Bedfordshire councils at war over social housing ‘games’

Years of frustration over Luton’s affordable housing provision are threatening to boil over as two Bedfordshire local authorities cannot see eye-to-eye.

The situation was compared to wading through “a quagmire” by the borough council’s deputy leader and Labour Farley councillor Sian Timoney.

The council, as a consultee, is currently unable to reach agreement with Central Bedfordshire Council over its Local Plan proposals.

The deadline to settle their differences is tight, as the CBC document is set to be considered by a planning inspector at a public inquiry in May.

A direct approach to the inspector is being called for by Luton borough councillors, even if that means going against the local authority’s legal advice.

Councillor Tom Shaw led the criticism, saying: “Central Bedfordshire have no intention to cooperate with us over social housing.

“I believe we have a strong case to say Central Bedfordshire have completely and utterly failed in their duty to cooperate.

“It’s even worse than that because now they’ve put forward their proposals for the M1/A6 link road,” added councillor Shaw.

“Those gateways coming through Marsh Farm and other places are still in existence on the drawing.

“They’ve completely ignored everything we’ve asked them to do, and everything we’ve asked to do in partnership.

“I think we need to strengthen our case with the inspector by sending a letter direct to him and saying we feel that the duty to cooperate has been nowhere near fulfilled.

“Central Beds are playing a game where they are refusing to deal with Luton, or cooperate with Luton.

“We’ve got to stand by our guns and say unless you fulfill that duty to cooperate, we’re going to raise every single objection we can.”

Cllr Timoney told the executive her paperwork at home showed similar issues dating back to 2010.

She said: “I am more than exasperated over the situation we are in with Central Beds.

“I’ve got letters backwards and forwards between myself and councillor Nigel Young, the CBC portfolio holder and, guess what, they’re making exactly the same points as we are making now.

“We have made no progress whatsoever and it’s not for our want of trying. They are intransigent. They’re not going to make changes whatsover.

“The point is we can’t agree. Let’s break the legal advice. I find the legal advice massively contradictory.

“I am happy to be groundbreakers,” she added. “What risk is there to us?

“We should be telling that to the inspector. We’ve been trying to get through this quagmire for the last ten years. We are no further forward.

“Central Bedfordshire has no plans to agree on anything with us or to do anything with us. Let’s call it a day and tell them how it is.”

The council’s service director planning and economic growth Sue Frost said the inspector will be “writing to the council in the next couple of weeks setting out the matters and issues.

“We have a really strong case. From the officer perspective this is the best approach and the most advantageous for Luton.”

Portfolio holder and South councillor Paul Castleman said: “I am as frustrated as everyone else. It’s very much like Brexit, slow it down and we’ll deal with it later.

“I am looking at it politically and the M1/A6 scheme they’ve now submitted it.

“They’re just saying to us: ‘Go away. You’re not getting anything from us. We’re going to build our road. Never mind how it’s going to affect Luton’.

“So I am prepared to take a political risk and send this report with a strong robust letter to the inspector,” he added.

“I wouldn’t even bother to copy Central Beds in on it.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group and Barnfield councillor David Franks said: “I have to say your 2010 correspondence might as well have been yesterday because I was involved in 2004 when we set up the joint planning committee.

“I have every understanding of the frustration you’re feeling today because it’s identical to the frustrations we felt at that time.

“If you do take a somewhat more aggressive stance you’ll certainly get no problem from us over it.”

The executive agreed to wait a week to see what the extra legal advice is before sending a letter to the inspector.