To receive the consultant’s report commissioned in respect of developing a planning led policy and to consider next steps and/or recommendations to Council.
The Committee received a presentation and project brief from Neil Homer on the potential to develop a planning led policy document for the town and the potential advantages/disadvantages of a range of different options. This followed an initial report presented to committee in June 2021 and previous discussions at committee/Council during 2019/2020.
Mr Homer noted the lack of detail regarding Leighton-Linslade in the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan and it was suggested that a town council plan could help fill this gap, although noted that the local authority was required to undertake additional review of its Plan from the end of 2021. Neighbouring local authorities would also need to consider their long-term visions and policies, as multiple factors were likely to significantly change public policy in the coming decade – notably post-Covid, climate crisis and proposed planning system changes which would have spatial, land use and planning implications. In addition, the development of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc would be in close proximity to the town.
Mr Homer advised the Council that it had a number of choices, one of which could be to wait a year or even two to see what Central Bedfordshire Council would do in its Local Plan review and potential change in direction towards a place-shaping agenda. It was possible there would be no disadvantage in waiting. Mr Homer advised it was difficult to quantify the tangible benefits of developing a plan or the “return on investment” but that development of a town plan could enable the town to have a greater influence over the future development of the town and might provide a better chance to leverage infrastructure than was currently the case.
Different options were outlined in the report but it was felt that the structure and status of a Neighbourhood Plan made it the most suitable option, allowing for the investment of time and creative energy in a structured, formal way. The scope would need to be agreed early on and the process for creation of a Plan was outlined. It was expected that there would be peaks and troughs in the workload associated with Plan creation and that a mechanism would be needed to continue monitoring and taking the Plan forward following its adoption, usually through a planning committee.
Mr Homer advised that in his experience the maximum cost of a Plan would be £100,000 of which around £70-80k would need to be funded by the council, over 2-3 financial years, with grant funding for the remainder. Costs were essentially for external professional, technical and project management support although internal project governance and liaison would also be needed.
A number of questions were asked by committee members and responses given by Mr Homer, who was then thanked for his presentation and report and left the meeting at 21:19 hours.
It was proposed by Councillor S Owen and seconded by Councillor R Goodchild that a recommendation be made to Council to agree in principle to make progress towards development of a Neighbourhood Plan, whilst recognising that this would be contingent on identifying the budget and resources for doing so. The Committee had received a report from senior officers clarifying that there was no scope for additional workload within the current administration and that the Council would be required to review its existing priorities and finances in order to give direction on how this could proceed.
On being put to a vote there were 5 in favour 5 abstentions, so the motion was carried.
RECOMMENDED to Council:
(i) That the Council endorse the principle of progressing towards the development of a Neighbourhood Plan
(ii) That should Council agree with the above principle, then an extraordinary Council meeting should be convened to clearly determine Council priorities and budgets/resources to deliver these over the coming five years.