Strategic planning decisions which could have a major impact on North Bedfordshire and the surrounding countryside

A series of strategic planning decisions have been taken by Government, Bedford Borough Council (BBC) and East West Rail over the past year or so that could have a considerable impact on our Parishes and the  North Bedfordshire countryside but which residents may not be aware of. 

The purpose of this piece is to let residents know about these strategic plans and to advise you of the potential impact they could have on our communities and the beautiful North Bedfordshire countryside. 

Oxford – Milton Keynes – Bedford – Cambridge Arc development area

In March 2019, Bedford Borough Council was party to an agreement with Government committing the Borough Council to the Government’s development proposals for a massive urbanisation of the Oxford–Cambridge Arc, previously recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission.

This Agreement is called “The Joint Declaration” and a copy of it can be found by clicking here.

The National Infrastructure Commission has suggested +1 million new homes across the Arc. The Arc is approximately 85 miles long and 1 million homes is equivalent to around 20 cities the size of Cambridge. This number of new homes would encourage a huge population movement into the Arc from elsewhere in the UK, increasing the population of the Arc by approximately +1.9 million people – twice the population of Birmingham.  For comparison, the entire county of Oxfordshire currently has less than 300,000 homes.  This could result in huge development in our North Beds rural areas.

Meetings headed by Chief Executive of Bedford Borough Council to set up Ox – Cam Arc Growth Boards.

CPRE Bedfordshire reported in December 2020 that Philip Simpkins, Chief Executive of Bedford Borough Council (BBC), has been holding secret meetings with other local authority Chief Executives across the Arc to discuss development plans which will eat up huge areas of open countryside. Simpkins is Leader of this Arc Group of unelected officials. He would not have undertaken this role without the consent of Mayor Dave.

Four new Growth Boards have been established by these officials in conjunction with government – Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Central Area and the Cambridge & Peterborough Combined Authority. Neither the Chiefs Executive’s Group nor any of these Growth Boards have published their Terms of Reference. None has ever held meetings open to the public or published agendas or minutes – instead everything is being done with the utmost secrecy.

We understand that the leader of the CPRE Ox-Cam Working Group wrote to Philip Simpkins in June asking for details of the meetings and for the introduction of a more democratic process but that to date no response has been received. The Central Area Growth Board includes: Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Milton Keynes Council, Luton Borough Council, Northamptonshire County Council, Northampton Borough Council, Corby Borough Council, East Northamptonshire District Council, Kettering Borough Council, South Northamptonshire District Council, Borough of Wellingborough Council and SEMLEP.  Borough Councillors have been kept in the dark and have certainly not been a party to any of these decisions and yet such decisions affect all of our rural areas, which will bear the brunt of this development.

For Bedfordshire Local Authorities to say that government plans for development across the Ox-Cam Arc are unclear is we believe, a complete sham and it would appear they are being developed in secret. We would like to ask Bedford Borough Council, its Mayor and Executive Committee to come clean and publish full details of all meetings held by Philip Simpkins in his role as Leader of the Arc’s Chief Executive’s Group, including minutes of the meetings and the names of those attending. Details of all Central Growth Board meetings and who attends them should also be made public.

It is clear from the recently published Call for Sites information at that the Borough Council places a huge amount of this very large scale development in our rural areas, in particular north Bedfordshire.

On 2 July last year, the Deputy Director of the Ox-Cam Unit of the Ministry of Homes, Communities & Local Government, wrote to Philip Simpkins updating him on their plans “to begin discussions with local partners across the Oxford – Cambridge Arc on how we can together realise shared ambitions for growth……” Why didn’t Mr Simpkins or Mayor Dave tell the people of Bedford Borough about these “shared ambitions for growth”? Perhaps they were too concerned of the reaction from local people? 

Why do we have to look at the minutes of Oxfordshire County Council to find this information? This is totally unacceptable! The residents of Bedfordshire should not be treated as second class citizens and kept in the dark especially when we appear likely to have huge developments imposed on us.   Where is the democracy in Bedford Borough.

East West Rail – Northern Route

The Borough Council supported the northern route for the Bedford to Cambridge section of the new East West railway. East West Rail published their recommendation of the preferred northern route, Route E (see below) a few months ago.  More information can be found at the community hub pages of East West Rail.

East West Rail on map

© East West Rail 2020

The exact route is yet to be finalised but it will take the railway through Bedford Station and across the countryside north between Clapham and Brickhill before turning east past Ravensden and Wilden to a yet to be decided new station somewhere between St Neots and Sandy, then on to Cambridge.

This route was supported by the Borough Council as the best option because they considered that new towns previously proposed by developers in the countryside north of Bedford (Twinwoods, Sharnbrook/ Colworth, Wyboston) would be “better served by a northern route”- see Page 8, Para 2.10 to 2.14 of the BBC Response to the East West Rail consultation available on the following link here.

We understand that a new northern “parkway” station could be built (possibly funded by developers) around Twinwoods to serve these new communities should they go ahead.

The BBC consultation response to East West Rail was not circulated to Parish Councils and has not been published on the BBC website.

KNBG is very concerned about the impact of these development proposals on the North Bedfordshire countryside, already subjected to very serious biodiversity loss and also the effect of additional traffic on all the villages right across North Bedfordshire and the beautiful River Great Ouse Valley area.

Many of our rural Parish Councils supported the southern route (Route B) using Wixams as a parkway station to limit traffic entering Bedford Town, improving the quality of life of residents and then following the already established A421 transport corridor to a point for a new station somewhere between St Neots and Sandy.  Route B can be seen on page 16 of the East West rail consultation document at the following link here.

BBC Local Plan 2030 Review “Issues & Options” Consultation

Following the recent “Issues and Options” Consultation – part of the Borough Council’s Local Plan 2030 Review – the Borough Council has published details of the sites put forward by developers for consideration in the “Call for Sites”.

The “Call for Sites” now incorporates the impact of both the Ox–Cam proposals and the decision to take East West Rail north of Bedford.

These sites would be in addition to the already agreed 500 new homes for each of Clapham, Bromham, Sharnbrook and Great Barford – total 2,000 new homes.

Bedford Borough Council has said it they will make a decision regarding which of the proposed developments to take forward by the late Spring of 2021 as part of their Local Plan 2030 Review process. 

Below are excerpts from the “Call for Sites” maps:

This shows the sites (in pink) put forward for the Clapham, Twinwoods, Oakley, Milton Ernest areas. Around 6,000 new homes at Twinwoods, Clapham.

Call for sites map

              © Bedford Borough Council 2020

This is the map of sites put forward around the Sharnbrook, Colworth, Souldrop, Harrold area:

Around 4,500 new homes at Sharnbrook/Colworth/Souldrop

Bedford Borough Call for Cites

                 © Bedford Borough Council 2020

Note: to judge the scale of these proposed developments, Oakley village has 1,000 homes. The town of Ampthill has approx. 4,000 homes.

KNBG is very seriously concerned by these development proposals.  We would encourage all Parish Councils to join together to oppose these plans.  As a collective group Parish Councils you would have more impact than as individual Parish Councils.

Please let your Parish Council know your views on the impact of these strategic planning decisions. These can also be forwarded to the Mayor (email: dave.hodgson@bedford.gov.uk), your Borough Councillors, and your MP, Richard Fuller (email: richard.fuller.mp@parliament.uk).

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