CPRE Concerned About Land-Banking At HRN1 Site

Is Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) Complicit in Land-Banking on a Grand Scale?

Re-blogged from ISSUE NO 61: SUMMER 2018 BEDFORDSHIRE MATTERS, issued by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). Download their newsletter here.

In 2014, CBC gave planning permission for a huge development of 5,125 houses to be built on a 262 hectare site in Houghton Regis called Houghton Regis North, site 1.

5,125 homes is equivalent to a New Town almost 30% larger than the town of Ampthill.

4 years later and hardly a brick has been laid on this site despite CBC stating, as a reason for planning permission being given on agricultural land in the Green Belt, that residents were “in desperate need of new homes”. The lack of building on the Houghton Regis North site has been one of the main reasons why CBC were unable, until very recently, to demonstrate that they had a 5 year forward housing land supply.

This allowed developers to put forward and win speculative planning applications across Central Bedfordshire which local people and CBC were unable to defend.

Now, quietly and without any detailed explanation of the reasons to support their decision, CBC has stated that they do not see that any development will take place on this hugely valuable site in
the near future.

CPRE Bedfordshire is extremely concerned with this decision – it could have huge implications for future planning policy and CBC’s ability to show, in the future, that they have a 5 year forward housing land supply. It will lead to far more land being allocated for development than is really necessary.

We will be asking CBC for full details of their decision, how and why it was taken and by whom and if planning permissions will now be withdrawn from the developers concerned. Developers are continually saying that they can build more homes if they are given planning permissions – this case proves CPRE’s argument that developers are refusing to build out permissions they already have in order to keep house prices high – depriving Bedfordshire residents of desperately needed homes.

CPRE has published a copy of their letter to CBC dated 12 July 2018, in which they ask a number of questions including, "Who at CBC took the decision to remove this site from the 5 Year Forward Land Supply and when was the decision taken?"

CPRE has also published a copy of what they say is a response to their letter, strangely dated 24 July 2017, which answers a number of questions, and is written by Jason Longhurst, Director – Regeneration & Business,

"The decision to remove Houghton Regis North site 1 (HRN1) from the five-year supply followed a number of planning appeal inquiries during which the planning inspectors removed the site from the 5-year supply due to insufficient evidence that it could begin to deliver within five years.

"There were discussions regarding the quantum of planning work which needed to be done, land ownership and associated infrastructure. Moving the site from the five years does not mean that it cannot begin to deliver within that time, just that at the current time there is not sufficient evidence available to demonstrate a “realistic prospect” that it will.

"It is important that the Council presents a housing trajectory which is robust and can withstand scrutiny so that our five-year supply can be defended. Following the conclusions of the inspectors, it is the Council’s opinion that to include HRN1 at the current time would undermine the robustness and integrity of the housing trajectory.

"When we are presented with information which provides a firm and realistic prospect that the site can deliver within the five-year supply period then it will be moved back in. As work on the planning applications is now progressing, this may be the case in the foreseeable future."

"The decision to remove the site from the five-year supply trajectory was not a matter discussed at any Council meeting as it was a decision that responded to conclusions that came out of a series of appeal decisions. This was an evidence-based decision needed to maintain the robustness of the trajectory. "

Letters available in full from CPRE website. Download here.