Fairfield Parish Council (FPC) took care to ensure that the views of Fairfield residents were known and represented in its response to Central Bedfordshire (CBC)’s Local Plan. Two public meetings were held during the consultation process. In the first, FPC and Cllr Steve Dixon from CBC gave presentations on how the Local Plan will affect Fairfield and listened to views about how the community wanted to respond. In the second, FPC presented a draft report prepared by environment specialists CSA to Fairfield ahead of submitting it to CBC, in order to incorporate views expressed in the meeting into the final report. Residents were urged to also make their own respresentations to CBC.
The purpose of the first public meeting, on 25 January, was to brief Fairfield residents and gauge their feelings before FPC decided upon the nature of their submission to CBC’s Planning Department.
Although the Parish Council had received a briefing from the developer, with plans which included a relief road and a country park, they were at pains to stress that the route of the relief road had not been decided.
The main issue raised was the close proximity of the planned new houses to Fairfield. The suggestion was that they could be built as little as 100 metres from our western border. There were also concerns about whether the buffer zone would be adequate; the lack of detail about infrastructure (schools, shops and medical facilities); and that the already congested roads will be put under more strain.
The overall feeling of the meeting was that residents were not in favour of the proposed new development and FPC would make its submission accordingly.
In the second meeting, on 19 February, the draft report was presented and further concerns were expressed, in particular about the use of West Drive. Cllr Chris Bidwell stressed that there are no plans to open up West Drive to vehicular traffic, and that it will remain a public right of way for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. He further stated that FPC would strongly oppose any change to allow cars or buses to use the route.
The final report from CSA with additional input from FPC’s lawyers is encouraging, showing that it is possible to deliver the required number of houses and the infrastructure to support them in a way that is sympathetic to both Arlesey and Fairfield. It suggests that a buffer zone of 370m between the new houses and Fairfield is possible if houses are built adjoining Arlesey at the national average of 35 houses per hectare.
The report goes further, stating that the new road must be routed through the housing and not allowed to become a bypass, that pitches and allotments could be provided for the use of Fairfield residents as well as those moving into the new development, and that the Country Park should be designated an Important Countryside Gap to provide separation between the two developments not just for the 20 years covered by the plan but into the future.
The submission of comments on the Local Plan is the start of a process that could last three years or more. This stage was concerned with the strategic view and the policy of coalescence; it was Fairfield’s opportunity to influence the size of the buffer zone. The chance to discuss finer details such as the provision of car parking and where the school or health centre will be located will come later.
Picture excerpts from FPC’s final submission are shown on this page and opposite. A copy of the full report can be downloaded from http://www.fairfieldparishcouncil.gov.uk.
LOCAL PLAN: THE PROCESS AND WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The basis for the local plan is the direction by central government that Central Bedfordshire must provide 39,350 new homes over the next 20 years. If the plan is not submitted by the end of March, that figure could rise to 52,000. The public consultation ended on 22 February, and Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) now has just over a month to review all the comments and add these to the document before submitting the Local Plan for inspection.
The Secretary of State will appoint an inspector to examine the document along with all the representations from the public. As part of this examination, hearings will be held, and questions may be asked of the council, to which it may present written answers. This process may take up to a year.
Once the Local Plan has been inspected it will be sent back to CBC with the inspector’s recommendations. These are legally binding, so will have to be accepted. CBC may then make modifications, which themselves may need further consultations. Once all of this has happened and the Local Plan is ready to be adopted by the council, it becomes Local Planning Policy. Only after this can developers submit their planning applications, which must then be weighed against the new Local Planning Policy.