'Shambles' for Central Bedfordshire's Local Plan after inspectors list 100 concerns

Inspectors presiding over Central Bedfordshire Council's much criticised Local Plan have questioned whether it will need to be withdrawn.

In a joint letter to CBC, Matthew Birkinshaw and Helen Hockenhull of the Planning Inspectorate have issued a firm response to claims their previous letter - which listed nearly 100 concerns - lacked clarity.

CBC's Local Plan

CBC's Local Plan

“Our letter expresses some very serious concerns about the soundness of the Local Plan,” the inspectors explained to CBC.

“We did not reach a final conclusion on what should happen next because we wanted to hear about the council’s position on the M1/A6 link road."

CBC's Local Plan sets out the future strategy in Central Bedfordshire, tackling industrial growth, housing, green belt issues and development in the countryside, and even climate change and sustainability.

It also covers transport, retail and town centres, employment and the economy, as well as planning for gypsies and travellers.

The inspectors added: “The previous inspector had already allowed you the chance to produce substantial amounts of additional evidence to justify the Local Plan.

“For the reasons expressed in our (previous) letter, we concluded that suspending the examination to allow you to provide more evidence to justify the Local Plan was not likely to represent an efficient or effective use of time or resources.”

The CBC Local Plan originally contained proposals for large amounts of housing around Biggleswade, Sandy, Arlesey, Stotfold and Cranfield.

After a public examination led by the inspectors this summer, they wrote to the council a fortnight ago with a list of almost 100 concerns.

The council approved the controversial M1/A6 link road in September, despite vocal opposition from campaigners and independent councillors, who considered the scheme inappropriate and premature.

The Beds branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) this week labelled it “environmental vandalism on a large scale”.

The inspectors said despite asking for a comment from CBC on this planning decision, they are still waiting to hear back.

They warned: “When we have the information requested on the link road, we will consider if it’s feasible for the examination to continue, or whether the most appropriate way forward would be for the plan to be withdrawn.”

In response to the letter, Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny said: “It seems the inspectors are far from impressed by CBC’s attempts to spin the latest Local Plan shambles to its advantage.

“Meanwhile, the council has no Local Plan and no approved timeline to create one.

“Unfortunately it is residents who remain at risk from unscrupulous developers.”

CBC’s director of regeneration and business Jason Longhurst added: “We were pleased to receive the inspectors’ letter in which they clarified the critical importance of the M1/A6 link road to the strategic site allocations within the draft plan.

“They emphasised the need for clarification on the status of this development.

“We have now shared with them the news that the Secretary of State has confirmed that the planning application for the road will not be called in and that he is content that it should be determined by the local planning authority.

“Our hope and expectation is that this will add to our inspectors’ confidence levels about the soundness of the draft plan."