Sustainability Appraisal Main Modifications Report
Appendix A - Baseline Information and Key Sustainability Issues
The SEA Regulations requires the collation of baseline information to provide a background to, and evidence base for, identifying sustainability problems and opportunities in the Plan area and providing the basis for predicting and monitoring effects of the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan. To make judgements about how the emerging content of the Local Plan will progress or hinder sustainable development, it is essential to understand the economic, environmental, and social circumstances in the Plan area today and their likely evolution in the future. The aim is to collect only relevant and sufficient data on the present and future state of the Plan area to allow the potential effects of the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan to be adequately predicted.
The SA/SEA Guidance produced by Government proposes a practical approach to data collection, recognising that information may not yet be available and that information gaps for future improvements should be reported as well as the need to consider uncertainties in data. Collection of baseline information should be continuous as the SA process guides plan making as new information becomes available. The baseline information is presented below and structured around the following themes:
- Economy and employment
- Health and equalities
- Transport and movement
- Air quality
- Energy and climate change
- Water: resources, quality and flooding
- Soil and land
- Biodiversity and geodiversity
- Landscape and townscape
- The historic environment
- Minerals and waste
This topic explores the demographics of the plan area, and the types of settlement that exist, including the levels of provision and cultural aspects within these varying settlements.
The current population of Central Bedfordshire is 283,605 and approximately 12% of residents live in rural areas. The population is predicted to increase 25.4% from 2016 to 2041, to a total of 347,000. This is greater than the predicted population growth nationally, which is predicted to increase only 12.1% between 2016 and 204143. There is predicted to be a 73.6% increase from 2016 to 2041 in the number of people aged 65 and over in Central Bedfordshire, compared to a 13.6% increase in people aged 0 to 14 and a 15.7% increase in people aged 16 to 6443. This is again greater than the predicted population growth nationally over the same time period of all age groups (over 65s - 51.7%; 0-14s - 2.2%, and 15-64s - 3.8% increase)43.
The majority of the population (89%)16 in Central Bedfordshire were born in England with only a small proportion (1.8%) being a resident in the UK for less than five years according to the 2011 Census. According to the 2011 Census, 89.7% of the population in Central Bedfordshire identify themselves as 'White British, with the remaining 10.3% of the population identifying themselves as not 'White British'. This makes Central Bedfordshire less culturally diverse than England as a whole as well as a number of surrounding Local Authorities. For example, the population of Luton Borough identify themselves as 44.6% 'White British' with the remaining 55.4% of the population not 'White British'. This demonstrates a significant difference in terms of ethnic diversity and potential issues that communities may face in surrounding areas. It should be noted that the towns of Dunstable and Houghton Regis are more ethnically diverse when compared to Central Bedfordshire as a whole. However, this is perhaps not surprising given their location and close proximity to Luton.
In 2011, there were 500 people within Central Bedfordshire who identified themselves as a Gypsy or Irish Traveller, which was approximately 0.2% of the total population at that time, slightly higher than the England average of 0.1%45. Within Central Bedfordshire there are currently (January 2020) a total of 47 permanent Gypsy and Traveller sites, with a total of 370 pitches (Gypsy and Traveller sites and Travelling Showpeople sites).
During the 4.5 year period from April 2015 to September 2019, a net total of 9,000 dwellings were completed within Central Bedfordshire. This is a surplus of 1,800 dwellings when assessed against what was needed during that period49. As of the 2011 census, there are currently around 108,700 households in Central Bedfordshire45, and this is expected to rise to just under 150,000 by 2041 (equating to an increase of 1,377 households per annum). The predominant tenure is home ownership, accounting for 73.3% of the housing stock (owned outright, owned with mortgage, and shared ownership)45. Social housing and private renting are equally split, accounting for 13.4% and 12.2% of households respectively45. Although the average wage in Central Bedfordshire (approximately £33,000 in 2019) is higher than the national average (approximately £31,000 in England), when compared to the average house price in Central Bedfordshire (indicated by the UK House Price Index (HPI)) of £304,000, the affordability of housing is becoming a critical issue in the area, and access to the housing ladder may be unattainable for many.
In terms of crime, the most common offence in Central Bedfordshire is violent crime, which has seen an increasing number of instances since April 2013. There have been no significant variations in the total number of crimes reported over the past nine years; however there was a peak in crimes reported in 201853. The wards with the highest number of reports in November 2019 were Leighton Buzzard South, Dunstable-Icknield, Biggleswade South, and Dunstable-Northfields53.
