An attempt to stall a £64.6m Bedfordshire road scheme by countryside campaigners has been rebuffed for now.
But a final decision over the controversial M1/A6 link road still rests with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, as part of the site is within the Green Belt.
The route from junction 11a of the motorway to the A6 Barton Road was approved by Central Bedfordshire Council’s development management committee last month, (September) subject to ministerial intervention.
Several groups and organisations have written separately to Mr Jenrick alerting him to their concerns about the scheme, which covers 170 acres.
These include Luton Borough Council, the Chilterns Conservation Board and countryside charity CPRE, which expressed its disappointment at the decision.
“We believe that the Secretary of State has abdicated his responsibility by refusing to consider the application by public inquiry,” said Gerry Sansom, from Bedfordshire CPRE.
“He has decided instead that the project, which will result in severe damage to the Bedfordshire Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is a local matter.
“The Bedfordshire Chilterns AONB is a landscape of national importance and should be treated as such.
“The implications of this decision are massive, calling into question this government’s commitment to protecting areas of outstanding natural beauty, not just in Bedfordshire but across the country.
“This is an important landscape for residents and visitors, with two ancient woodlands, some of which was planted before 1600.
“There could be more water to flow under the bridge,” he added. “There’s still been no formal notification of its planning application on the CBC website.
“Meanwhile, the planning inspectors considering CBC’s Local Plan wrote a critical letter following the public examination, part of which referred to this project, saying the local authority has not considered other options.
“So the inspectors are saying it’s a big issue.”
The letter sent on behalf of the Secretary of State to CPRE regarding their Chilterns AONB call-in request, said: “The government remains committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues.
“It believes that planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.
“The call-in policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively.
“The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to this policy, not to call in this application.
“He is satisfied that it should be determined at a local level.”
The call in request by the CPRE was trying to halt the planning application and secure a public inquiry, during which the plans could be reconsidered.
The development includes a rail freight interchange at one of the junctions along the new route.
“We thought that when the government had introduced a tighter-sounding planning policy on protected landscapes, and commissioned Julian Glover’s review, that ministers were going to stop betraying beauty,” said CPRE deputy chief executive Tom Fyans.
“Unfortunately by giving the green light for this completely unjustified and unnecessary intrusion into the Chilterns AONB to go ahead, they have failed the first real test.
“Not only will the road lead to countryside loss, but also to increased air pollution and carbon emissions, taking us in exactly the opposite direction to where we need to be going to tackle the climate emergency.”
Luton Borough Council has also submitted a call-in request which is awaiting a response from the Secretary of State.