Developers admit frustration as campaigner’s appeal puts retail park scheme on hold

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A passionate campaigner who says Leighton Buzzard’s planned retail park will destroy the town centre says she is taking a “terrifying” financial risk by taking her solo battle to the Court of Appeal.

The £15m retail park at Grovebury Road received planning permission early last year subject to a number of conditions being hammered out between developers Claymore and Central Beds Council. That Section 106 agreement, including £400,000 for a raft of improvements to the town centre, was finally granted in November at which point Victoria startedproceedings for a Judicial Review against the council.

But even though her ongoing one-woman campaign to stop the retail park has just taken a blow with the Judicial Review application’s rejection at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, she has still vowed to not to give in.

Despite the prospect of an even heftier legal bill, she has now challenged that decision, with a further hearing due at the Court of Appeal in the next few months.

With the appeal meaning the retail park is now on hold, the developers this week described the delay as “extremely frustrating”. But Victoria said: “I am opposing the development as it is a real threat to our precious town centre, our local community and independent local shops.”

“Financially it is a terrifying risk going to court, which shows that I have to believe in this. There is no point talking about supporting the town centre if you are not prepared to do actually do something about it.”

The Knaves Hill, Linslade resident has lived in the town for 14 years and is a well-known for her Friends of the Earth campaigns.

But she says her retail park battle is a solo fight not associated with the green group or any of the traders who petitioned strongly against the development.

She revealed she would be £5,000 out of pocket if she fails with the appeal – but that could rise to £10,000 if she succeeds and the matter proceeds to the Judicial Review.

If the judge ultimately rules in her favour at a Judicial Review, it will mean the council hasn’t followed correct planning procedures in determining the application and the scheme will have to be resubmitted.

Victoria, who commandeered a market stall last year to gather signatures against the proposed plans, said: “There was huge local opposition to the retail park last February when it went to planning permission with the community forum of 130 people having a spontaneous vote of unanimous opposition to the retail park.

“Leighton Buzzard Town Council supported by Central Bedfordshire Council made a bid to be a Mary Portas Town in 2012, and Mary Portas stressed that one of the worse threats to high streets was out of town retail parks.”

“The proposed retail park will be a replica of our existing town centre and so will not offer people more choice as the proposed new retail units are a similar size to our existing town centre shops that sell furniture and domestic appliances etc, and the proposed DIY store is a third smaller than the existing Homebase.

“Moreover the retail park is not allowed to sell clothes which is the main reason why people need to go to Milton Keynes.”

“Having visited many stores in Milton Keynes for furniture and washing machines, I have come back to Leighton Buzzard to find better quality and much cheaper goods with free delivery at a fixed time so you don’t have to wait in all day – in some cases same day delivery. Why are we risking losing this?

“Leighton Buzzard needs clothes shops like Marks and Spencer in the town centre, not more relatively small shops on the edge of the town threatening to close down our good local shops.”

“Central Bedfordshire Council seems to be trying to make Leighton Buzzard like Dunstable.”

“ Nationally I am concerned that if this development can go ahead then all town centres are at risk and basically this government is turning it back on independent local businesses and town centres in favour of big developers.”

Stephen Cole, of Claymore, told the LBO: “Claymore is extremely frustrated at the delay now being caused to the project by the renewed appeal by Victoria Harvey. ]

“The recent decision to refuse permission for her appeal taken by the High Court judge at a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London followed a similar earlier written refusal; the judgement could not have been clearer in its support of the council and their handling of the planning application process.

“Once again we find ourselves in the position of having to place the project on hold indefinitely and to delay important investment in the town.

“Our proposal was overwhelmingly supported by Leighton Buzzard residents who attended our public exhibition of the scheme and who welcomed the retail park which would not only complement the town centre, but would bring Leighton Buzzard into line with neighbouring towns.

“The completed development will also create a large number of much-needed new jobs and this latest unnecessary delay is hugely frustrating for all concerned.”

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