Bedford Borough Local Plan 2040 Plan for Submission

Ended on the 29 July 2022
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1.0 Introduction

Background

1.1 Bedford Borough Council (the Council) has an up to date local plan that makes provision for growth to 2030. Normally local plans are reviewed every five years but this update was required sooner with the intention that it would reflect emerging national policies for the Oxford to Cambridge Arc (the Arc).

1.2 Policy 1 of the Local Plan 2030 required that the review was progressed swiftly, with the submission of the plan to government for examination by January 2023 to avoid local plan policies being deemed to be 'out of date' in the same way as they would be if the Council was unable to show a five year supply of housing land. In those circumstances local control over where development happens would be much reduced.

1.3 The timetable set for the Council's plan review was challenging before the Covid-19 pandemic began, but the change in working practices and limitations placed on the Council's staff, partner organisations and the Council's consultants over the past two years has meant that keeping on-track has been extremely difficult. Progress has been slowed as a result of the switch to remote working, restrictions on site visits (especially during the first half of 2020) and depleted staff resources across the Council and within other agencies.

1.4 Nevertheless, two consultations have taken place as scheduled; a first 'Issues and Options' consultation during summer 2020 and a 'Draft Plan: Strategy options and draft policies' consultation during summer 2021. The responses to those consultations have informed the policies in this plan.

National context and plan period

1.5 National Policy requires that strategic policies in local plans should look ahead over a minimum of 15 years from adoption[1]. With adoption planned for late 2023, the shortest end-date for this plan would be 2038. A longer timescale would have the advantage of giving certainty for a longer period but as is explained in the paragraphs below, many important strategic decisions that will affect the scale and form of growth in and close to Bedford Borough in the medium and longer term are likely to be made in the next few years. As a result, and having considered the Issues and Options consultation responses, the Council's view is that 2020 – 2040 is an appropriate time period for this plan. With a requirement now for five-yearly local plan reviews there will be sufficient opportunity to plan beyond 2040 once the regional planning context is clearer.

1.6 The government's ambition for the Arc is well-reported. In the document 'The Oxford-Cambridge Arc Government ambition and joint declaration between Government and local partners' (2019)[2] lead Ministers recognised the existing qualities of the location and its potential to attract additional higher quality jobs for existing and new communities. They promoted a long term view to 2050 and beyond, and committed to embedding 'natural capital' thinking throughout the government's approach to growth across the Arc.

1.7 The declaration itself is silent on housing numbers. It recognises that the Arc is first and foremost an area of significant economic strength and opportunity, and through the joint declaration the partners (including the then 43 local authorities across the Arc) set out to meet the Arc's full economic potential for the benefit of existing and future local communities and businesses, and in the national interest. There was acknowledgement that to achieve this would demand collective determination over the long-term to deliver homes across the Arc of the right quality and in the right places to meet its needs; also, that this might include the expansion of existing as well as the development of new settlements.

1.8 It will require long-term commitments to provide the necessary enabling infrastructure ahead of the arrival of new communities, and to meet economic and housing ambitions whilst overall improving rather than degrading the environment in the Arc, in line with commitments in the government's 25 Year Environment Plan[3].

1.9 In February 2021 the government published a policy paper entitled 'Planning for sustainable growth in the Oxford – Cambridge Arc: an introduction to the spatial framework'[4]. It explains why the government is committed to developing a spatial framework for the Arc; what it will mean for growth, spatial planning and infrastructure provision in the area, and how government will work with communities and local partners to develop it. The intention is to '…develop a long-term Spatial Framework for the Arc that will support better spatial planning, provide a blueprint for better-targeted public investment, give investors and businesses greater long-term certainty over growth plans, and allow communities to shape the long-term future of places across the region. The nature and content of the Spatial Framework will be subject to the outcome of both detailed consultation and sustainability appraisal' (para 2.1).

1.10 A first consultation paper 'Creating a vision for the Oxford – Cambridge Arc' was published in July 2021[5]. Government invited views to help create a vision for the spatial framework, and in doing so guide the future growth of the area to 2050. Views were also sought on the initial work done to scope the sustainability appraisal. Confirmation is given in the consultation paper that the spatial framework will form national planning and transport policy for the Arc area and local planning and transport authorities will need to have regard to it when preparing local development plans and local transport plans. In addition, the spatial framework will be capable of being a material consideration in the determination of planning applications.

