The Bedford Borough Local Plan 2030 has been signed off by the Planning Inspectorate, meaning that it can be adopted as policy.
Local plans are prepared by the Local Planning Authority (LPA), in this case, Bedford Borough Council, and submitted to the Secretary of State for examination by the Planning Insprectorate.
The examination assesses whether the plan has been prepared in accordance with legal and procedural requirements and if it is sound.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that ‘succinct and up-to-date plans should provide a positive vision for the future of each area and a framework for addressing housing needs and other economic, social and environmental priorities’.
In their final report to the Council just before Christmas, the Inspectors concluded that with some modifications the Local Plan satisfies the requirements of Section 20(5) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and meets the criteria for soundness in the National Planning Policy Framework.
The Inspectors Report will be discussed by the Council’s Executive at their meeting on Wednesday 8 January and they will recommend to Full Council that the Local Plan, incorporating the modifications from the Inspectors be adopted as policy.
Mayor Dave said, “When the Local Plan is adopted its policies will carry full weight when making planning decisions and empower the Council’s Planning Committee to make decisions based on the needs of the borough rather than national needs outlined by the government.”
While the Mayor expressed his delight that the Local Plan 2030 can now be adopted, this view is not shared by the leader of the local Conservatives Group, Cllr Graeme Coombes.
“The whole process has been botched from the start and there has been a lack of meaningful consultation with communities, particularly the villages,” said Cll Coombes.
“Through the process there has been a series of huge U-turns which has led to major issues being dodged and the plan period being shortened to 2030. As soon as this plan is signed off, a brand new one will have to be started.”
Responding to Cllr Coombes point, a Council spokesperson said, ‘The reason that the Inspectors give for the submission of the next plan within three years of adoption of this one is so that the Council can, through its local plan, ‘respond appropriately to longer term requirements, and in particular the [Oxford to Cambridge] Arc, as soon as possible’ (para 17 of the Inspectors’ report).
“Another advantage the Inspectors give for the early review is that it will allow the Council to respond swiftly should neighbourhood plans fail to be put in place in good time or should complex urban sites not be brought forward as quickly as anticipated (para 123 of the Inspectors’ report).”
Councillor Coombes also said, “This is the second time that the Mayor has been told by the Planning Inspectorate that his new plan is scraping through, and that he has to have a new plan in place in three years’ time (the last was the Allocations and Designations Plan in 2013 which stated that this new plan should have been in place by 2016).
“It’s this lackadaisical approach that has led to the Council not having a five year land supply and the penalty for the lack of urgency is not falling on the Mayor, its falling on the villages.”
Bedford Borough Council says that as far as the five year land supply is concerned, the report reflects on the information presented at the examination hearings.
The Inspectors conclude that having taken a ‘cautious approach’ to contributions from neighbourhood plans (para 120 of their report) and to evidence of delivery on other sites (para 121), in their view the Council was able to demonstrate 5.4 years’ worth of deliverable supply.
As a result, the report concludes that for land supply reasons there is not a need for the plan to include any additional provision for housing (para 124).
A Bedford Borough Council spokeperson said, “Housing land availability is updated annually and work on the next update will commence in early April 2020.
“It will give the latest position on the likely delivery of housing and reflect changes that have taken place since the examination hearings in June 2019.”
Cllr Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant, Conservative councillor for the Great Barford ward is a law graduate and runs her own business providing advice on planning matters.
She said, “As a new Councillor I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. The residents of the villages I have spoken with would welcome sustainable organic growth, but that is not what is being presented in this Plan.
“We are being told that we have to accept this proposal based on a numbers game which dumps housing on certain villages, such as 500 homes in Great Barford while stifling others, or if we reject it communities will continue to have no control over where or how much development takes place.
“Yet there is no opportunity given to amend the Plan and to work with community stakeholders to positively shape the future of the Borough.
‘My view is that good planning is fundamental to positively shaping our lives, it impacts on how we socialise, our health, transport, schooling, the economy and the environment.
“Planning is a huge subject matter which impacts almost all other areas of the Council’s work and securing the best quality development that we can should be a top priority.’