The leader of Bedford Borough’s Conservative group, Cllr Stephen Moon, has said the Mayor’s Local Plan, which sets out how our area will deal with housing growth up to 2030, has postponed vital strategic decisions on housing and employment growth that will “adversely affect Bedford’s future prosperity”.
Bedford Borough Council’s Local Plan 2030 was approved by Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors at a Council meeting last week and is now being reviewed by the Planning Inspectorate before it is formally adopted next year.
At the meeting, Cllr Moon called the Local Plan a ‘vision-free short-term exercise’, which he believes does not take into account the rural infrastructure needed to build a large number of new homes around villages.
He also believes the plan is unbalanced, placing an unfair amount of housing pressure on rural areas when there are brown field sites, such as Stewartby, that could be more easily utilised in the Local Plan before 2030.
Speaking after the full council meeting on 5 December, Cllr Moon said: “The Mayor’s decision to dump 500 houses on green field sites in each of Bromham, Clapham, Great Barford and Sharnbrook will increase those villages in size by 50% or more.
“This will change their character forever and overwhelm road networks. The Conservatives will continue to oppose these allocations and to press for greater use of brownfield sites in the urban area and appropriate housing allocations to meet the needs of our villages.’
The importance of the Local Plan 2030 is not just a question of ensuring a five year housing supply and getting it in before the higher housing targets apply. It is, or should be, about ensuring Bedford’s future prosperity and capacity to respond to the demands that are being placed on us and on surrounding and indeed competing authorities.”
Cllr Moon also highlighted lack of influence on the Local Plan by the emerging Oxford – Cambridge Corridor, which will see 1m extra homes in the region by 2050. Cllr Moon says that by not building Bedford Borough’s new homes in the corridor we miss out on vital funding that will allow for supporting infrastructure to be put in place.
He added: “The region is being targeted as an area of disproportionate housing and employment growth because of the Oxford – Cambridge Corridor yet the Local Plan does not address this, meaning other areas will gain irreversible advantages in terms of infrastructure funding and employment opportunities at our expense.”
In response Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford Borough, says that the Local Plan is effectively rebalancing the share of housing already in place, citing recent developments in Eastcotts, Shortstown, Wootton, nearby Martson development on the Borough and Central Bedfordshire border, and the forthcoming and ongoing development in Stewartby.
However, while the Local Plan sets out the template for growth, the Mayor says that each individual development will have to follow the standard planning procedure. The public in the areas affected will be able to raise objections should they wish in the usual manner.
He adds that he understands that any plan of this size is contentious and that they will be looking to make sure infrastructure is in place. But he blames delays in Government decisions with the Oxford to Cambridge Express Way, the A1 realignment, and the East-West Rail route that he says mean the Local Plan cannot take them into account at this stage.
The Conservatives, however, say that the plan is not yet set in stone and could be amended to balance the housing more fairly across green and brown field sites. Cllr Moon added: “Quite radical modifications, which might even require consultation, can be made during the examination process.
“At that stage we will seek at the very least to remove the allocations of 500 dwellings in Bromham, Clapham, Great Barford and Sharnbrook and replace them with greater use of brownfield sites together with appropriate growth in the villages and with colleagues will work towards that end.”
Cllr Moon said that villages must shoulder some of the burden but says that this must be done with the involvement of local parish councils so they can guide planners to ensure any new developments are in keeping with the area: “Organic growth in a wide range of villages rather than 500 house development in four villages would be the way forward in my judgement” he said.