WinterWonderland makes a “mockery’ of planning system says councillor

The Ferris Wheel at this year's WinterWonderland in Bedford Park
The Ferris Wheel at the 2023/24 WinterWonderland in Bedford Park

Allowing Bedford’s WinterWonderland to take place without the relevant permissions for a second time makes a “mockery” of the planning system, a councillor has said.

At Bedford Borough Council’s full meeting on Wednesday (10 January) Cllr Zara Layne (Labour, Harpur) asked when permission was actually going to be granted.

And she added: “Would the mayor agree that allowing such a high-profile event such as this to take place for the second time without relevant permissions actually makes a mockery of the system?

“Especially given that last year [2022], as referenced, the organisers failed to submit their application in time.

“In fact, they submitted it only eight days before commencement and, in fact, ended up withdrawing it after the event had finished. Again without a decision being made.”

The portfolio holder for town centres and planning, councillor Andrea Spice (Conservative, Wixams & Wilstead) explained that one of the professional bodies involved in the application had not responded.

“We are in discussions with the applicants because it wasn’t us [the council] that applied for planning permission,” she said.

“But I would just like to comment that it is the same process that was followed last year [2022]. We’re just trying to fix the process to make sure that it is compliant.”

Mayor Tom Wootton (Conservative) said: “We will be reviewing where WinterWonderland goes next [time] and what we should do. We will endeavour to learn from this and get back to you with answers.”

Councillor Layne said that as the processes “didn’t work” for these two WinterWonderland events, it seems “clear” that improvements are needed for big-ticket events.

“If residents are being asked to contribute to applications, and there were scores of comments on the recent application, to spend time and invest their energy in trying to give feedback to the council,” she said.

“They have to be allowed to express meaningful opinions and know that their comments are going to feed into actual decisions, not into reflection afterwards.”

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter