Is Bedford Borough Council’s Local Plan 2030 Review Issues and Options Consultation Just a Sham?
On the 14th July Bedford Borough Council (BBC) started its Issues and Options Consultation – the first part of the Local Plan 2030 Review which is due to be completed by 2023. The consultation ends on the 4th September
In the Introduction to the Consultation, BBC discuss the impact that the Government’s plans for development across the Oxford – Cambridge Arc could have on future housing growth but say that government plans are unclear and for that reason they are unable to say what impact they will have.
But, CPRE Bedfordshire has learnt that Philip Simpkins, Chief Executive of BBC has been leading secret meetings of other Chief Executives across the Arc to discuss development plans in his role as Leader of this Arc Group of unelected officials.
We understand that four new Growth Boards have now been established by these unelected officials – Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Central Area and Cambridge & Peterborough Combined Authority. (As predicted by CPRE Bedfordshire a year ago but denied by Mayor Dave Hodgson)
Neither the Chiefs Executive’s Group nor any of these Growth Boards have published their Terms of Reference. None of them have ever met in public or published agendas or minutes.
We believe that members of the Growth Boards will include representatives from lobby groups such as the Local Enterprise Partnerships and Universities, but not from environmental or community groups.
We also understand that some members of the new Growth Boards have already been selected despite the majority of local Councillors being totally unaware of the process, which shrouded in secrecy.
BBC has never discussed the matter of the formation of the Growth Boards or The Arc’s Chief Executive Group at either Exec or Full Council Meetings when members of the public could be present – everything is being done with the utmost secrecy.
The leader of the CPRE Ox-Cam Working Group to Philip way back in June asking for details of the meetings and for the introduction of a more democratic process but to date no response has been received.
Who does the “Central Area Growth Board” include?
Bedford Borough Council
Central Bedfordshire Council
Milton Keynes Council
Luton Borough Council
Northamptonshire County Council
Northampton Borough Council
Corby Borough Council
East Northamptonshire District Council
Kettering Borough Council
South Northamptonshire District Council
Borough of Wellingborough Council
CPRE Bedfordshire’s response
These revelations are in line with our worst fears.
We believe that the worst case scenario figures for housing growth put forward by BBC in the Issues & Options Consultation which mean a massive and unsustainable increase of 35% on the current Local Plan levels, are in fact exactly what these secret group meetings have been planning.
This means that BBC will need to build a further 15,000 new homes over the Plan Period to 2040 – equivalent to 15 new villages the size of Sharnbrook (1,000 homes) or four new towns the size of Ampthill (3,800 new homes). These homes would be in addition to those already in the 2030 Local Plan.
Much of this building will take place on green field sites having a devastating impact on our environment, biodiversity – adversely impacting climate change and the quality of life of residents.
What is being proposed by BBC is in fact exactly what they and the government have been planning behind closed doors at secret meetings.
CPRE branches across the Arc made a written challenge to all Council Leaders, Mayors and Chief Executives on 3rd July asking them to commit to greater transparency, but so far none of them have replied.
We are asking BBC to come clean and publish full details of all meetings held by Philip Simpkins in his role as Leader of the Arc’s Chief Executives Group on their website, including minutes of the meetings and names of those attending.
Details of Central Growth Board meetings should also be made available on the BBC website for all to see.
On the 2 July last year, the Deputy Director of the Ox-Cam Unit of the Ministry of Homes, Communities & Local Government, wrote to Philip Simpkins updating him on their plans “to begin discussions with local partners across the Oxford – Cambridge Arc on how we can together realise shared ambitions for growth……” Why didn’t Mr Simpkins or Mayor Dave tell the people of Bedford Borough about these – “shared ambitions for growth” – perhaps they were too frightened of the reaction from local people?
Why do we have to look at the minutes of Oxfordshire County Council to find out what’s going on across the Arc – the residents of Bedford Borough should not be treated as second class citizens and kept in the dark?
Local Plan Review:
All the BBC documentation and the online response form can be found here.