A campaigner fighting to stop a retail park being built in Leighton Buzzard has chained herself to railings and a chair at the London-based offices of the landowners.
Victoria Harvey took the drastic action at Church House because she says the Church Commissioners are not following their own ethical policy by supporting developers Claymore Group’s plans for the out-of-town scheme.
The construction of the £15m retail park moved a step closer last month after Ms Harvey’s year-long battle to defeat it was dismissed at the Court of Appeal.
Ms Harvey, of Knaves Hill, Linslade, personally funded the case to see off plans for the Grovebury Road retail park, which she says will threaten the future of independent traders in Leighton town centre.
But she was told by a Judge she had no hope of overturning the original Central Beds Council planning decision for approval, handed down last November.
Outline permission for the retail park included proposals for a DIY store, four smaller warehouse units for bulky goods retailers and a standalone restaurant.
Homebase, Pets at Home, Dreams furniture and Bensons For Beds have registered their interest in the planned units on the 2.4 hectare site.
Once the remaining reserved matters on the planning application are settled with Central Beds Council developers Claymore Group will be free to press ahead with its plans.
Ms Harvey, who initially chained herself to railings outside Church House before later moving inside and chaining herself to a chair, said: “I have tried every democratic and legal means so my only option is direct action.
“It is disgraceful that the Church Commissioners are breaking their ethical policy for a quick buck at the expense of our local community in Leighton Buzzard, taking an absolute minimum of £2 million a year from our historic town centre.
“Market traders, residents, the town council, local retailers and local clergy have all opposed this.
“Local residents of Leighton Buzzard want clothes shops in the town centre not small bulky goods units on the bypass that could destroy our historic town centre.
“This case also shows that government is offering no protection for town centres and is making a mockery of sustainable development. A report of the House of Commons just before Christmas showed clearly that the government’s planning system is making a mockery of sustainable development, and is destroying our town centres.”
Ms Harvey has been supported in her action at Church House by her father, Rev Dr Anthony Harvey, a former Subdean of Westminster Abbey.
Dr Harvey has sharply criticised the Church Commissioners. He is taking part in in a lawful demonstration with residents of Leighton Buzzard beside Church House.
He said: “The Christian Faith is all about mutual service and responsibility in a community. The mission of the Church of England is to be a model of a mutually dependent and caring community. When I see a Christian Agency such as the Church Commissioners apparently abandoning this mission in favour of commercial interests I feel bound to protest.”
The Association of Market Traders Leighton Buzzard branch, Dr Harvey, All Saints Church vicar Rev Grant Fellows and local residents and retailers have also written directly to the church commissioners urging them not to go ahead with the development.
John Weir, Church Commissioners Head of Strategic Land Investment, said: “We held a helpful meeting with Ms Harvey and Mr Barry this afternoon.
“Our guiding principle from the outset has been to offer real retail choice in Leighton Buzzard, which complements the town centre offer.
“The development will provide a number of community benefits including the creation of up to 100 jobs, substantial contributions to the town centre, improved transport links and the potential for up to 15 small start-up business units.
“The planning authority approved our planning application initially and the courts have consistently upheld that decision as being the correct one.”
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