400 homes for Bedford village could be a case of ‘when, not if’ inspector rules

Image: Manor Oak Homes public consultation website

A plan for 400 homes and a new primary school on village land just outside Bedford has been binned – for the time being.

A Government planning inspector says the development of a huge new estate at Salph End is not unreasonably described as a matter of “when, not if.”

But developers cannot jump the gun and must wait to see if the site is formally set into the council’s local plan.

“The law requires planning proposals to be determined in accordance with the
development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise,” said planning inspector Paul Clark.

A “small” amount of harm would be caused to the council’s local plan, if the scheme was allowed, by “an undermining of confidence in the plan-led system”, he said.

Developer Manor Oak Homes had appealed to the Government after the council rejected a planning application for the land off Hookhams Lane, in Salph End, in June 2020.

The site had appeared in an early version of the local plan for housing, before being removed.

It is once again under consideration as the council embarks on a review of the local plan, which was only adopted in January this year, the inquiry heard.

During a five day public inquiry in November the developer’s legal representative had said it was a case of “when, not if” that the site would be developed.

A part of the council’s strategy is to concentrate development in Bedford’s “urban core, south of the river”. But this site to the north of the town is outside that area.

Mr Clark said: “The eventual decision to exclude the site from the plan was judged by the inspectors who examined the plan to be a reasonable one, although they note that the matter was clearly finely balanced.”

And he added that it is “not unreasonable for the appellant’s advocate to imply, as he does in his closing remarks, that it is a matter of when, not if, the site is to be developed.”

The inspector also confirmed that the plan would transform the area from rural to urban.

“Many people would regard such a change as inherently harmful,” he said.

But he added that “it is not government policy to protect all countryside for its own sake above all else but to recognise its intrinsic character and beauty when making planning decisions.”

The council is under a legal requirement to provide land to meet housing growth requirements, the inspector said.

And at the moment Bedford Borough Council is ahead of this, with no shortage anticipated, which strengthens its defence of the current local plan, the decision letter dated December 3 confirmed.

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