1.11 Along with the Central Bedfordshire, Luton Borough, Milton Keynes, West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire councils, Bedford Borough Council is a member of the Arc's Central Area Growth Board. The Board was set up to demonstrate to government that together the authorities are committed to working more closely to deliver a step change in sub-regional collaboration. The Growth Board allows the area to speak with one voice to government on cross-boundary issues and matters of sub-regional importance in order to achieve the best outcomes for the people served by those councils.

1.12 Figure 1 below shows the geography of the Arc.

Figure 1: The Oxford – Cambridge Arc

Map of Oxford - Cambridge Arc[6]

1.13 The timetable for the production of the Arc Spatial Framework has changed over recent years. In 2019 when the examination of the Local Plan 2030 was taking place, the government's intention was to progress an engagement exercise in Summer 2019 to kick start the process. It was on the understanding that swift progress would be made with this framework that the Inspectors recommended, and the Council agreed to, the new Policy 1 and the timetable for the local plan review. A quickly updated local plan would provide detailed policies to deliver the principles set out in the overarching strategy.

1.14 No engagement took place in 2019 and inevitably the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic led to further timetable delays.

1.15 In response to this, and in order to create a more joined up and legible process, some local authorities in the Arc have adjusted their local plan review timetables so that local plan activity follows the completion of the spatial framework. Government, however, has urged Councils in the Arc to carry on with plan-making and, in Bedford Borough's case, the consequences of not doing so could be significant for the reasons relating to policies becoming "out of date" described above; so local plan work in Bedford Borough continued.

1.16 Whilst this local plan has emerged alongside rather than after the development of the Arc Spatial Framework, it shares many of the overarching principles relating to a focus on climate change, economic growth and the natural environment.

1.17 A review of business space has informed the allocation of new employment land in order to support the expansion of existing businesses and to attract inward investment. Where housing growth is concerned, as a result of existing commitments (including those made and to be made in neighbourhood plans) and new allocations made in this plan, the Council will make provision for significantly more homes as described in the Arc joint declaration. It will do this as a result of government's new standard method for calculating housing need, which it will deliver in full, and which results in an uplift of 40% when compared to the locally-calculated housing growth planned for in the Local Plan 2030, and by allocating sites that will continue to build out beyond the 2040 plan end date.

1.18 The natural environment and the need to deliver on climate change are high on the agenda when it comes to ambitions for the Arc. The Arc Environment Working Group was set up to take forward the environmental pillar outlined in the joint declaration.

1.19 To do this, the Arc authorities have developed a set of environmental principles which each authority has endorsed[7]. The Council considered and endorsed the principles in June 2021, alongside a report on the draft Local Plan 2040. The five overarching principles are:

  • to target net zero carbon at a pan-Arc level by 2040;
  • to protect, restore, enhance and create new nature areas and natural capital assets, including nationally and locally designated wildlife sites and priority habitats through the implementation of the spatial planning mitigation hierarchy of "avoid, mitigate, compensate and gain";
  • to be an exemplar for environmentally sustainable development, in line with the ambitions set out in the government's 25 Year Plan. This will incorporate a systems-based and integrated assessment and implementation approach. We will aim to go beyond the minimum legislated requirements for development;
  • to ensure that existing and new communities see real benefits from living in the Arc;
  • to use natural resources wisely.

1.20 The next step for the group is to put in place an Arc Environment Strategy, and both the principles and the strategy when it is in place will help to support the strengthening of policies in local plans.

1.21 For the Local Plan 2040 this work has underpinned a new policy seeking to achieve environmental net gain as well as biodiversity net gain, in order to help deliver the ambitions in the government's 25 Year Environment Plan[8].

1.22 Similarly, important is the need to tie this agenda to the economic vision for the Arc. This linkage is set out within the Oxford – Cambridge Arc Economic Prospectus 2020[9]:

"By 2050, the Arc will be a world leading place for high-value growth, innovation and productivity. A global hub where ideas and companies are generated and thrive, home to exemplary models of 21st Century development, with a high-quality environment and outstanding quality of life, and with a strong economic focus that drives inclusive clean growth."

