Leighton-Linslade town councillor begins fight for more infrastructure

A Leighton-Linslade town councillor is on a mission to build the infrastructure that the community feels the town deserves by changing the current planning system.

Councillor Steve Owen (Lib Dem) has criticised the way planning applications are dealt with by Central Beds Council officers, its elected members, and the town council itself.

Cllr Owen's diagram of the planning process.

Cllr Owen's diagram of the planning process.

Cllr Owen is due to present a discussion paper at the town council Policy and Finance Committee tonight, as he aims to persuade Leighton-Linslade Council - as well as CBC - that action must be taken.

Cllr Owen claimed: “I look in the pages of the LBO to see what people are talking about. Readers say: ‘Where are the doctors surgeries?’ ‘Where are the nurseries?’

“So I asked what is the process by which this would happen and I looked at the big planning applications - anything over 20 houses for the last 15 years.

“For each of these big applications there is always S106 infrastructure negotiated by officers. The infrastructure ‘shopping list’ is over to them - but it’s not seen by the town council or CBC councillors. They are eating off the officers’ plate.”

Pointing out the planning process, Cllr Owen said a planning application would be discussed between Central Bedfordshire Council officers and the applicant.

There is then a crucial stage where the Central Beds Council officers identify conditions and infrastructure, and it is here, Cllr Owen claims, that CBC officers should be asking for the ‘shopping list’ requirements - such as surgeries, new classrooms, and chemists - but don’t.

The town council is then consulted by the CBC officers, but Cllr Owen argues that they are not told much about infrastructure and just “hope” it will be provided.

Afterwards, the officers submit the application to CBC’s development management committee for decision, which, again, Cllr Owen alleges involves little information about infrastructure.

Cllr Owen claimed: “Leighton-Linslade Town Council used to have a shopping list of infrastructure, called the ‘Big Plan’. It was essentially a wish list, without prioritisation or costing, but it did result from the active involvement of many of the public and a major consultation exercise.

“The then South Beds District Council would not engage with it. The Plan is now 12 years old and has not been kept up to date.

“As a result, Leighton-Linslade Town Council has no current shopping list, and for several years has contented itself, when considering major planning applications, with saying it has no objection and adding that it ‘hopes CBC will negotiate appropriate infrastructure’ with each applicant developer.

“In turn, councillors on the CBC Development Management Committee (DMC) do not receive information from officers about infrastructure associated with major housing development applications and do not challenge officers about infrastructure. There is no subsequent report-back by officers to DMC on the outcome of S106 negotiations with developers.”

In his discussion paper, Cllr Owen seeks a new approach to S106 planning, with town and parish councils being encouraged to influence the infrastructure discussion more and hold CBC robustly to account for the identification and delivery of infrastructure needs.

His ideas include: asking CBC officers to run a workshop with LLTC councillors to explain how S106 is calculated and apportioned, and how big-ticket projects can be financed if not through S106; establishing exactly which infrastructure items have had S106 monies allocated to them); a Big Plan 2020 or Neighbourhood Plan 2020 to act as a checklist from which LLTC can press CBC for S106 monies to be allocated; approaching CBC to discuss the application of considerable sums of negotiated but uncommitted and unspent S106 monies.

Cllr Owen concludes his paper by saying: “If not, the council (LLTC) must say what alternatives it will pursue to secure the infrastructure the town needs, or whether it intends to allow the inaction of the past ten years to continue”.

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokesperson said: “New infrastructure has already been delivered from developer contributions from both large and small developments within Leighton Buzzard. These include projects such as the Astral Park Sports and Community Centre.

“In terms of future growth, east of the town, infrastructure including new schools, leisure facilities, road improvements and bus services have been secured and will be delivered as the houses are built.

“We look to secure the maximum amount of infrastructure from all new developments in accordance with planning law which requires us to take an evidence-based approach that informs what we will look to fund. This is most strongly evidenced through strategies which are consulted on and adopted by the council. Town and parish councils are key stakeholders in this process.

“Planning rules mean we can only address the impacts of the development itself. Existing issues cannot be addressed through developer contributions. In terms of health we are guided by the NHS and provision of any private run facilities such as chemists would be determined by the market.

“We provide training for town and parish councils to help them understand what can and can’t be paid for and how to access information through our website about the infrastructure improvements we have secured.”

“Planning rules mean we can only address the impacts of the development itself. Existing issues cannot be addressed through developer contributions.”

Cllr Steve Jones (Cons), leader of Leighton-Linslade Town Council, said: “Some Section 106 money does get used for LLTC projects, the town centre Wi-Fi being the latest.”

Cllr Jones also said that in the background papers for Item 21 (Town Council Objectives) of the January 20 agenda there was a ‘shopping list’ under Partnership Projects.

Cllr Jones added: “He [Cllr Owen] is, of course, free to suggest additional items.”