Mixed response to Grace community hub planning application in Kempston

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Artist's impression of Grace Community Hub in Kempston. Image: Grace Community Church
Artist's impression of Grace Community Hub in Kempston. Image: Grace Community Church

A planning application for a community hub in Kempston has been welcomed by the Borough Council, but local councillors and the MP are opposing the project.

A hybrid planning application by the Grace Community Church (GCC) for Riverside Meadow proposes a new ‘not for profit’ Community Hub and ‘enabling’ residential development on land northeast of Cemetery Road, Kempston.

The hub would become the new home of GCC, with space for the church to expand, building on its legacy of community work through Project 229, in the Kempston and Bedford area for over 50 years.

The application was submitted to Bedford Borough Council on Thursday, 1 February 2024.

However, local Labour councillors have described residents as “up in arms” about the proposal to build on a known floodplain, which they say is the sole reason why they are against the development.

Since Christmas, Kempston has suffered from three separate flood events which have involved some evacuations and road closures.

Cllr James Valentine (Labour), Borough Councillor for Kempston West, and Mohammad Yasin MP (Labour) spoke to a packed public meeting at Kempston Hammers back in 2021 and made clear their opposition to the Church’s plans.

Cllr Valentine on the proposed GCC site. Image: Bedford Labour Group

Cllr Valentine said: “I have appealed to Grace time and again not to proceed with this application, which I knew would divide the community. But they’ve gone ahead regardless, and people are very angry.”

He said: “We don’t need their charity. Kempston West is a middle-income area with low levels of deprivation. In Kempston generally, we are served with a plethora of local charities offering food banks and help for the disadvantaged.

“The Council is already expanding its support via an upgraded Family Hub and a large new Special School.”

Cllr Valentine claimed that “residents don’t want or need” the new hub and that there is no need for additional houses in the area.

“They are not required under the Council’s Local Plan; more specifically applications were made for inclusion in that plan but rejected.  The houses, which would not normally be allowed, are proposed purely as an “enabling development” to help pay for the Community Hub. For this reason, Grace Church claim that they can’t even afford to make an allowance for affordable housing.”

Floodplain

Mohammad Yasin MP (Labour) said: “Building on the floodplain is unnecessary as this housing will be in excess of the planned developments under the Council’s local plan.

“It would only serve to put residents at further risk [of flooding].

“Councillor James Valentine and I opposed the previous proposal and will again be standing up for residents in opposition to this unwanted and unnecessary proposal.

“Rather than fighting against the community, I would urge Grace Community Church to speak with residents to understand what they want in their local community.”

A Bedford Borough Council spokesperson told the Bedford Independent: “We have received the planning application by Grace Community Church for a community hub for local community uses and meeting room, public worship, cafe, creche and staff offices.

“We welcome initiatives from the community to add to the offer available for families, children and young people, in Kempston and across the rest pf Bedford Borough.

“However, in coming to a decision on this application, the Council will have to carefully weigh all of its pros and cons in planning terms, of which the potential benefits to the community will be balanced against other issues with the proposals.”

Balliol School head teacher, Louise Youngman, said that the school community found the support provided by Grace Community Church and Project 229 to be “invaluable”.

She said: “Often families come to us for support in times of crisis and knowing that [Grace Community Church is] there to support with the resources that they are able to access, ensures that we are able to direct them successfully and that they can access the support that they
need. 

“Our families regularly access; The Net, Well Woman, CAP, The Shed, ESOL classes and the Foodbank, the need for which is constantly rising.”

Update: This article was updated on 19 February 2024 at 11:24 to add a line from the Bedford Borough Council spokesperson and to clarify that Project 229 is independent of Grace Community Church.

 
 
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