GREEN campaigners in Leighton-Linslade have controversially done a U-turn and thrown their weight behind plans to concrete over east Leighton with more than 6,000 homes.
The announcement by the South Beds Friends of The Earth has stunned protesters who have fought a bitter battle to prevent developers ploughing under 850 acres of prime Green Belt land for the town's expansion.
FoE said this week that they had spent more than four years fighting urban development in the town but now say that the time had come to face reality.
The group's spokeswoman, Victoria Harvey, said: "I know this will be seen as controversial but we believe it will benefit the town."
But she makes it clear that FoE do not want the area turned into another Sandhills or Billington Park. They want the principal developers, Willis Dawson and Arnold White, to build eco-homes and provide countryside parks for residents.
In a top secret and highly detailed development brief, which we exclusively revealed in September 2006, the builders are proposing up to 6,000 houses and 50m of infrastructure to include new schools, a medical centre, a new cemetery, shops and businesses, a leisure centre, a partial ring road and public open space.
The blueprint, which caused an public outcry when the LBO first broke the news, has since been part of the consultation process to find space for up to 43,000 new homes in Luton and South Beds.
Residents immediately set up an action group, LOUD (Leighton-Linslade Opposes Unsustainable Development), and have so far collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition trying to throw out the plan.
But Ms Harvey said: "South Beds FoE is backing the eastern housing development proposed by Arnold White Estates because it believes that the housing could really improve the quality of life for all in Leighton Buzzard.
"The support is conditional on the new houses being of very high environmental standards.
Friends of the Earth have been instrumental in getting a new 7m transport scheme for South Leighton which will see buses every 15 minutes run from the area's new estates into town and state-of-the-art information systems installed into new homes and the town's bus stops to give real-time information on bus timetables. Ms Harvey is demanding a similar scheme for the east Leighton development.
She said: "It's hard-headed realism. We have fought since 2003 but the truth is that the juggernaut coming from Gordon Brown cannot be stopped. It's going to happen. However, we can fight to make sure that we save our most valuable areas of countryside and wildlife and that the new housing really benefits the economy and character of Leighton Buzzard.
"This development will bring jobs. It will bring more people into the town, which will make the town centre more viable.
For the full story see this week's LBO.