Inspectors and council continue war of words over Central Beds local plan

Inspectors examining the Central Beds local plan have admonished the council for 'incorrectly' claiming the document's housing target would not need to be increased, as the war of words between the two sides grew more heated.

Central Bedfordshire: local plan row (Image: Flickr / Peter O'Connor)
Central Bedfordshire: local plan row (Image: Flickr / Peter O'Connor)

Inspectors Matthew Birkinshaw and Helen Hockenhull had previously raised "serious concerns" about Central Bedfordshire Council’s local plan, prompting the council to accuse the inspectors of withholding crucial examination correspondence.

In a further exchange of letters in recent days, the inspectors upbraided the council for issuing a statement to the public suggesting that "no issues have been raised in relation to the plan’s detailed policies". "This is not correct," they said.

Birkinshaw and Hockenhull highlighted a specific assertion made by the council that the plan’s housing targets would not need to be increased. 

The inspectors said: "If the examination were to be suspended for a significant length of time then it is likely that the objectively assessed need for housing may have to be revisited."

The inspectors also reprimanded the council for uploading public statements about the local plan process to the examination website without telling them first.

"Should you wish to upload further documents this should be communicated to the programme officer and ourselves first for our agreement."

Specific concerns raised by the inspectors about the draft plan included the proposed route of a new M1-A6 link road, which would pass through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and a lack of testing of alternative options.

Writing to the council at the end of September, the inspectors said they had received post-hearing correspondence advising that Central Bedfordshire Council had granted planning permission for the new road and requested that the authority confirm if this was the case.

Central Bedfordshire Council responded by raising an "immediate concern" about the correspondence cited by the inspectors.

"Taking into account communications that have not been made publicly available is absolutely not acceptable," it said.

In their most recent letter, the inspectors said their assessment of the plan’s soundness had been based solely on published evidence, representations and hearing statements.

The inspectors said they were waiting to receive confirmation of the council’s position on the link road before outlining their views on whether and how the examination should proceed.

However, they added that "suspending the examination to allow you to provide further evidence to justify the plan was not likely to represent an efficient or effective use of time or resources".

Responding to the letter, Central Bedfordshire Council confirmed it had resolved to approve the link road and that the secretary of state has declined to call in the application.

The council said there is a Highways England holding direction in place but added: "We expect the holding direction to be withdrawn within the next few weeks."

The authority said it was "unclear" why the inspectors had suggested further hearing sessions might be required in relation to the link road. It said granting permission for the link road was "entirely in line with progressing the plan’s strategy".

Central Bedfordshire said it was "wholly inappropriate" for the inspectors to "cite resource implications not to progress with this local plan". The council claimed the 18-month examination timeframe was a result of a change of inspectors which was outside the authority’s control.

"We would be grateful for a timely response to this letter," it said.

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