1.23 Delivery of other national projects also has a bearing on this plan and its success. Foremost amongst these is East West Rail (EWR), a new railway connection between Oxford, Bedford and Cambridge. This is a major infrastructure project to deliver much needed connections between these communities and places further afield, linking people with job opportunities, new homes and economic hubs both locally and across the UK.

1.24 It is being introduced in three stages.

  • Stage One is from Oxford to Bletchley / Milton Keynes.
  • Stage Two will extend that service to Bedford
  • Stage Three will connect Oxford all the way to Cambridge.

1.25 The track between Oxford and Bicester is already complete and the next part from Bicester to Bletchley is underway. The section to Bedford involves refurbishing existing lines and is expected to follow on from Stage One.

1.26 The last stage from Bedford to Cambridge is more challenging because it will involve the construction of a completely new stretch of track from Bedford north towards Sandy / St Neots and Cambourne, then on to Cambridge. As this local plan is being prepared, no detailed route alignment between Bedford and St Neots has been chosen, though consultation has taken place and the feedback is being reviewed by the East West Rail Company before a decision is made by central government.

1.27 A brand new rail station will be provided in the area between Sandy and St Neots where the EWR route crosses the East Coast Main Line, and a new station will be provided on the Marston Vale Line between Stewartby and Kempston Hardwick. Bedford Midland Station will also be refurbished, supporting regeneration in the centre of Bedford.

1.28 The full route to Cambridge is expected to be operational by 2030.

1.29 Another significant infrastructure project is the upgrade of the road route between the Black Cat Roundabout (A421 / A1 junction) and the Caxton Gibbet roundabout on the A428. This will involve the building of a new 10 mile dual carriageway and a number of junction improvements, including the Black Cat on the A1. National Highways explain that 'the scheme will improve journeys between Milton Keynes and Cambridge, bringing communities together and supporting long term growth in the region'[10]. These works will be complete by 2026.

Neighbourhood planning

1.30 Several of the borough's parish councils have already played a significant role in progressing commitments for housing growth in the first part of the period covered by this plan. Given the opportunity back in 2017, ten local communities chose to prepare neighbourhood plans and make their own allocations for development in accordance with requirements in the Local Plan 2030. Despite the challenges presented by Covid-19, all have submitted their neighbourhood plans to the Council and as of April 2022 nine of the ten are now formally 'made'. A number of other villages have also taken the opportunity to prepare neighbourhood plans, even though they had not been given an allocation.

1.31 In total, the 'made' neighbourhood plans will deliver around 2,381 dwellings during the 2020-2040 period. This contribution is acknowledged and taken into account as the local plan strategy is rolled on to 2040. The following table shows the estimated number of dwellings allocated in 'made' and emerging neighbourhood plans at the time the plan was prepared (April 2022).

Table 1

Parish

Dwellings allocated

Carlton and Chellington

32

Oakley

40

Bromham

500

Thurleigh

30

Bletsoe

11

Stevington

None

Clapham

500

Great Barford

500

Sharnbrook

500

Harrold

25

Milton Ernest

25

Turvey

50

Willington

50

Wootton

105

Felmersham and Radwell

13

Odell

None

Wilshamstead

None

 

1.32 As has already been the case, in future, communities may decide to make neighbourhood plans and allocate development sites even though the local plan strategy doesn't require growth to be located there. Should this continue to happen, it will add choice and flexibility on top of allocations made in the development plan.

1.33 We will continue to encourage groups to prepare neighbourhood plans and to support and work with local councils in a joined-up way to make sure that local and neighbourhood plans work together to support planning at the local level.

Summary

1.34 Whilst there remain many uncertainties about planning for our borough area as a result of the emerging Oxford to Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework, the selection of a detailed route for EWR and indeed the timing of the introduction of a new national planning system following consultation by government on the 'Planning for the Future' White Paper[11], this local plan has been progressed so that the Council and local communities can maintain control through their planning policies over where and when new development takes place.

 


[6] Diagram taken from the document Planning for sustainable growth in the Oxford Cambridge Arc -an introduction to the spatial framework, and CAGB added.

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