A controversial £64.6m Bedfordshire road scheme has cleared its final planning hurdle, subject to any legal challenge.
The M1/A6 link road will connect junction 11a of the motorway to the A6 Barton Road, north of Luton.
The 2.75-mile road is entirely in the Green Belt and part of it runs through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The scheme received formal permission during a meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council's development control committee today.
Councillor Kevin Collins, executive member for planning and regeneration, said after the meeting: “We can now formally issue our decision following a previous resolution last September to approve the scheme
“The Secretary of State chose to leave the decision for us and Highways England has removed its objection, subject to conditions we are happy to comply with."
Applicant CBC is expected to publish the formal decision notice in the next few days.
Luton Borough Council and the Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) will then decide whether to lodge a Judicial Review against the project, which has been strongly criticised by environmentalists.
The 170-acre site is mostly arable farmland and contains two areas of ancient woodland, Sundon Wood and George Wood.
There is also an ancient monument, Dray’s Ditches, about 350m away from the road.
The plans were initially approved in September by CBC’s development management committee. As a major project located in the Green Belt, it was referred to the Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government who opted not to call it in for review.
CBC has received 102 responses, with 82 objections, along with three petitions against, 11 commenting on it, and six in favour.
Streatley Parish Council has supported the application, which would potentially remove lorry traffic from the village. But Sundon, Chalton, Harlington and Barton-le-Clay parish councils all opposed the new road.
Their objections included the impact on the Green Belt, the AONB and ancient woodland, increased traffic and pollution, the effect on wildlife, the loss of farm land, and the impact on St Mary’s Church, a Grade I listed building.
There were also concerns about a lack of consultation with the parishes and the closure of Sundon Park Road.
CPRE Bedfordshire, the CCB, Natural England and the Woodland Trust also objected, while the Wildlife Trust and the Crown Estate expressed concerns over the development.
CBC has a duty to meet Luton’s unmet housing need and argued land north of the town “adjoins the urban area and provides the most sustainable location for delivering homes” to contribute towards that.
Luton Borough Council (LBC) has questioned whether the “very special circumstances” exist to build the road in the Green Belt.
It considers the development is premature and would prefer the CBC Local Plan examination to be completed first.
And LBC is concerned more traffic will use the north of Luton once the road is built. LBC threatened to seek a Judicial Review in two letters to CBC from its corporate director, place and infrastructure Laura Church.
The first letter said CBC’s decision in September “is contaminated by errors of law in the report (to councillors), which meant that it was seriously misleading”.
It added: “There is nothing Luton Council has seen which suggests that these problems were addressed before the decision was ultimately made.”
CBC’s development management committee agreed to reaffirm its earlier approval of the link road, with six votes in favour, three against and two abstentions.
Work could start on the scheme in March if there is no legal challenge.