Over the past few weeks a number of equally controversial issues have arisen – some new, some over 40 years old.
There is speculation about the purchase of the Post Office site on Church Square. There are planning applications to build housing on the site of the garden centre, and commercial buildings adjacent to Roman Gate. The development of land south of the High Street has been a hot topic, fuelled by proposals to build an arts and culture centre on the site. And a proposal for a retirement village in Stanbridge has appeared.
One common theme across all of these issues is there is a public perception that Central Bedfordshire Council, and to a lesser extent the Town Council, can determine the outcome of each of these issues.
Several opposition Councillors would have you believe the buck stops with one council or the other, and that due to a combination of ineptitude, laziness and corruption a blind eye is turned. And worse still, they mislead the public into thinking they could do differently.
(edit: judging by some of the comments on this article on social media, clearly there are some who really do think that Councillors are lining their own pockets out of planning applications. I can assure you that I have never been offered, let alone accepted, any gifts or other ‘bribe’ to influence my position on anything. I receive an allowance from CBC – the full details of which are on the CBC website – and you can check the declaration of members interest for any gifts or hospitality I do receive – which in 11 years on CBC has consisted of one free visit to the zoo!)
Taking the planning applications for the garden centre and Roman Gate, and the proposal for a retirement village in Stanbridge. In very simple terms – if someone submits a lawful planning application it cannot be refused by the local authority. If they do refuse it, the decision will be appealed and permission granted, often with less favourable (to the local community) conditions attached and costs awarded against the council.
The planning process is a quasi-judicial process, and can only be determined on planning grounds. Any objections to the application must be on the basis of the application contravening planning law or local planning policies. Sadly, public opinion alone is not enough – and that is not down to CBC or LLTC – that is the law.
I have visited the site of the proposed development at Roman Gate and spoken to residents in Greenfields. I am optimistic there will be sufficient planning grounds to lawfully reject this proposal, although it is likely a more ‘realistic’ plan will be submitted in the future that may be more difficult to stop.
The plans to build on the site of the garden centre are hugely unpopular – not least because of the loss of the garden centre itself. There has already been massive expansion to the east of the town, and the last thing we need is yet more houses along Hockliffe Road.
It was disappointing at the LLTC planning committee to see at least one opposition Councillor make the mistake of believing the site could, if permission was granted, generate S106 contributions in the region of £1 million for the town. I had a sense of déjà vu, for it was the same mistaken belief almost 20 years ago that led to the massive development to the east of Leighton Buzzard – certain Councillors at the time believed that developers’ contributions would be a money tree for the town. But the reality turned out to be very different – yes, we got the housing, but we didn’t get the level of supporting infrastructure or facilities they imagined.
Since the closure of the cattle market around 40 years ago, there have been various proposals for the land south of Leighton Buzzard High Street – retail, leisure, commercial, residential, community facilities, a hotel, a health hub, or a mix of some or all of the above.
This is not a new problem – successive Councils over many many years have not been able to secure the necessary commercial interest in the site, or secure funding to develop for community use.
Any community facilities would need to be funded either through S106 contributions (arising from commercial development elsewhere on the site), and / or from Council contributions or third party funding.
The most recent proposal for the site is to build a community arts and culture centre, but any such scheme needs to be financially viable in the long term, and complement other possible uses such as residential, leisure or commercial.
However, we do have a number of significant projects currently underway or imminent.
CBC are building a new care home on the site of the old Police Station – this is a very significant investment of approximately £13 million in our town, and will provide much needed accommodation for the older population.
LLTC have funded a new play area in Parson’s Park, including accessible equipment for those with additional needs. This investment of over £300K will further enhancement this award winning park, and will be open for use by the summer.
And this week we had a further update on the proposed new leisure centre – an investment in the town of around £25 million. Construction on the site on Clipstone Park is expected to start in mid to late 2023, and will open sometime in 2025.
Please don’t be misled by opposition claims over what local Councillors can and cannot do with regards to planning applications. And please be wary of their massive spending pledges – they are making promises with your money.
I will work with local residents and residents’ groups to fight unwanted planning applications. However, I will not mislead residents into thinking a planning application can be stopped if it cannot be stopped. I will help to identify valid planning grounds and present a case to the council for refusal of planning permission, but there must be valid grounds for refusal.
Cllr Amanda Dodwell
(please note: the views and opinions expressed above are my own and are not necessarily those of Cllrs Berry and Bowater, who as members of CBC DMC, cannot comment on planning matters that may go to the committee).
 Cllr Ray Berry has been in communication with the leader of CBC to find out what the Council does and doesn’t know about the possible sale of this site.