Calls for “destructive and unnecessary” local plan to be paused after national planning policy change

Bedford Town Centre from above
Bedford Town Centre Image: Bedford Borough Council

Bedford’s Local Plan 2040 has become the subject of controversy with less than a week until local elections, with Conservative Councillors calling on Bedford Borough’s elected mayor to pause its progress.

The Conservative Group leader, Cllr. Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead), has written to Mayor Dave Hodgson (Liberal Democrats), urging him to seek legal opinion on scrapping the plan entirely.

He cites recent changes to planning policy by central Government and the passage of the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill as reasons for concern.

“The scrapping of national targets and removal of the need for a five-year land supply, allows us to look again at development across the Borough,” said Cllr Coombes.

“The Local Plan was rushed through in a hurry because the Mayor hadn’t made the last Local Plan sufficiently robust, and the Planning Inspector made him go back to the drawing board and do it again.

“His latest effort is no better and proposes a vast swathe of new housing from Kempston Rural, through Stewartby, Wixams, Wilstead, Shortstown to Cotton End. It will create a huge urban sprawl and destroy our villages.

“As a result of new Government proposals, he has a chance to think again and stop the madness of the current Local Plan.

“I urge him to act swiftly and press the pause button before he blights our Borough forever with such destructive and unnecessary development proposals.”

The Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill includes amendments to remove the need for a five-year land supply and implement a policy of Infrastructure First, a Conservative manifesto commitment.

In addition, a new National Planning Policy Framework is currently out for consultation, which Conservative Councillors believe is evidence that the ground is moving with regard to planning policy.

The Times recently reported that 55 Local Authorities have suspended their development plans, and the Conservative Councillors in Bedford are calling on Bedford’s Mayor to now do the same.

However, the Mayor’s office argues that the Local Plan 2040 was deemed to be at an advanced stage of preparation at the time of the Secretary of State’s letter from December, and therefore will not benefit from recent changes to planning policy.

“The letter from the Secretary of State in December regarding Local Plans is quite clear that places with local plans at an advanced stage of preparation will not benefit from these changes, so I will also put in place transitional arrangements,” said Mayor Dave Hodgson.

“Where authorities are well-advanced in producing a new plan, but the constraints which I have outlined mean that the amount of land to be released needs to be reassessed, I will give those places a two-year period to revise their plan against the changes we propose and to get it adopted.

“At the time of the Secretary of State’s letter Bedford Borough Council’s Local Plan 2040 was deemed to be at an advanced stage, we have not been informed what transitional arrangements are available.

I wrote to the Secretary of State in April 2022 asking for a review of both the concept of the national standard method for determining housing targets and of our own target in particular.

“I also asked for a discussion and followed this up asking for a meeting – this was not granted.

The Leader of the Conservative Group is wrong to say that national targets have been scrapped and the need for a five-year land supply has been removed.

“If the Secretary of State had agreed with me when I wrote in April 2022 we would have been in a different situation, but the targets are the direct result of this Government’s inability to adequately plan for the future of our country.

“Yet again the Conservative Government have let Bedford Borough down.”