Universal Studios decision could be out of local council’s hands

Universal Globe at theme park. Image: Universal Destinations & Experiences
Image: Universal Destinations & Experiences

The Universal Studios theme park, which could come to Bedford and is currently still having feasibility studies carried out by owners Comcast, could finally be considered by the government under a specific planning arrangement.

Universal Destinations and Experiences has been exploring the potential for a new theme park and resort experience in the UK on more than 475 acres of land at Kempston Hardwick just outside of Bedford.

Read: Universal Studios confirm they are planning a theme park in Bedford Borough

“We’ve spent the last several months undertaking feasibility and due diligence work, while also discussing the project with local and national stakeholders,” said a spokesperson in December.

An approach to the government for a planning decision could be made by the company in the coming months, according to Central Bedfordshire Council’s deputy leader and Independent Biggleswade West councillor Hayley Whitaker.

“Universal says it’s now looking to explore planning permission via a special development order,” she explained on social media. “This means the planning decision wouldn’t be made by CBC or Bedford Borough Council, but by the government.

“Universal has said ‘one route for securing the necessary approvals to move ahead with our investment is through planning permission granted directly by government via a special development order, where appropriate, after consideration by a Secretary of State’.

“The decision to determine whether this route is appropriate is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has agreed to act as the sponsor for the project within government.

“Consideration of any proposal will be subject to administrative arrangements to ensure functional separation between DCMS as sponsor department and the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) as planning decision-maker, the government has indicated.

“It’s anticipated that public consultation by DLUHC will take place before any planning decisions, should the company decide to take the project forward.

“Universal has acknowledged a planning submission would need to be accompanied by an environmental statement, which will be subject to public consultation and publicised,” added cllr Whitaker.

“This environmental statement, other relevant information and any comments made on its impact have to be taken into account when a planning decision is made.

“Indications are that Universal should make a final decision on the project within the coming months. It’s then down to the government to decide on the special development order.”

Public exhibitions are also due to take place later this month.

  • Saturday, 13 April 2024: 11am to 4pm – Kimberley College, Green Lane, Stewartby, Bedford MK43 9L
  • Tuesday 16 April 2024: 4.30pm to 8pm – Bedford College, Cauldwell Street, Bedford MK42 9AH

Read: Universal Studios UK website updated with public engagement plans

Anyone can have their say on the planned development via the company website until Friday, 3 May.

by Euan Duncan
Local Democracy Reporter

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