Friday, 27 February 2015

The Water that Sits and Sits on our High Street

Sometimes you couldn't make it up, could you, but this is the High Street in Houghton Regis, today as it has been for years.

I wrote, asking Highways when they would be sorting this drainage problem out. The response came back on the 24th February:

"We have logged your comments and will continue to monitor this. This issue will be picked up when all the remedials in the area associated with the Morrisons development are completed in the near future."

Meanwhile, a little further along the road, at the junction of The Green and Drury Lane, an apparently superfluous work is being done by Highways, ON LAND LOOKED AFTER BY THE TOWN COUNCIL who say they have not been consulted. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

#HRN2 Site For A Cemetery For Houghton Regis?

At the weekend I had a wander over Bidwell. Along the Chiltern Way, past Blue Waters Woodland, through the mud, and then stopped to look over the land to the north.

Looking north towards Thorn Road from the Chiltern Way, with HRN2 outline planned 

Houghton Regis current cemetery is almost full. We need a new cemetery to last the town and the new building in the town into the future.

So, I've commented to  CB/15/00297 - Land West of Bidwell (Houghton Regis North Site 2) Houghton Regis  that up to 6ha being part of the area designated as Playing Fields, bounded by The Chiltern Way, Blue Waters Woodland,  and Sewage Works could be set aside for a new cemetery for Houghton Regis. 

Also suggested that the developers be requested in S106 monies to ask the Environment Agency to investigate the suitability of this 6ha for use as a cemetery, and if suitable, to request that that 6ha are levelled to prepare the site as a cemetery.

And that construction of site roads up to the Chiltern Way footpath be done as early as possible to permit access to this new cemetery site. 

Part of the Chiltern Way footpath south of the red-lined area already has a hedge, and this could be extended.

Saturday, 21 February 2015


Riding on public footpaths is illegal, without helmets is illegal, on fields without permission is illegal, and if the rider has no insurance that's also illegal. If confiscated for all those illegalities the bikes can be crushed, and some certainly have been over the years, I wouldn't want to see that sort of financial loss for any local family. We need to form a group that will reach out to these young people, to educate and train them properly.

What can be done about motorbikes riding on footpaths and bridleways?
The Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management: This is a criminal offence if done without lawful authority, which may be the landowner's permission, and even with permission it can still be an offence if motorbikes are ridden inconsiderately or cause damage. The legislation is enforceable by the Police as for other road traffic offences. It is sometimes possible to provide physical barriers that will prevent users of motorbikes gaining access to footpaths, but this is usually less effective on other routes. Ultimately, the Police have powers to confiscate motorbikes and prosecute riders where an offence has been committed.

Is there a solution?
I see the issue as age related, late teens, bit of money in their pockets, and they find they enjoy doing something that is fun. Maybe they move on to proper motorbikes and learn to act responsibly. A few years back PC Darren Bambury was running a great club for young riders to learn bike skills. I think we really could do with something like that again. That of course depended on Darren's sense of responsibility and his joy of motorbiking. A way forward might be for responsible bikers in our neighbourhood to step forward to run a bike club to teach responsible riding, the law, mechanics and so on.

I could speak to the Town Council about using a community worker to help to set one up and possibly allocate some funding for it, but this would need people with the right skill set from our neighbourhood to agree to get involved. If anyone is up for that, please make yourself known to me.

Learn More About the Law and Requirements for Riders

Blue Waters Woodland

Update 22/2/2015 I had a walk around Blue Waters Woodland this morning. I see from the CBC website that cycling and horse-riding are not permitted (though goodness only knows how that is stopped!) Doesn't say anything about unhelmeted youths on pop-pop bikes, though, of which I saw three riding around churning up the pathways. 

It's quite muddy at this time of year, anyway, so boots are required. You can imagine how the corners are being churned up. When it dries out a bit, it's going to take a lot of effort to rake the surfaces back to flat, assuming that the pop-pops don't continue and make it too expensive to restore. 

The website also says of the site: "Friends / volunteers – None, but aspirational"
Therein lies the answer. It's the local people there that need to decide if they want a nice place to walk and watch butterflies , or to let it be taken over by youths looking for a bit of fun.

From the CBC website:
Blue Waters and Plaiter's Way
"Recent works have created surfaced paths around and between these 2 small sites. A natural play area has been created for children to enjoy. A great to spot butterflies on a sunny day. Perfect for a short stroll or a picnic.

Nearest Postcode - LU5 6 LU5 6RJ 

Car park - None 
Walking - Open access and public footpaths 
Dogs - Welcome but must be kept under control 
Cycling - Sorry not permitted 
Horse riding - Sorry not permitted 
Access Information - Entrances are accessible to manual wheelchairs / buggies, surfaced paths. Circular paths/routes. 
Picnic - Seating on site, but not specific picnic benches 
Toilets - None 
Cafe - None 
Friends / volunteers – None, but aspirational"

Comments on Facebook:

Planning Meetings: Where to Hold Them, And When?

