Sunday, 3 January 2016

Houghton Regis News Review 2015

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2015
In January Taylor Wimpey sought approval to build 169 homes off Bedford Road. 
Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) were awarded almost £2.2m by the Parks for People programme, a joint initiative between the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Big Lottery Fund. The scheme will support Houghton Hall Park Renaissance and Renewal Project which aims to restore the vitality of the historic Houghton Hall Park. 
Work to prepare for main construction of the A5-M1 Link Dunstable Northern Bypass was started. It was revealed that CBC were looking to prepare a scheme for sheltered housing on the former Co-op site. Pizza delivery drivers were being targeted by thugs in Houghton Regis. The Houghton Regis Leisure Centre Action group held a winding-up meeting after their successful campaign to keep the local sports centre open. There was a big discussion on our social media about Off-Road Crosser Bikes. HRND told you that Poynters Road was soon going to be getting speed cameras. Police and Crime Commissioner, Olly Martins, began a campaign to get people to think about paying a bit more towards funding Bedfordshire Police. As the month came to a close there were indications that Bedford Road would get big road improvements if the Taylor Wimpey scheme got the go ahead. The month ended with the announcement that Tesco Express in Houghton Regis was among the 43 stores the company was going to be closing.

FEBRUARY
A planning application to build flats in Tennyson Avenue was rejected on appeal. The Taylor Wimpey building plan for the site off Bedford Road was approved by CBC, as was a further scheme for Beechcroft Land Limited, on their land behind the old Red Lion in Bedford Road. Local CBC councillors spoke to object, as did our Town Clerk and other representatives. 
Concern was raised over the unexpected clearance of land by the side of the old bus link between Parkside and Lewsey Farm. Arriva announced that new timetables would come in from April for their services for Houghton Regis. 
A Planning Inspector was scathing of CBC when reviewing the Council's plans for its Development Strategy. The Inspector wrote, "the co-operation between the Council and LBC in particular has fallen short of the required level." In return, Cllr Nigel Young, for CBC, replied, "We genuinely feel his findings are at best misguided, if not perverse, and next week I will be seeking the support of the full Council to call for a judicial review of the process.".
53 new homes were proposed for the former Windy Willows garden centre site on Sundon Road. CBC answered some local queries about the Woodside Link. A new path appeared on part of the Village Green, and Houghton Regis Town Council let it be known that they had not been informed of the works by CBC's Highways Department.
Work was started to demolish the former Co-op store on the High Street.

MARCH
The Town Council objected to the outline planning application for Bidwell and Thorn (HRN2). New remedial works were to be started in the High Street to cure the problem of puddles at the zebra crossing edges. Public consultation begun on a new waste park plan for land off Thorn Road, next to the A5. Police announced that two off-road police motorcyclists will be provided to help combat the persistent problem of nuisance bikers. 
A report by The Children’s Society said that children and teenagers are feeling sad, frightened and worried after routinely coming face to face with bailiffs in their own homes, sent by the local council to demand sudden, unrealistic council tax payments.

APRIL
Poynters Road saw the installation of digital average speed cameras sparking a flurry of local interest. To combat the local off-road biker problem, a team of 24 police staff including an inspector, two sergeants, three response police officers, a vehicle examiner and 15 PCSOs took to the streets, along with two road policing officers on the specially-enlisted bikes, resulting in 2 arrests, recovery of 2 stolen bikes, and issue of 2 section 59 notices.
CBC announced that 90% of pupils were getting their first preference school. Balfour Beatty won the contract to build the Woodside Link on behalf of CBC. An off-licence in Bedford Square was issued with permission to serve between 7am until 2am. Proposed changes to Arriva's bus services were amended to take into consideration some further suggestions made via local social media. New plans for £150m redevelopment of Luton & Dunstable hospital were announced.

MAY
The General Election fell on the same day as the local elections, this year. A new Town Council for Houghton Regis was elected consisting of 5 Liberal Democrats, 5 Labour, 3 Community Independents, 1 Independent. There were no Conservative candidates. The four CBC seats for the town went 2 to Labour, 1 to Conservatives, 1 to Liberal Democrats. Andrew Selous was returned as constituency MP. The Police funding referendum was lost. Cllr Rob Shimmin was voted in by fellow councillors as the new mayor of Houghton Regis. 
Crime, and March compared to February showed a 19% increase for the town. GoHoughton restaurant opened in Parkside Drive. 

JUNE
Unusual land contours left some people wondering if the wacky races had come to a new crossing in Sundon Road. Town Councillors suggested the use of "duck" names for the Taylor Wimpey new homes site in Bedford Road. 
The proposed Winter Maintenance and Highways Depot, a Waste Park, and outline permission for employment buildings, all for Central Bedfordshire Council, were all on land designated as Green Belt between Thorn Road near the A5, and Houghton Regis Chalk Quarry. Despite this, town councillors decided not to formally object to the proposals.
Woodside Link schemers were looking for local sounds to go into an public art scheme. The sounds would be available on an app and represented on wooden fence panels alongside the new road. Bidwell West Developers (HRN2) would be providing up to £12m to help plug the funding gap for the Woodside Link road project. There were concerns that the hoardings around CBC's proposed sheltered housing site in the High Street were unsafe. Willow trees at the Chequers were trimmed back by the Town Council following safety concerns.
Community Sport Activation Fund from Sport England brought free fitness training activities to local parks. The proposal to build 59 homes at Windy Willows was reduced to 30 new homes. 
The Town Council voted unanimously to accept the findings of a working group, and to no longer pursue Orchard Close Recreation Ground as the site for a future cemetery. Instead, they would try to secure land within HRN2 site. CCTV cameras would be deployed, funded by Town Council. It was announced that up to 28 staff could be made redundant at Central Beds College. An Angling Club was started at Houghton Regis Chalk Pit, partly to combat irresponsible anglers who had damaged the environment and harmed wildlife by discarding their fishing tackle, littering, and campfires. A Facebook Page and petition was started by a local resident, fed-up with off-road bikers. The petition was "to force Central Bedfordshire Council to install more barriers on the estate in the hope that it will make the area safer and less attractive to these youths".
A victim was threatened at knifepoint near Dolphin Drive, and a bag and a mobile phone were stolen. A week later, a similar attack was reported in the same area, this time a couple out walking, were threatened. 
Local man, Nick Harry, drew national news media attention when he brought the case of his son, to public notice. Age 20 months, Sam Harry died of injuries caused while he was in the care of his mother and new lover. Nick continues to seek justice for Sam.