The largest towns in Central Bedfordshire are Leighton-Linslade (population of 41,814) and Dunstable (population of 39,055). These are followed by Biggleswade (20,221), Houghton Regis (18,854), Flitwick (13,241) and Sandy (12,563)54. While recognised as towns and communities in their own right, Dunstable and Houghton Regis are connected to the existing settlement and infrastructure of each other as well as Luton. These towns are therefore less likely to have their own sense of identity when compared to some of the other towns in Central Bedfordshire, such as Leighton-Linslade and Biggleswade. There are also a number of smaller towns and villages spread across Central Bedfordshire.
It should also be noted that there are 38 designated neighbourhood plan areas within Central Bedfordshire that are all at various stages of developing Neighbourhood Plans.
The west and south of Central Bedfordshire is largely designated Green Belt land, situated between Milton Keynes and Luton. The majority of the land surrounding Caddington, Slip End, Luton, Barton-le-Clay, Flitwick and Ampthill, Westoning, Harlington, Toddington, Leighton Buzzard and Heath and Reach is designated Green Belt. Within Green Belt land, development will be expected to minimise the effects of urban sprawl, whilst meeting the needs of local communities. The Green Belt also has connotations for landscape character, in regards a predominantly rural character. This rural character is identified within the landscape section of the baseline information, and the Green Belt can therefore be considered a contributor to the overall character of Central Bedfordshire.
- In line with national trends there is an increasing and ageing population.
- Maintaining the identity of settlements and communities in both rural and urban areas.
- Meeting the needs of communities with different sustainability issues and ensuring that any opportunities to address these issues are maximised. For example, Dunstable and Houghton Regis are more culturally diverse than the other settlements within Central Bedfordshire.
- There may be a need to accommodate housing growth from outside the Plan area.
- Minimising the loss of important Green Belt land that provides protection for settlement identity, soil quality and open land.
- There is poor access to services and facilities in some areas of Central Bedfordshire, particularly in rural settlements.
Evolution without the Plan
Without the Plan there is likely to be a less coordinated approach to the delivery new employment, housing and infrastructure. New development is less likely to be delivered in areas where it is needed most. This could make it more difficult to provide for an ageing population and result in the loss of identify and sense of place for some of the towns and villages within Central Bedfordshire. It could also make it more difficult to effectively meet the needs of the Gypsy and Traveller community. The Local Plan provides an opportunity to set out specific policies for particularly sensitive communities that seek to address particular sustainability issues, and which could include requirements for new development in and around those areas.
Economy and Employment
This topic explores the distribution and types of employment available within Central Bedfordshire, as well as the working patterns of the residents, including where these extend outside of the plan area.
The main industries of employment within Central Bedfordshire include wholesale and retail trade (including repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles) (17.3%), professional, scientific and technical activities (11.5%), education (9.6%), manufacturing (9.6%), accommodation and food service activities (8.7%) and administrative and support service activities (8.7%). From 2001 to 2011, employment in manufacturing increased from 10.04% of the total workforce to 17.70%; employment in wholesale and retail trade, and motor repair increased from 17.08% to 17.76%; and employment in real estate activities increased from 1.54% to 14.31%. During the same time period, employment in the construction industry decreased from 9.67% of the total workforce to 7.99%; employment in education decreased from 10.47% to 7.53%; and employment in health and social work decreased from 9.59% to 8.05%. The industries displaying the greatest employment in Central Bedfordshire in 2018 include manufacturing (9.6% of employee jobs in Central Bedfordshire); retail and motor vehicle repairs (17.3%); professional, scientific, and technical activities (11.5%); and education (9.6%). Along with these key sectors there are also a number of specialisms, which reflect Central Bedfordshire's strengths in the engineering/manufacturing sector. Central Bedfordshire has high employment concentrations in sectors including the transport and storage, motor trades, and professional, scientific and technical sectors, and lower employment concentrations in sectors including financial and insurance, mining, quarrying and utilities, and health sectors, in comparison to national patterns. In 2017, total Gross Value Added (GVA) was £5.9bn in Central Bedfordshire, demonstrating a GVA increase of 31.9% since 2007. This reflects the 31.1% increase in GVA across the UK as a whole over the same period. GVA is influenced by total jobs figures, and therefore reflects the job growth in Central Bedfordshire over this ten-year period.