From time to time I come across  concerns that few local people attend Development Management Control meetings at Central Bedfordshire Council because "it's too far to go".

I'm not really sure if that is a genuine concern, or just an excuse. Public transport between Houghton Regis and CBC's offices at Chicksands are not easy, but it is possible. A journey by car is much easier. If people have real concerns they'll do what it takes to get there if they feel it important to them.

There are usually several applications to be heard from all parts of Central Bedfordshire. Theoretically, it should be possible to have the councillors decide all the applications in towns local to each town affected, but I'm not convinced this would be a practical or a good use of councillors or officers time carting all their maps etc around. 

It might however, be practical and sensible in certain circumstances to have more meetings at localised centres, such as at Watling House in Dunstable for applications affecting Dunstable, Houghton Regis, Toddington and possibly Leighton Buzzard. The meetings might be held in the evening to facilitate attendance by people who work during the day, but this could mean they can go on until very late, and if you happen to be a councillor for say, Sandy, that means a long late night journey home.

The other beef often expressed is that "councillors who don't know an area shouldn't be deciding planning matters that don't affect them". It should be borne in mind that the councillors on that committee are shuttled around Central Bedfordshire to visit application sites prior to their meetings, so they often get access to private land that is not always afforded to the general public, so actually they can be more informed about aspects of the applications than local people. You also need to factor in that they will have built up knowledge of how planning works, what is a planning ground for an objection  and what is not. I would hope that most councillors would want to be seen as consistent in their approach, after all, similar applications requiring decisions may be made in any part of Central Bedfordshire.

Friday, 20 February 2015

CBC versus LBC And A "Duty To Co-operate"

An Inspector has said that he "considers the co-operation between Central Bedfordshire Council and Luton Borough Council in particular has fallen short of the required level." []

He is now recommending non-adoption of the Development Strategy Plan for Central Bedfordshire.

Cllr Nigel Young has responded saying, "I cannot and will not accept the Inspector’s conclusions that it is ‘inevitable’ for the area to meet all of Luton’s unmet need. We genuinely feel his findings are at best misguided, if not perverse, and next week I will be seeking the support of the full Council to call for a judicial review of the process."

Well, I think the next CBC Council meeting will call for a judicial review, but it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. LBC have not co-operated with CBC. At the development meeting I attended last week the 2 parcels of land in Houghton Regis off Bedford Rd were for determination as part of the overall scheme for Development. An LBC planning officer attended to verbally object but admitted they had not made written objections during the consultation period and that their councillors had not discussed the applications; it was just their planning officer objecting. As far as their ideas on planning go, he apparently wasn't even clear as to how he was to get back to Luton, as our Town Clerk ended up offering him a lift back to Clophill so he could catch a bus.

The Inspector's decision will make it harder for local councils to resist other housing schemes that come forward. By allowing building to go ahead off Bedford Rd on land that actually does include a minimum of some green stretches to broadly fit in with the aspirations of the HRN Framework Plan, CBC planning dept could argue they are doing their best to keep to the plan. With that plan now being classed as unsound due to insufficient co-operation with neighbouring LAs, developers could just argue back (with expensive QCs) saying that there should be no hinderance to them building. After all, they've long been saying that the Green Belt will be rolled back to the line of the A5-M1 link and assuming that it does get rolled back, then there would be nothing to stop developers arguing the case to fill up any remaining plots. CBC would have no plan to fall back on that says "This is how many homes we said we'd build, and we've now reached that limit".

Monday, 16 February 2015

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Aspirations? Forget it !

Section of  "Framework Plan" from CBC website

I suppose I could say that I had an aspiration to holiday in Hawaii every year, or to buy a new suit every month, but let's face it, as aspirations go that's all fine and dandy, but the reality is that aint probably going to happen. 

If we ever thought that the Houghton Regis (North) Framework Plan was ever a plan we could heavily rely on in planning terms, then we were sadly mistaken. For it is now abundantly clear that it is just a scribble on a bit of paper that totally lacks accuracy, sincerity, or even credibility.

The Framework Plan for Houghton Regis (North) was "just an aspiration" said the planning officer to the Development Management Committee at CBC, today. The "plan" was circulated in full colour on A3 sheets for its members at the meeting, showing broad green arrows where they had previously toiled to "aspire" to have green corridors from the east of Bidwell homes across to Blue Waters woodland. And despite this, two planning applications before the committee were clearly slap bang in the middle of these green scribbles. And they voted in favour of the applications. Thank goodness for those few prepared to vote against, or abstain from making a decision. Pity that more didn't.

My Report on the meeting