Leighton Buzzard’s Sandhills residents are celebrating the good news, as after years of waiting, Astral Lake Park will open its gates to the public at noon tomorrow (Friday, August 17).
The beautiful lake - which filled in a crater at Pratt’s Quarry - was built by Arnold White Estates (AWE) when they constructed Sandhills, and as part of Section 106 planning agreements, the land was due to be handed over to Central Bedfordshire Council.
However, in a statement last July (2017), the council told the LBO it had declined the package offered, because it would present “an unacceptable ongoing financial burden” and there was “no requirement” for the council to adopt it.
A legal agreement in place still required the lake to be managed and access to be provided by public rights of way, so AWE has since created the company Astral Lake Limited, to whom the land has been transferred.
And it looks like to wait will have been worth it, the scenic area being perfect for family picnics, dog walks and escaping the rat race.
Ian Foll, director at Arnold White Estates, said: “I think it’s beautiful and I think we have created a stunning valley. I hope it will be much loved by the people.
“With the football pitches, the Sainsbury’s, and now Astral Lake Park open it’s nice to see this phase of the town has been completed.
“I hope people will be responsible with how they use the park.
“There is a path around the lake and it is wheelchair accessible, and the land is going to be grazed with sheep, so in time it will look something similar to Rutland Water. We have let a tenancy to a local grazier from Heath and Reach.
“There is safety equipment all around the water and access gates from Tern Drive, Osprey Drive, Warbler Road, and Grebe Drive.
“There is signage at all the entry points to raise awareness about the risks of going to the lake - no swimming, no diving and no kite flying because of the power lines.
“Finally, it’s important that it is referred to as the Astral Lake Park - I have contacted the fire, police and ambulance services to let them know the name and to discuss access arrangements.
“If there is an emergency, it will be important to get the name right.”
For some time, the LBO reported on negotiations between AWE and CBC. In January 2016, CBC and Leighton-Linslade Town Councillor, Ray Berry, claimed: “If there is not enough money CBC won’t take it off the developer.” While that February, CBC’s executive member for stronger communities, Cllr Andrew Turner, told the LBO: “Talks are still ongoing between Arnold White Estates and CBC as to what sum the developer may pay the council to take on the responsibilities and future costs associated with managing the lake.”
Commenting on the negotiation process and the length of time taken, Mr Foll claimed: “The quarry was finished in about 2014/2015.
“Once that was finished we started engineering the lake.
“Under our legal agreement we had to create this land as public open space and we were under obligation to offer it to the council [CBC].
“The council took its time in deciding whether to take it or not, then offered it the LLTC. The Town Council also chose not to take it on. This was last summer.
“Since then we had to set up a company and transfer the land to them. We also had to think about the infrastructure to put in place to make it a usable park.
“The land itself has been transferred to Astral Lake Limited, so they are the owners of the land and the site itself, Astral Lake Park.
“It would have been preferable to open it at the start of the summer holidays, but we’ve still got contractors on the site and there’s at least another two to three weeks of work.
“For example, there’s some old stock fencing along the A505 which needs replacing. It would last for about two to three more years, but replacing it now feels sensible.”
Leighton-Linslade and CBC Cllr Amanda Dodwell, said: “I’m really pleased for the residents - it will certainly be a really good asset.
“It was quite a complex thing for the Town Council and CBC to take on because the body of water still remains in ownership of Anglian Water, so you’d have the surrounding park rather than the lake itself - something which would be quite complex. It just didn’t feel in the public interest for us to do that.
“The lake is essentially for drainage - without it the estate would be flooded. It’s there essentially so ground water has somewhere to go and it also goes off the Astral Park playing fields. There’s a pumping station on the estate, too.
“I hope the lake is something residents want to enjoy and that people make good use out of the area. I think it’s important to have an area where people who live on the estate can go for a walk.
“We have been pushing for this lake to be open and I will be down there tomorrow.”
Central Bedfordshire Council confirmed that it had declined the offer.
A spokeswoman said: “There was a legal requirement for the lake to be accessible and maintained for public use, however the funding offered by the landowner wasn’t enough, it would have needed significant ongoing investment from the council.
“We are pleased that a solution has been found and that Astral Lake Park will soon be open to residents for them to enjoy and hope that the public make good use out of the area.”