Time for 'innovative' ideas or is reality check needed for future of South Side?

A row over social media has reignited debate about the future of Land South of High Street in Leighton Buzzard.

Monday, 26th April 2021, 8:05 pm
Updated Monday, 26th April 2021, 9:40 pm
CBC's plans for Land South of High Street have been in progress since 2012

In 2012, Central Beds Council unveiled its development brief for the site – a new retail district that would be built over the area, with delivery anticipated for 2016.

But now the emphasis has shifted from the scheme - which included 30-plus retail units, anchored by a major store and a cinema - towards the prospect of more housing.

In a Facebook post, Cllr Amanda Dodwell stated: “I will not pretend that CBC is in a position to hold its head high here. This has been dragging on longer than I have been a member of CBC. But at the same time, I would urge residents not to buy in to some of the fanciful ideas that we still see promoted by some LLTC councillors.

“These ideas weren’t realistic 10 years ago, and they are even less realistic now. The harsh reality is the majority of the land will have to be used for residential development.

"I know this is not popular, and if there was a choice I would wholeheartedly pursue it.”

One campaigner complained to the LBO that Cllr Dodwell's comments showed a "pre-determined" stance in the event of a future planning application.

But Cllr Dodwell has stood by her comments.

She told the LBO: “Whilst I realise my comments might be seen as negative, I believe it is better to be realistic – even if that is not popular - than to give residents false expectations. I am not in the business of leading residents up the garden path with unrealistic promises of something that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future - I leave that to some of my colleagues!

“As far as my comments showing a pre-determined stance, nothing could be further from the truth.

“If someone put forward a fully funded proposal for just about anything – retail, leisure, entertainment, an arts centre – I would support that over any proposal for housing.

“To be clear - I do not want to see housing in the town centre. I would like to see it used for community use.

“However, as was confirmed by the CBC officer at last week’s Partnership Committee, and reiterated at CBC Full Council by the Executive Member for Community Services, there is unlikely to be any planning applications relating to this site within the next 5 years.

“Any development of community facilities by CBC would be dependent on S106 contributions arising from the development of the whole site. Put simply, CBC does not have the money to fund in its entirety a community facility on that site. That said, I was pleased to hear the contributions from supporters of an art centre who spoke at full council (see front page).

“What was described was not just an arts venue – there was mention of meeting rooms, a heritage centre, a café. I had not fully appreciated the extent to which their proposals had developed, and there appeared to be a hint that possible funding sources were being explored.

“If such a proposal was to come forward – and was not dependent entirely on council funding – then I would be very supportive of such a scheme.”

A spokesperson for Central Bedfordshire Council said: “Land South of High Street presents an opportunity to enhance the town’s existing town centre shopping area with new infrastructure and amenities for the community.

“Last September, an online consultation took place for land rear of the post office, enabling residents, businesses, and visitors to put forward how they would like to see the area improve and evolve. A development brief has been created to provide a framework of objectives and visions for the project. The brief is available to read on our website.”

Chairman of independent traders’ group LB First, Genarro Borrelli, said: “Whilst I understand Cllr Dodwell managing people’s expectations by not wanting to over promise and under deliver - many people are thinking this is going to the other extreme.

“There is a real opportunity for CBC to be innovative and our councillors to be bold and visionary or we can let them convince us that nothing can be done other than accepting more high density housing on top of the thousands of houses being currently built.”

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