War of words in £1m Local Plan “mess”

The hand of a builder placing bricks as they build a wall

Bedford Borough Council’s former Lib Dem administration’s Local Plan “mess” could cost residents up to £1 million, a Conservative councillor has claimed.

But the Lib Dems say the blame for the plan’s failure lies with the government.

During this week’s Bedford Borough Council Full Meeting (29 November), Cllr Graeme Coombes (Wixams & Wilstead) was asked if his opposition to the plan was justified.

The Conservative Group leader said: “I opposed the Local Plan from the moment it became clear the previous Liberal Democrat administration wanted to build houses all over Wilstead and other villages across the borough.

“[They had] scant regard for residents and inadequate proposals to develop local infrastructure to complement new development.

“I wrote to the previous Lib Dem mayor on 9 April, I called on him to pause the plan to take account of the proposed changes in the law. The Lib Dem mayor refused.”

“We are now saddled with this mess having to review the plan and make changes and with associated financial implications.

“It might cost up to a million pounds if this Local Plan can’t go ahead, and the inspector has said in his report it’s so bad he doesn’t see how it can.

“[The inspector] specifically cites the lack of infrastructure around the A421 corridor,” he said.

Read: Planning inspector raises concerns over 2040 Local Plan

Councillor Michael Headley (Lib Dem, Putnoe), pointed out that some Conservative councillors had voted for the plan.

“It’s very simple and very clear, anybody who has read the letter from the inspector can see very clearly that the issue is the A421 widening project that is funded by the government’s National Highways,” he said.

“The funding for that hasn’t been put forward by the government. The inspector is not happy that the government hasn’t provided the infrastructure to allow the plan to go forward.

“It’s very clear where the blame lies. The government have [sic] not funded the infrastructure that will provide this local plan. The blame is very much at the door of the government.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “The Planning Inspectorate is an independent body, and it is not for the Government to make decisions on local transport plans.

“Local authorities should engage with National Highways from the outset of preparation of their plans.

“Bedford Borough Council has never put forward proposals for the widening of the A421 in Bedfordshire.

“However, we are committed to improving local transport in the region, with progress being made on East West Rail and the A428 ‘Black Cat’ upgrade, which will provide better connectivity between the A1/A421.”

National Highways told the LDRS: “National Highways took an active role in responding to Bedford Borough Council’s Local Plan and we will continue to work closely with them moving forward.

“We will take the view of the Local Plan Inspector on board and explore any recommendations made.”

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter

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