Houghton Central Work Might Start Next February

Report by Alan Winter.
An apologetic Assistant Director of Housing at Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) attended a meeting of the Town Council's Planning Committee on Monday this week to tell councillors that works to prepare the site for the building might not start until February 2019. The building might be completed by the summer of 2021.

Houghton Regis Central is the working name for a new development, which will dominate the centre of Houghton Regis. The development is intended to include 170 independent living units for older people, community spaces, a heritage offering, plus retail and associated car parking. The whole site to be developed includes the site of Red House Court in Clarke's Way, and land formerly leased to a retail store in Houghton Regis town centre. The scheme is mastered by Central Bedfordshire Council Housing Department, who are the freeholders of the site. Planning permission was approved 9 Nov 2016.

At the meeting, Mr Tony Keaveney apologised for not keeping the Town Council informed over the last year. With reference to the hoardings announcing "Coming Soon," he explained that the slogan had been done with a sense of optimism, while not wanting to have to pay out later for newer hoardings.

Progress on many aspects had been going on, he said, and it was proving to be a big process. His staff had been learning from lessons learnt at other developments such as Priory View in Dunstable, and on looking into different funding options. He recognised that from the public perception nothing was happening, and he got the feedback from social media. It would happen, he said, with no reduction in quality. In design and build process he said there may be more changes to come. He talked about wanting to get value for money, engaging with tenants, and taking on board their feedback. He was confident that the contract to build will be awarded this year.

He was then probed by Town Councillors. The tendering process was due to be finished by 20th July, after which time another month would go by as the tenders were assessed. He hoped the start on the site might be February 2019.

A councillor wanted to know if there would be any reduction in the quality of build? Mr Keaveney told the meeting that there were currently some minor planning applications in progress to change certain aspects such as the removal of a potting shed, removal of a staircase as not needed with shed gone, and removal of previously included planters. These were cost savings, he said, and items not likely to have been of much benefit to keeping. These measures would help to keep rents lower, on a scheme that was supposed to be affordable. Over-elaborate items removed, the aim was to make every penny count.

There was a question about dementia patients and areas for them to sit. There followed a discourse by Mr Keaveney on the widely varying needs of dementia patients.

The Town Mayor suggested there should be another exhibition going forward.  Mr Keaveney recognised that people were sceptical and agreed that more needed to be done with the public and on social media. He said that the email alerts were useful and were going out and that he had apologised. It was clear that he was keen to come back and keep a dialogue going with the town council.


A question was asked about the Red House. Mr Keaveney said that from CBC's point of view, it was out of spec, and was being managed as a separate project. The Red House was proving to be very costly, and reports suggested there was not a lot holding it together. He expressed regret at not doing more to protect it more 10 years ago. He was nervous about the Red House, but CBC had a duty to look after it, as it's listed. But, he agreed, it has to be adequate from a planning point of view, and also a sensible use of money. For the moment he was concentrating on making sure it was protected,  rather than looking at its future use.

There was a plea from another councillor for a building that reflected well on the town. In a long response, Mr Keaveney said ".. it will be a landmark building". It's essential integrity would not be compromised.

A query on the business assessment was met with a response saying that the business assessment was strong. Tenants rental income would be primarily funding it, together with other sources. It was a strong investment, as the project saves Council in other areas such as health, and social care.

Public questions followed. It was asked if the project would be one project. Mr Keaveney's response was that Phase 2, demolition of Red House court,  would follow on after Phase 1 build had been done and residents moved over. It would, at this stage, probably be a 26-month build, depending on how the market responds.

Mr Keaveney was thanked by Cllr Susan Goodchild for his continued consideration of Redhouse Court residents. Mr Keaveney responded showing care for residents.


CBC were asked to make the site secure in 2015

Whitbread is currently using a portion of the CBC site as a private car park. The car park has been closed to the public since 16th September 2014 (see link), and since that time parking for Bedford Square and the surgery in Tithe Farm Road/Peel Street has become difficult.

It was asked if Whitbread car park money was going to help fund the build, and whether or not the car park might be available to the public after they leave it? Mr Keaveney said that they had to consider insurance claims, and needed to balance that with any benefits derived. Whitbread had agreed to pay all of that for their private use. The company were scheduled to come out at the end of July. He said it was not likely that the car park would be allowed to be used by public afterwards because of insurance reasons. Money from letting the car park will go to housing revenue account.

A question was asked about the complications of contracts and Brexit.


Finally, a councillor asked if a proper name could be given to the site. To her, "Houghton Central"  sounded like a railway station. Mr Keaveney joked, that he chose that because it was sufficiently horrible that it wouldn't stay as that.
Have you got an idea for a proper name for the site? Comment below.