BY ALAN WINTER
At last night's Houghton Regis Town Council (HRTC) Environment and Leisure meeting it was revealed that Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) have it in mind to develop Windsor Drive Recreation Ground for housing needs.
The site is thought to have originally been designated for education when "Area 5" of Houghton Regis was first plotted. It has been an open space over the years, but the site is ultimately owned by CBC. Permission was granted for a Sports Pavilion to be built on the site in 2007/8 when South Beds District Council's planning committee gave it the go-ahead (See LUTONTODAY), despite a 40 signature petition presented against it. That Sports Pavilion development did not materialise.
The ground was mentioned in the Houghton Regis Town Council Plan 2011 - 2015, as being a public space it would continue to support and improve. On the Town Council's website it is still mentioned as "Currently an area of informal open space, it is enjoyed by families, individuals and dog walkers. The land offers the potential for part of it to be used in the future for a variety of recreational purposes, which may include an allotment site."
In 2013 HRTC expressed interest in developing allotments at Windsor Drive (ref), but those ideas were shelved when it became clear that the then Town Council wanted to include Windsor Drive as a potential cemetery site, along with Orchard Close Recreation Ground. Preliminary Planning Advice from CBC was that “The Windsor Drive site is a well used public open space which is important locally. Whereas an allotment use would have a recreational appeal, I am concerned that a cemetery use would not accord with the planning policy for the site which is allocated for recreational use. A cemetery use would not therefore be supported by planning policy.” [ref or ref2]
Environmental studies were conducted at Orchard Close (the most preferred site) and Windsor Drive (the least preferred site), at the Town Council's expense, but in the end neither of these sites were adopted as future cemetery sites (see HRTC). The chair of last night's meeting, Cllr Ellaway, said that Houghton Regis now faces just one year of burial space at its existing site in Cemetery Road, with no replacement burial land as yet identified.
In May 2016, the land at Windsor Drive was included in a 'Call For Sites' list. It was thought, locally, that Windsor Drive might be spared from development as the town is facing major housing growth in the next decade (refer to Houghton Regis Places map).
On the CBC website as of 16th January, it is stated, "At the moment the sites have not been considered or selected for development so there is no impact on any residents. It is also the case that only an estimated 4-6% of the total land that has been submitted will need to be allocated to deliver the new homes that are needed. "
The Windsor Drive site is 4.7 hectares, and would be used for residential (not G &T, and not employment) according to a schedule of land in Houghton Regis submitted as potential building land. The map accompanying these potential sites is found here.
According to the CBC Housing Strategy 2016 -2021 Action Plan document [ref] the Windsor Drive site would be used 'to help reduce the use of temporary accommodation and bed and breakfast and minimise the use of unsuitable and expensive bed and breakfast accommodation'. The site would be used to 'Deliver a temporary accommodation scheme at Windsor Drive, Houghton Regis' and 'Deliver more affordable rented housing and more shared unit accommodation for younger people' with a timescale 'On going to 2021', to be delivered by Housing Services, Housing Investment and Strategic Housing.
There should be a public consultation before the identified 'Call For Sites' to be used are publicly announced, but a CBC statement says,
"We are temporarily holding fire on the process of publishing our draft local plan for consultation.
Originally we had planned to launch this in January 2017 but the Government’s long-awaited Housing White Paper is now expected to be published during the same timeframe, so we are holding back the publication of our draft plan to allow us to consider its implications.
Whilst we cannot be certain what these implications might be for Central Bedfordshire, we do recognise that there is the potential for significant changes in relation to the housing numbers we are anticipating and in terms of our responsibilities in relation to developing local plans.
In this context, we have concluded (as have other local authorities across the UK) that it would be inappropriate to continue with planned publication of our draft Local Plan in January 2017.
This is only a temporary measure and we remain confident that we will still be able to deliver a draft plan in 2017.
While we’re disappointed that we cannot proceed with the plan in line with our original timescales, the decision is the right one given the fundamental changes that may be included in the White Paper.
Publishing a Local Plan without understanding the impact of the White Paper could mean we have to revisit parts of the process causing bigger delays and confusion."