Labour's Hopes for Spending on Adult Play Equipment Dashed

At last week's Central Bedfordshire Council meeting, Parkside's Labour councillor Antonia Ryan put forward an amendment seeking expenditure on adult playground equipment.

Cllr Ryan told the meeting, “Nothing ever happens here, we are the forgotten town, the council never do what they promise”. This is an example of the comments I hear regularly. I am here today to speak on the amendment to the budget of £100k to be taken out of Houghton Regis’ contribution to the New Homes Bonus, which sits unused in reserves. Houghton Regis is the most deprived area in Central Bedfordshire with Parkside having 34% of children living in poverty AND life expectancy significantly lower in comparison to our neighbours. 

“In the last 4 years we were promised, £125 million for the Legacy Project with top football players, a housing infrastructure bid of £128 million, which was deemed the amount needed to make an impact, and recently £12 million for a leisure centre. All have failed … Covid has taught us that our health should be at the forefront of everything we do, and that our open spaces are more important than ever but Houghton Regis has seen a lot of changes over the years with an estimated 12k in housing growth and the Land that was used by cyclists, walkers and runners are now NO GO areas as they are turned into building sites.

“This Council has taken away our land, BANKED OUR MONEY, left us without proper infrastructure and false hope. But here we have an opportunity to use our money. In the words of Grant Shapps MP about New Homes Bonus: 'Communities will see the economic and social benefits of having the housing they want. Communities could benefit from a redeveloped town centre or a new community centre or play park as a consequence of accepting new homes.'

“So this amendment speaks to this purpose, £100k is a small amount out of our contribution to New Homes Bonus for an all age group outdoor equipment in Parkside to support the mental health and wellbeing of the most in need area in Central Bedfordshire.”

It was argued during debate that these gyms are normally achieved through S106 contributions through town and parish councils.

Conservative Cllr James Jamieson wanted to know where the figure of £100,000 came from. He told the meeting, “Houghton Regis is a deprived area and it does need a lot of support and it has had it. The Woodside Link, the A5-M1 link road, Houghton Hall Park, a new school, All Saints View, tens of millions of pounds have been gone to support Houghton Regis and it will get a new Leisure Centre when as the housing build-out happens...”

Cllr David Jones, a former CBC councillor and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Houghton Regis Town Council, told News Desk afterwards, “It should not be forgotten that all the motions to amend the Budget last Thursday evening were voted down by the Conservative administration. It could be argued that the Conservatives have no interest in spending money in Houghton Regis because they have no presence there.

“Cllr. Ryan is right to draw attention to the very real danger that, in view of CBC's accounting treatment of it, the New Homes Bonus might not be spent in/on those communities that have generated it in the first place. This would be a disgrace. 

“Secondly, I was disappointed to notice in her speech that Cllr. Ryan perpetuated the myth that Houghton Regis is taking 12,000 additional homes. I have been aware of this figure for some time, I do not know where it has come from and I would have hoped that CBC would by now have issued an authoritative statement denying this falsehood and setting out the true position. If you could advise me of the source of the figure, I really would be most grateful.”