The number of people in employment within Central Bedfordshire increased from 81.5% in September 2018 to 83.7% in March 2019. However, this rate has since decreased to 81.1% in September 201958. The employment rate in Central Bedfordshire is higher than all comparator areas - Great Britain 75.7%, East of England 78.1%58 and South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) 79.2%. The rate of economic activity (82%) is also higher in Central Bedfordshire when compared to England (78.9%) 58. It should be noted that economic activity includes both people in employment and those who are unemployed but actively looking for work.
The unemployment rate in September 2019 was lower in Central Bedfordshire (2.1%) when compared to national (3.9%) and regional (East of England 3% & SEMLEP 2.9%63) comparators58. There were significant decreases in the unemployment rate in Central Bedfordshire from early 2013 until early 201658. Since then, the rate of decline reduced and started to level out, but has significantly declined again since late 201858.
Central Bedfordshire residents earn on average a weekly gross pay of £650.40, which is more than the regional (East of England) and national averages (£610.40 and £587.00 respectively)58. According to the 2011 census, over half of all employed Central Bedfordshire residents commute outside of the area to work . These residents are most commonly commuting to Luton (19.2%), Milton Keynes (12.1%) and Bedford (10.5%)67.
From January to June 2019 there were 824 new business start-ups. This is an increase in comparison to the 800 start ups between January and June 2018; however there has generally been a decrease in business start-ups over these months each year since 201168. The number of people who are self-employed in Central Bedfordshire steadily increased from 10.6% in September 2013 to 13% in June 2015, before declining to 8.8% in mid-201758. Since then, there has been a relatively steady increase to 12.3% in September 2019, with only a slight dip in December 201858. The percentage of self-employed people in Central Bedfordshire is higher when compared to Great Britain as a whole (10.8%), and since early 2019, the figure has also been higher when compared to the East of England (11.6%) and the South East Midlands (10.5%)58 63. It should be noted that the number of self-employed males decreased from 19.9% in September 2015 to 11.1% in December 2017, before steadily increasing, whilst the number of self-employed females has steadily increased from 4.4% since mid-201658.
The number of vacant retail units within town centres in Central Bedfordshire decreased from 4.3% in August 2018 to 3.1% in February 201968. Since then, there has been an increase in the number of retail vacancies within towns in Central Bedfordshire, with an average of 5.9% in August 201968. Dunstable has a consistently significantly higher number of retail vacancies when compared to other towns in Central Bedfordshire, with a rate of 10.8% in August 201968. Evidence suggests that Leighton Buzzard and Biggleswade appear to be viable town centres that are performing well and fulfilling their roles. Dunstable, with its high level of vacancies and poor environment, is facing a challenging future without any intervention. The smaller centres are fulfilling their roles and convenience and service centres serving local catchments – they have a range of provision and low vacancy rates.
The Functional Economic Market Areas and Employment Land Review identified through site assessments that there is over 2,000,000 sqm of employment floorspace within Central Bedfordshire and concluded that, while there is some degree of vacancy within that existing stock, the Council should continue to protect sites for employment use. The same study identified that there will be a potential need for an additional 240,000 sqm of employment floorspace up to 2031, and that there may be scope for further floorspace provision due to the demand from the strategic warehousing and distribution sector.
There has been an increase in the number of people from 20,200 in March 2017 to 38,200 in September 2019 receiving job-related training. There were 1,920 apprenticeship starts in Central Bedfordshire in 2017/18, and the most apprenticeship starts and achievements in Business, administration and law (570)61. This was a reduction in the total number of apprenticeship starts in Central Bedfordshire in comparison with 2014/15, when there were 2,070 starts61.
The Government's 2010 strategy, 'Britain's Superfast Broadband Future', has allocated significant funding towards a Joint Local Broadband Plan between these three authorities to improve broadband provisions across the area which can further support home-working. Despite this, in 2011 approximately 4.3% of residents in Central Bedfordshire aged between 16 and 74 years identified themselves as working mainly at, or from, home compared to approximately 3.5% in England. Since then however, the councils have been undertaking rollout phases of broadband, which aims to ensure that approximately 96.5% of Central Bedfordshire will be able to receive superfast broadband (speeds of at least 24 megabits per second) by 2018/19. Home working has greatly increased since the beginning of 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The most recent phase of the Broadband Rollout Programme started in August 2019.
