Council seeks new deal with developers to secure future of iconic airship sheds

RAF Cardington
Image: Iiboharz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Council planners are in new talks with developers over a deal to secure the future of the iconic giant airship sheds in Cardington.

Bedford Borough Council had in 2014 given permission for 592 homes to be built near the sheds at Shortstown on the understanding that a deal would be agreed to maintain them.

But the site has now been sold to Bellway Homes and they and Gallagher Developments applied for planning permission to change the layout and design of the new homes.

Monday’s meeting of the council’s planning committee was told that this gives the council the opportunity to finally secure the long term maintenance of the sheds which were built during the first world war.

Planning officer Greg Logan told the committee that agreement was never finalised and the need for the new application means it can be negotiated under new rules.

Mr Logan said one of the issues being considered was whether future residents would be made to pay an annual charge for the upkeep of the sheds.

The council does not want such a “roof tax” to apply.

The committee heard that the council originally gave permission to the homes on the basis that it was a development that enabled a “public benefit”.

This outweighed a shortage of affordable homes and building in the countryside.

R-100 and R 101 at Cardington
The historic sheds housed the R-100 and R 101 airships at Cardington

Councillors also discussed concerns that future residents might complain if there is too much noise from the production of feature films such as Batman.

The council’s economic development team sees the use of the sheds for feature films as crucially important for the borough’s economy.

Mr Logan admitted “it’s an ongoing issue” but the applicant needs to ensure they consider this, and changes to the plans have been made.

The council’s environmental health officers have raised no reasons to object to the new plan.

Mr Logan said if the councillors refused the new plan, the developers could make an agreement under the old rules to implement the old plan.

But in whichever outcome, Mr Logan said “we won’t issue a decision until a section 106 agreement has been made that is acceptable to all parties.”

He added: “Officers believe we’re heading in the right direction and the applicants want to work with us.

“We will get there and officers will be pushing very strongly for an acceptable outcome to this.”

Councillors voted unanimously to approve the new planning application.

But committee chairman Cllr Jonathan Abbott (Lib Dem, Oakley) said: “I strongly urge officers to work on a section 106 to ensure that it doesn’t become a roof tax on the residents otherwise that has negated the whole reason for these developments occurring around the sheds in the first place.”

Background papers show a legal agreement is proposed to be entered into which would provide £405,000 towards the provision of heating and lighting within Shed 1.

It also requires the agreement of a maintenance scheme along with a means of funding that maintenance over the long term.

by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter

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