JULY
A Centrebus caught fire in the High Street. A new series of Wildlife Watch Club meetings for those aged 8 to 12 begun in Houghton Hall Park. The Fancott pub and Fancott Miniature Railway suffered from a fire. Off-road nuisance bikers continued to dominate social media; the police announced various actions taken in the town to try to combat the problem. Outline Planning permission for Bidwell West (HRN2) was granted, despite several local misgivings. Police urged Bedfordshire residents – particularly the elderly – to be vigilant against opportunist thieves following a recent rise in distraction robberies. 

AUGUST
Trees needed a trim on Park Road North; 2 weeks later we reported that CBC had been along there and trimmed them! A bus was derailed on the busway. A biker was involved in an accident in Parkside. The Town Partnership (consisting of Town and CBC councillors) was to look Into inviting the public to maintain nearby open spaces. 7 bus shelters were damaged in Houghton Regis on the same weekend. An elderly lady was threatened with a fine for taking a dog into a local park's children's playground when she needed a seat to catch her breath. 600 volunteers helped Beds Police send out 1,600 warning letters to speeding drivers. The Town Partnership set up a dedicated group to tackle the issue of nuisance bikers in Houghton Regis. New barriers were installed at the end of Chelsea Gardens, but didn't meet with approval from the local resident who had been campaigning for them. Police appealed for witnesses after a man was attacked and punched several times in Tithe Farm Road.

SEPTEMBER
Sarah Pyatt Beer, who's son, Jake, lost his life through Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome, was able to announce that through her fund-raising efforts, sufficient money was raised to enable 3 more local schools to be equipped with lifesaving defibrillators.
Police appealed for witnesses after a man was attacked near a shop on Parkside Drive, and kicked, while out walking with his girlfriend. The one-way road Easthill Road was given permission to have two way cycling, but the green tarmac for the cycle-way was still not there (and still isn't in December!). Shops had to bring in new rules about charging 5p for a plastic bag. Fed-up residents were reporting that youths were making their lives a misery in Bedford Square. The pollarded willows, opposite the Chequers, were making a comeback. Changes were made to the road layout at the top of Sundon Road. Average Speed Cameras in Poynters Rd came into force from 27th September, but there was concern from some who had received fines, because the signs were still covered up for a few days after the 27th.

OCTOBER
CBC admitted that their Development Strategy was now out of date, and that they would have to start making arrangements to find even more sites for new housing. Olly Martins was said to be shocked when he discovered that Police Funding was going to be cut even more. A team of local councillors took to the pathways to collect up litter. A pedestrian in her 80s was knocked down by a HGV on a High Street crossing in the town centre. Tools were taken from 13 vans in one night. The Libraries Summer Reading Challenge had been a success with more people taking up the quest. A motorcyclist was injured in a collision in Sundon Road. 

NOVEMBER
Central Beds Council fraud squad investigators uncovered a woman who was overpaid £1830 in council tax support because she had wrongfully claimed that her husband was not working. The woman now had to pay fines and fees of £640, as well as having to repay the overpaid council tax support benefit. BBC Three Counties Radio presenter, Nick Coffer, interviewed the ladies behind Houghton Regis' "The Clanger". The PCC, Olly Martins, astonished local people by saying "I'll get more money for Beds Police by switching M1 cameras on all day". The Parkside Drive / Pastures Way Footpath officially closed from 9th November to be reopened after works are completed. Ashton Middle School, the former Dunstable Grammar School, was sold. Lidl's applied for planning permission to build a new store on Luton Road, Dunstable. An aerial shot shows Houghton Regis surrounded by a green oasis. New Irish Dancing Classes started on Wednesdays in St. Thomas' Meeting House, Houghton Regis. A first floor lounge was badly damaged by fire in a block of flats in Fensome Drive. Cyclo-cross took place at short notice at Houghton Regis Academy fields for a regional event, after another venue was scratched due to safety concerns. Hillborough Crescent Post Office was closed following a criminal incident. A two day public-involvement planning meeting was held at the Bedford Square community centre, to discuss ideas and opportunities for redeveloping "Houghton Regis Central". "The anti-social scum on dirt-bikes" was discussed by BBC Three Counties Radio host, JVS. Local school children sung in the Grove Theatre in the, now Annual event, A Celebration of Christmas. 

DECEMBER
Work was started to install sheet piling for the retaining wall on Sandringham Drive. New crime data showed a sharp increase in burglary, other theft, and vehicle crime. CBC were offering cash to revive town centres, and Houghton Regis Town Council were to consider making a bid for some of the available money. A church at Chalgrave had part of its roof stripped of lead. An impromtu Christmas Parade took place on Parkside and Tithe Farm just before Christmas.