Town's outcry: Save our countryside!

THERE has been a furious backlash from people in Leighton-Linslade over controversial plans that could see 850 acres of prime Green Belt to the east of the town ploughed under to make way for housing.

The LBO has been swamped with calls and letters from horrified residents who only learned last week of developers' secret moves to concrete over the countryside east of Leighton with 6,000 houses, schools, businesses, a duel carriageway, shops and a cemetery, increasing the size of the town by a third.

The scheme, which comes on top of the 4,000 houses being built to the south of the town, has provoked demands for voters to oust local councillors at the next elections.

Leighton-Linslade had not been mentioned in the government's plans to build half a million more homes until the town council's ruling Liberal Democrats approached housing minister Jeff Rooker, and asked for the town to be included in return for massive investment in infrastructure.

Councillors said they were just being realistic, as it was inevitable that Leighton would be forced to take probably another 4,000 homes anyway, so at least if we were part of the official growth area we stood a better chance of getting the infrastructure Leighton badly needs.

They insisted they would oppose any growth without infrastructure, but the move spectacularly backfired when the government agreed to include the area in its plans but has only announced state spending in deprived urban areas. So far Leighton has only been promised a new cycle route to help with infrastructure.

Instead the town council turned to private investment. Representatives from local land-owners, Arnold White and Willis Dawson, who are spearheading the east Leighton scheme, have been attending meetings of the town council's infrastructure strategic working party, a group headed by Council Leader Cllr Steve Owen, to advise members on what could be provided.

They have now formed an alliance with local farmers who are willing to throw in their green pastures from Eggington, through Clipstone and on to Heath and Reach as part of the development and offered 50million for shops, schools, an eastern "distributor" road, open space and leisure facilities.

But their generosity may well depend on being given planning permission for all of their building plans – and putting up 40 homes per hectare, which is what they are suggesting to South Beds District Council should the scheme get off the drawing board, has raised fears that the overall size of the site, 350 hectares, could support far in excess of the 6,000 houses being initially mooted.

The district council is the local planning authority and the government has ordered it to review the green belt around the town to enable an "appropriate contribution" to regional housing growth.

Cash-strapped local health chiefs have already put on hold the funding of a super-surgery for an estate being built on the Brown's site in Wing Road, Linslade, fuelling fears that developers may offer to provide health centres but they may not necessarily be able to open due to financial restraints.

One furious LBO reader, Andy Wood, of Albany Road, said: "Having seen the front page story concerning the proposed near-doubling in size of Leighton Buzzard, I can barely contain my anger.

"This town has been poorly served by government and politicians at all levels over the last 40 years, and now we seem to be looking at a final betrayal of the town.

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"How can such overwhelming development be justified? It would completely swamp the town and the surrounding area. Where will these people work? Where will they get their water? Where are the schools, doctors, dentists that they will need (and don't believe any developer who promises infrastructure – we've been let down too many times in the past).

"If all of these houses have cars, then that's at least another 6,000 vehicles on local roads. Is every road going to become a dual carriageway? What about the pressure on the local environment? The list of questions is endless.

"Leighton Buzzard already struggles to retain its identity as a small market town. Development of this magnitude will sweep that identity away, leaving Leighton as nothing more than a huge collection of faceless housing developments. The existing town centre will finally wither and die.

"Local politicians no doubt will bleat that we have no choice but to take these houses into the area, and that it's the only way for the town to get the infrastructure that is already sorely lacking.

"I find it ironic that it's these same politicians and their parties that have been responsible for the lack of structured growth and infrastructure in the area over the last 40 years.

"Now it seems they think the only way to rectify these past mistakes is to embark on a course that will ruin the town for generations to come. But, quite simply, two wrongs don't make a right. Leighton should not have to sell its soul to gain the facilities that it should already have.

"And there seems to be something of a shortfall in democracy here – many of these decisions (particularly the one that opted Leighton into John Prescott's grand scheme in the first place) seem to have been taken behind closed doors and with no involvement from us, the voting public.

"As a result, the recent consultation exercises by the town council may have become nothing more than the equivalent of re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. It worries me that we can bring such little pressure to bear on events through normal democratic means.

"This development needs to be stopped. The local companies and land-owners behind these proposals ought to hang their heads in shame.

"The politicians that have collaborated in putting Leighton in this situation need to be removed at the first voting opportunity. It's the least we can do."

Steve White, said, in an email to the LBO: "I was born in Leighton Buzzard and lived here all my life (49 years).

"Over my teenage and adult years, I have watched the gradual decline of the town to the non-entity it is now, due mainly to the incompetence, tinkering, lack of backbone and self-interest of successive elected councils regardless of political affiliation.

"This Eastern development is the final nail in the coffin of this town. If I wanted to live in a concrete jungle I would move to an inner city, but hang on – the inner city is moving to me !

"No doubt, those London boroughs currently offering incentives for their council tenants to up sticks and move out, must be rubbing their hands together.

"It is too big, and in the wrong place. What about the proposed flood defence scheme planned for the same area around Clipstone? What about building on what is already a flood plain? What about the so-called Green Belt and the environmental impact ?

"If I could afford to move out, the For Sale board would already be up."

Colin Lawrence, of Calder Gardens, Linslade, said Leighton had changed from a "suburban market town" to "a traffic-clogged residential centre" with a complete lack of facilities and he warned that developers would inevitably only provide the bare minimum of amenities while reaping massive profits.

He added: "My experience is that a massive majority in Leighton oppose this expansion but feel helpless, just watch the changes in dismay and simply get on with their lives.

"I think we are all fed up with the constant building and the changes being forced upon us, with their social implications, but do not know how to influence this expansionist bullying.

"The nature of this town is being irreparably changed. I cannot see any positives, just that we are competing more and more for space and facilities while the profit-makers make and take their profit and the town suffers."

Another critic said: "The shock of what Arnold Whites etc are proposing might just serve to jolt our town council out of its naivety in putting out the welcome mat for expansion and cosying up to developers.

"But the damage has been done – the developers have got their hooks in now and they're not going to let go until they get all, or most of what they want.

"'This town was sold out by council naivety and developer greed' – that will be the epitaph for the one-time pleasant town of Leighton Buzzard."

Read more opinions on our Letters' pages.

HAVE your say. What do you think of plans to concrete over east Leighton? Write and let us know either by letter to The Leighton Buzzard Observer, 17 Bridge Street, Leighton Buzzard, Beds LU7 1AH, or by email anne.cox@lbobserver.co.uk .