- Over 50% of residents commute to the surrounding areas including Luton, Milton Keynes and Bedford.
- Dunstable has a significantly higher retail vacancy rate compared to the national rate.
Evolution without the Plan
Without the Plan there is likely to be a less coordinated approach to the delivery of new employment, housing and infrastructure. New employment and infrastructure are less likely to be delivered where it is needed most. This could affect the current trends of reduced unemployment. It could also reduce opportunities to address existing issues, such as the high numbers of people commuting out of Central Bedfordshire for employment, and high retail vacancy rate in Dunstable.
Health and Equalities
This topic explores the health of residents within Central Bedfordshire, as well as existing inequalities and areas of deprivation. It also identifies the types of leisure and recreational facilities available, and how the built environment currently contributes to encouraging healthy and active lifestyles.
The health of people in Central Bedfordshire is generally better than across England as a whole. Life expectancy for both men and women is higher than the England average (81.4 and 84.4 respectively)73. However, it should be noted that life expectancy is 6.7 years lower for men and 5.8 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Central Bedfordshire than in the least deprived areas73. Levels of deprivation are lower than average, and about 11.3% (5,765) of children live in poverty.
The rate of people killed and seriously injured (KSI) on England's roads (49.9 people per 100,000) and the estimated dementia diagnosis rate (57% recorded diagnoses of dementia as a proportion of the estimated number with dementia) are the only health indicators measured within the Public Health England profile that are ranked significantly worse than the England average75. Rates of mortality for under 75s, mortality from cardiovascular diseases, self-harm, hospital admissions for alcohol-specific and related conditions, infant mortality, childhood obesity, smoking prevalence in adults in routine and manual occupations, homelessness, violent crime, new STI diagnosis and TB, the percentage of smoking during pregnancy, breastfeeding initiation, people in employment, and early stage cancer diagnosis are all better than the national averages for England75.
Rates of mortality from cancer, suicide, hip fractures, diabetes diagnosis, smoking in all adults, teenage contraception, GCSE attainment and excess winter deaths, as well as the percentage of physically active adults and adults classed as overweight or obese do not differ significantly from the national averages for England75.
The more deprived areas of Central Bedfordshire are generally in the south, near the boundary with Luton. This includes the settlements of Houghton Regis, Dunstable and Caddington. There are also pockets of areas of higher deprivation within Sandy, Flitwick and Leighton Buzzard76. The average ranking of Lower Super Output Areas within Central Bedfordshire declined from 7.6 in 2015 to 6.3 in 2019, indicating an increase in deprivation .
The Council has investigated the domains (particular aspects) of deprivation and has identified particular localised issues as follows:
- Education, skills and training: a particular issue in eight Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) in parts of Dunstable, Manshead, Flitwick, Houghton Hall, Leighton Buzzard North, Parkside, Sandy and Tithe Farmwards.
- Crime and disorder: a particular issue in 14 LSOAs in parts of Caddington, Dunstable, Central, Dunstable Icknield, Dunstable Northfields, Dunstable Watling, Houghton Hall, Leighton Buzzard North, Leighton Buzzard South, Parkside and Tithe Farmwards.
- Barriers to housing and access to services: a particular issue in eight LSOAs in parts of Aspley & Woburn, Caddington, Cranfield & Marston Moretaine, Eaton Bray, Heath & Reach, Northill, Potton, Sandy, Shefford, Silsoe & Shillington wards.
- Income: a particular issue in part of Dunstable Manshead ward.
- Children: two LSOAs, in Houghton Hall and Dunstable Northfields, were among the worst 10% of areas in England and Wales for deprivation affecting children.
- Older people: two LSOAs were among the 10-20% worst areas in England and Wales for deprivation affecting older people. These were in Sandy and Dunstable Manshead wards.
The Outdoor Access Improvement Plan identifies that of the total population of Bedfordshire, 96% of people accessed the countryside, and of those residents who undertook the various activities within the countryside, 63% indicated that they used footpaths, bridleways, cycle paths or other tracks rather than pavements or roads always or often. In addition, 83% of residents visit country parks at some time. Furthermore, 94% of those surveyed agreed that having green space close to where they live is important to them and is an important part of their life80.
