A councillor made a passionate plea for his colleagues to vote against a plan that would “devastate” Sharnbrook.
The owners of Colworth Science Park to the west of the village had applied to Bedford Borough Council to build an advanced manufacturing facility and a brand new national hydroponics demonstrator and skill centre at the rural employment site.
Monday’s meeting of the planning committee was told by the owner’s representative that the operator, Unilever, “desperately needed” the new £5 million advanced manufacturing facility.
But it was too much for Sharnbrook Parish Council and ward councillor Doug McMurdo (Ind) who fears that a 53 per cent rise in lorries would have a “severe impact” on the narrow village streets.
“If you approve this, this is devastating,” said Cllr McMurdo.
“I hope you see sense and help us overcome the highways infrastructure problems because this cannot continue,” he said.
Sharnbrook Parish Council chairman Jonathan Miller said lorries already have to mount the pavements to be able to navigate the 7m wide streets.
The committee was told that the development was too small to be able to justify spending on new routes.
And the council’s highways experts had concluded that the extra 20 lorry movements per day “will not result in a severe impact on the village.”
But planning officer Jonathan Warner confirmed that the assessment did not have a fixed baseline. So every time traffic levels go up, the number of lorry movements would have to be even more to be considered a “severe impact.”
But he concluded that the current plans were “not a reason for refusal” and were “unlikely to be noticeable”.
Cllr McMurdo objected to what he called “salami tactics” of having two applications to consider instead of just one which could consider the traffic impacts of both plans.
Cllr Jim Weir (Cons, Kempston Rural) wondered what the traffic “tipping point” would be.
Simon Hoad, representing Colworth Park, highlighted the benefits of having such a centre of excellence in the borough. He said fewer employees were working at the site, meaning there was less traffic
He also said the manufacturing facility was a replacement for an older building, and would mean the same employees would move to the new base.
“Unilever desperately need this new building,” he said.
He added that the hydroponics centre, to develop new ways of growing food, would be a “superb addition to Colworth.”
Members of the committee, who heard that Colworth Park is one of the borough’s “true centres of excellence”, expressed sympathy with Sharnbrook villagers.
Committee chair Cllr Jonathan Abbott (Lib Dem, Oakley) asked the owners to address the traffic issues in future.
“It would be nice to see at some point the owners addressing the traffic issues. But this is not a reason for us to refuse,” he said.
“We are proud of this jewel in our crown but we are worried about the residents of Sharnbrook.”
Councillors voted twice by five for, two against with one abstention to approve both Colworth Park plans.
by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter