|Houghton Regis as it was in 1762. The new development will be south of Bedford Square.|
Representatives from Central Bedfordshire Council have outlined their plans for redevelopment of a vacant site in the centre of Houghton Regis. Cllr Ms Carol Hegley and Mr Tony Keaveney, Assistant Director Housing attended the meeting of the Houghton Regis Town Partnership on Monday 13th July to update members on the redevelopment project.
Mr Keaveney has made several presentations to various councillors already, but this was an opportunity for new councillors to also start to learn about the project. The Council had not yet taken repossession of its site opposite and south of Bedford Square, but were due to towards the end of August 2015. What was under consideration was a better offer for older people to allow them to have independent living in an environment where services could be brought in-house. And because of the location of the site, there would be a retail offering, and community space as well as a heritage element.
Different groups of people were already being consulted.
- Retailers in Bedford Square were being engaged as any retail outlet within the new site needed to be sympathetic to current traders. The number of retail units to be provided will be shaped with whatever the consultation process throws up.
- Residents in the current 31 flats in Red House Court were being engaged as the residents there would be among the first to be moved into new homes, allowing their present building site to be redeveloped. Would they be able to live next door to their friend? What would the gardens look like? Could they take their old curtains with them?
- Residents in White House Close were being engaged as they would have concerns about living next door to a building site for awhile, and with new neighbours in the future.
- The Houghton Regis Heritage Society were being engaged to discuss how to make use of the old Red House, which is also in the footprint of site, a building formerly part of the Council's regular housing stock.
- Mr Keaveney had also recognised the value of including representatives from the Houghton Regis Social Club who had occupied a portakabin on the site since a fire in 2006.
The Council were new to building council homes, and they had learnt and were continuing to learn from their experience of building an 83 unit development at Priory View in Dunstable. That particular scheme initially had over 700 people interested in acquiring one of those properties. The problem of establishing who should be prioritised was being addressed. Assurances were given at the meeting that priority for the Houghton Regis scheme, would be given to Central Bedfordshire residents, but thereafter income, and local connections would also be important factors in deciding who the units would be allocated to.
A process had already taken place to select an architect. 15 had been asked to come up with ideas, this had reduced to 6, and now to one. A panel of local people had helped in the selection. Exactly what the architect will need to fit into this scheme is still to be ironed out. These 'ingredients' will be fed to the architects later this year after further consultations with stake-holder groups.
A planning application for this scheme is expected around March 2016.
* parts of this report were written following a private interview with Mr Keaveney.
EDITORIAL COMMENT. Whatever is built it will be a large building, and will have a significant impact on the look and feel of Houghton Regis Town Centre. Any one of a hundred things could go wrong and scupper the whole idea, meaning that the £26m put aside by CBC for investment might go to another town to help regenerate that rather than Houghton Regis. Local opinion is very important. For that reason a Facebook Group has been set up by Alan Winter, HRND editor, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/houghtonregiscentral/ for anyone who wants to comment, question, or otherwise help, to shape this scheme.