Leighton-Linslade politicians at loggerheads as Neighbourhood Plan voted down

Conservative Councillors voted against a proposal from the Liberal Democrats for the council to create such a document.

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 10:25 am

Leighton-Linslade politicians are at loggerheads over the benefits of a Neighbourhood Plan.

At a meeting of the town council, Conservative councillors voted against a proposal from the Liberal Democrats for the council to create such a document.

The Liberal Democrats believe that a plan could prevent villages such as Heath and Reach, Eggington, and Hockliffe being "swallowed up" by housing, provide a 'shopping list' of infrastructure projects the town needs - such as a health hub, police station, and community/leisure spaces - strengthen the council’s hand in influencing Central Bedfordshire Council about housing growth, and have "the status of a statutory planning document that developers would be required to observe".

Leighton Buzzard High Street.

However, Councillor Steve Jones, leader of the Conservatives, told the LBO that the benefits of a Neighbourhood Plan were "intangible and totally unclear" and that it would involve spending "a very large sum" of residents’ money, which would have to come via council tax.

Speaking after last Monday's meeting (September 27), Liberal Democrat Cllr Steve Owen, who proposed the idea, said: “For fifteen years Conservative majority councillors at both the town council and Central Bedfordshire Council have allowed developers to do what they like. Thousands of homes have been built especially in Eastern Leighton Buzzard, but the Conservatives have made no effort to negotiate with developers to get the things the town needs to cope with the additional homes, such as a new GP surgery."

Cllr Russ Goodchild, leader of the Liberal Democrats, added: “Because there is no Plan, there is no shopping list of infrastructure that either the town council or Central Bedfordshire Council want developers to pay for. The Conservatives have no appetite to control housing development or plan for the infrastructure necessitated by the new homes. Because there is no Plan, the town council has no influence, no ambition, and no hope.”

However, Cllr Jones said: "A Leighton-Linslade Neighbourhood Plan would not be able to specify any policies relating to villages such as Eggington, Hockliffe or Heath and Reach – that would be for those parishes to do if they wished. In addition, those villages are surrounded by Green Belt and a Neighbourhood Plan would not add anything to that protection.

"As for a 'shopping list' of infrastructure needed by the town, we are all aware of the deficits arising from the expansion of the town. If Cllrs Owen and Goodchild want a formal list then this could be done far more cheaply, quickly and efficiently as a separate exercise, rather than embarking on a Neighbourhood Plan costing a minimum of several tens of thousands of pounds in excess of any grants available, taking two to three years (frequently more) to complete, and occupying considerable manpower effort which would even then not provide the solution they want."

Cllr Jones added that developer contributions could only be secured from new housing projects, and that a health hub and police station are the responsibility of other bodies - the "urgent need" for which the town council continues to stress to the local Clinical Commissioning Group and police authorities.

He added: "The consultant said in his presentation that a Neighbourhood Plan would have little or no tangible benefits."

However, Cllr Owen claimed that the Conservatives had "ignored" the consultant's "warning" that more housing growth would be coming to the town.

The Lib Dems thanked the Labour and Independent councillors who supported the Plan proposal.