of the Secretary of State, in accordance with the Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009, and satisfactory completion of a Section 106 Agreement and subject to conditions.

Outline Plan for Land behind old Red Lion

Meadow west of old Red Lion public House, Bedford Rd, Bidwell.
Following a break for lunch, the outline application for up to 62 homes on a 3.2ha site with 1.6ha of public open space for Beechcroft Land Limited, behind the old Red Lion public house was considered. 

Copies of the Framework Plan were distributed. These showed a wide green arrow across the area approximating to the applicant's site. The arguments put forward by councillors were similar to the previous application.  The planning officer repeated that the framework plan was just aspirational.

"Aspirational" Framework Plan. Source: CBC

Cllr Nicols expressed concerns that the Council had produced a plan, based on consultations, then told people "this is what we're going to do", and then "we turn around and actually do something different." In his view the application diverged from the Framework Plan, and he asked that his view be noted in the Council's submission to the Secretary of State, as he had requested in the Taylor Wimpey application.  

Cranfield & Marston Moretaine Councillor, Mrs Sue Clark, also expressed concerns over what it was they were supposed to be judging a scheme against. In her view, the Council had to do more to produce precise masterplans. Cllr Nigel Young concurred.

Members of the committee voted. 7 were in favour, 2 against, and 3 abstentions. The Development Infrastructure Group Manager is now authorised to grant Planning Permission subject to the prior consultation of the Secretary of State, in accordance with The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009, the completion of a prior Section 106 Agreement and subject to conditions.

Committe Agenda: http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/modgov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=631&MId=4654&Ver=4

Alan D Winter: My own view of these decisions