Leighton retail park developer EDS under fire for ‘lack of community spirit’

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The developer looking to build a retail park in Leighton Buzzard has been criticised for having a lack of community spirit.

EDS Holdings’ outline application for the Camden site, off Grovebury Road, went before Central Beds Council’s development management committee again on Wednesday and was approved - but not before EDS took some flack.

The plan had been supported in March, but that backing was subject to a number of conditions - including providing an access to the nearby Tiddenfoot Water Meadows site.

But subsequent discusssions saw EDS dig its heels in over the point, with the company insisting such a condition was unreasonable and wasn’t backed up by Government planning guidelines.

Town and CBC Councillor Amanda Dodwell originally suggested that the company be asked to open up the Water Meadows access as a condition of council approval.

Councillor Dodwell said the attitude was “somewhat disappointing”.

She told the meeting: “It does show an unwillingneess on behalf of the applicant to work the local community to improve the environment.

“Sadly this attitude from developers seems to be prevalent. If there is no legal requirement to do something they they won’t do it. There is no spirit in going the extra mile for the community.

“However, I do feel very strongly that the town needs this development and if the only way this can be done is through the removal of this condition then reluctantly I must ask that my colleagues approve this application with this condition removed.”

CBC members had also been seeking a limitation to Bulky Goods for the site, but EDS told officers the condition was not necessary or justified given the retail impact assessment which did not identify any adverse impact upon the town centre.

However they have agreed to define the range of uses on several warehouses to “trade counter”, exclude food sales, and have a minimum floor space of 850sq metres for all units (which they said would encourage smaller operations to look for premises in the town centre).

Cllr Dodwell said request to remove the bulky goods restriction was “a positive move”.

She said: “I know there will be some in the town, particularly the town traders, who will vehemently oppose the removal of this condition and will see it as being a further threat to the South of the High Street.

“However we still have no application on the table for the South Side of the High Street and I would suggest that we cannot refuse this application befause it may threaten a future development that is as yet undefined.

“We need better retail facilities in the town and we need the jobs it will bring - and we need it now.

“The longer we wait for the development on the South Side of the High Street, the more trader is being lost to MK and Aylesbury.

“This development might just help to stem the outflow from the town centre and potentially make any town centre development more viable in the future.”

The town council opposed the EDS proposal due to the “significant retail impact” on the town centre and feared the Land South of High Street development would be put in jeopardy by the retail park.

But campaigners hoping that the whole application would be reconsidered were left disappointed as committee chairman Councillor Ken Matthews firmly pointed out that there would be no “re-run” of the March application, and that the debate would focus purely on the conditions of approval that had not been agreed.

Councillor Ray Berry said he was grateful to EDS for agreeing to provide a pedestrian link to the town centre via Grovebury Road at the western end of the retail park site. EDS has also agreed towards highways improvements.

He added: “I think Councillor Dodwell floated the Water Meadows themselves as an attempt to get some community spirit into the development from the developers.

“We have to accept that that float has actually sunk. I would hate to see this go down on the basis of not getting access to something that we are not directly, technically or legally entitled to.”

The committee voted 12-0, with on abstention, in favour of the retail park which is in line to create 70 jobs.

The plan would bring six non-food retail units totalling 6,227sq metres, and five trade counter/motorist centre units totalling 1,121sq metres.

The application, which includes 324 parking spaces, states that the latter units would be “likely to accommodate” clients such as Screwfix, Tile Giant, Plumb Center, car mechanics, tyre fitters and associated workshops.

CBC will now need to approve the finer design details of the development when EDS submits a reserved matters application.

It will then be referred to the Secretary of State as the scheme is a departure from the Development Plan.