Central Bedfordshire Council has approved a major planning application for a mixed-use residential-led development of nearly 2,000 new homes to the west of Bidwell, as part of a larger urban extension to the north of Houghton Regis.
Following an extensive two year public engagement and successful pre-application advice with the local planning authority through a planning performance agreement, the outline ‘hybrid’ application was submitted. The proposed scheme occupies some 166 hectares of green belt land and will provide a mixed use scheme for the delivery of up to 1,850 dwellings including 555 affordable units.
There will also be two hectares of employment land, a local retail centre, schools school and community centre and an extensive network of green infrastructure and open space incorporating sports pitches, sustainable urban drainage, heritage trail, play areas an urban park along with the protection and enhancement of the area’s Site of Special Scientific Interest, a former quarry.
The application is subject to call in by the Secretary of State before the s106 legal agreement can be completed prior to issue of the formal planning permission.
The village of Bidwell lies in the firing line of the development. The planning report acknowledged that the site was wholly within the green belt north-west of the Houghton Regis settlement boundary.
The report said: “The application site would be harmful to the green belt due to its inappropriateness and its impact on openness.
“There would be a degree of related harm due to the loss of agricultural land within the historic landscape setting of the Thorn Spring Scheduled Monument.”
The report said that substantial weight was attached to any green belt harm.
However, it added that there were very special circumstances that “clearly outweigh” this harm.
This included the major contribution the development would make to meeting urgent housing and employment needs; and a body of evidence supporting the site as suitable for sustainable mixed-use development.
Houghton Regis Town Council, Luton Borough Council and Sundon Parish Council had objected to the application.
The Chiltern Society insisted the development did not represent the exceptional circumstances required under the National Planning Policy Framework.
But the officer’s report said that the applicant had made its case for very special circumstances in favour of the scheme on the basis of six points, including that the site was “identified within the emerging Central Bedfordshire Development Strategy for allocation and removal from the green belt for development for an urban extension of Houghton Regis to meet urgent need”.
The scheme was approved subject to various conditions and a final green light from the secretary of state.
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