Bedford’s villages are being “savaged” by developers who are exploiting a massive breach in the borough’s planning defences.
That is the view of Sharnbrook councillor Doug McMurdo, who has this week lost out in a bid to halt developers building 51 homes in the village he represents.
“Our rural communities are being savaged by circumstances beyond our control,” said Cllr McMurdo (Ind) at Monday night’s packed Planning Committee.
“This presumption that we have to grant permission is grossly unfair,” he added to applause from the public.
He was referring to the fact that Bedford Borough Council can only show that it has enough land for housing for just over three years.
The legal requirement is for councils to have enough land put aside to allow for five years of housing growth.
The fact it cannot means that its policies are out of date and this opens up tracts of the countryside for potential development.
On item after item on Monday’s agenda, the council’s planning officers told councillors that the balance is now tilted in favour of developers, unless there are overwhelming reasons to reject.
Worries over extra traffic and the damage to the character of areas has not been enough to resist.
In communities across the borough, councillors are having difficulty finding reasons that jump over the much higher bar.
Monday’s planning committee, unusually held in the council chamber to get as many members of the public in as possible, reluctantly gave permission to housing schemes across the borough.
These bitterly opposed schemes included 46 homes in Willington and 51 in Sharnbrook. Meanwhile in Wilstead, and in Wootton, contested applications for 65 and 81 new homes respectively have been deferred for one month for site visits.
A second line of defence has also been breached, in the form of Neighbourhood Plans, which must be at least submitted to the borough for approval before they hold any sway in debates.
Many villages have not got them.
“National planning policies are an idiot,” said Wootton parish councillor Stuart O’Dell. “Our neighbourhood plan working group has held 37 meetings over 1,000 hours. We’ve had two two-day consultation meetings, costing over £33,000.
“Our public consultations have cost another £15,000 – all coming from the residents. Yet the rules say our plan is not advanced enough.
“It has to be given some weight in the planning balance,” added Cllr O’Dell, who is an employee of the borough council.
“The national planning policy is an idiot if it does not give due weight to neighbourhood plans.”
The borough council’s beleaguered planning committee also found themselves granting permission for another 60 houses in Bromham. The relieved committee members were told that there was no opposition from the parish council and those houses were earmarked in the plans.
Across the borough, the council is hundreds more homes short of what the government says it has to take, with hundreds more required every year.
But the lack of an approved local plan gives developers an upper hand at least for another year.
After the two and a half hour meeting, the planning committee chairman, Cllr Jonathan Abbott (Lib Dem, Oakley), said there would be a gap before the local plan is adopted and some of the defences shored up.
Words by David Tooley,
Local Democracy Reporter