There are six leisure centres within the Plan area, located at Dunstable, Flitwick, Houghton Regis, Sandy, Biggleswade and Leighton Buzzard. There is also a range of smaller private and community indoor sports facilities across Central Bedfordshire. The Council further identifies over 1000 hectares of countryside managed for public access, wildlife, biodiversity and habitat; including woodlands, meadows, wetlands, chalk grasslands and moors. Notable countryside sites are relatively well distributed across the whole of Central Bedfordshire, with a cluster of larger sites located north of Leighton Buzzard. The north east of Central Bedfordshire around Sandy and Biggleswade has the lowest level of countryside sites83.
In 2019, four national Green Flag Community Awards were awarded at Houghton Hall Park, Linslade Wood, Tiddenfoot Waterside Park and Flitton Moor. Houghton Hall Park is a 17 hectare urban public park, located centrally within Houghton Regis, which has been awarded a funding bid from the Heritage and Big Lottery Funds 'Parks for People' grant scheme. Notable countryside recreational sites include:
- Ampthill Park;
- Aspley Woods;
- Dunstable Downs;
- Rushmere Park;
- Sundon Hills Country Park;
- Tiddenfoot Waterside Park;
- The Lodge RSPB Reserve, Sandy; and
- Millennium Country Park - Marston Moretaine.
In addition to the countryside recreation sites, Central Bedfordshire has a range of amenity, play and recreational open space located through the urban and village areas86. These sites offer a variety of facilities and opportunities close to where people live and work. Central Bedfordshire has a diversity of outdoor sporting venues which offer pitches, courts and greens to facilitate and encourage more formal sporting activities86. In addition to formal clubs, community sports facilities offer both formal and informal sporting opportunities86.
These sites all provide a wealth of leisure and recreational opportunities for all members of the community, including the young, elderly and disabled.
- There are areas of higher deprivation in the south of the Plan area, particularly around the boundary with Luton Town.
- Trends show that deprivation is increasing in Central Bedfordshire.
- The potential loss of green infrastructure as well as the new provision of areas of open space or recreation for people.
- Improving the quality of existing green infrastructure, open space and recreational areas.
- A need to reduce the rate of people killed and seriously injured (KSI) on England's roads and a need to increase dementia diagnosis rates, which are both ranked significantly worse than the England average.
Evolution without the Plan
The Local Plan is able to provide enhanced protection for green infrastructure networks, ensure that existing spaces are not lost to new development and that new development contributes to the enhancement of assets, as well as seek to achieve overall connectivity and equality of provision at a strategic scale. With a wealth of existing green infrastructure and local sporting and recreational areas, new development in Central Bedfordshire can be planned to ensure accessibility and increase opportunities for healthy and active lifestyles. The Plan can also strategically target planning gains at the most deprived areas, and thus seek to reduce inequalities. The Local Plan can therefore ensure that the built environment contributes to delivering health benefits, and supports healthy, inclusive and active communities. Without a Plan in place, development is less likely to deliver health benefits. There would also be an increased likelihood of negative effects on green infrastructure networks and existing facilities (for example through loss of undesignated areas or established facilities, or fragmentation of spaces), and less clarity over the type of provisions expected within new development.
Transport and Movement
This topic explores existing and planned transport infrastructure, existing local transport constraints, and patterns of movement across the plan area. This topic is closely linked with the topics of air quality and climate change, as potential effects on traffic are likely to lead to indirect effects on air quality and levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Central Bedfordshire has numerous key road connections running through the Plan area, including the strategic road connections of the M1, A1, A5 and A421. The plan area has good existing north-south links. However, it is recognised that there are strategic gaps in movement east to west, although this has been partially rectified with the opening of the A421 and the completion of the A5-M1 link (Dunstable northern bypass) in May 2017. A further improvement has also been identified as part of the commitment to growth in the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, to implement a new route known as the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, linking the M40 and the M1 to create a fast and direct connection. Permission was granted in September 2019 for a new strategic road to create a northern Luton bypass running from the A6 to junction 11a of the M1, connecting with the A5-M1 Link road. The new M1-A6 link road will be 2.75 miles long with a dual carriageway to the proposed rail freight interchange at Sundon Park, and then single carriageway connecting to the A6.
There are also three strategically important rail lines; the East Coast Mainline, the Midland Mainline and the West Coast Mainline; serving the towns of Sandy, Biggleswade, Arlesey, Flitwick, Harlington, Aspley Guise, Ridgmont, Lidlington, Millbrook, Stewartby, and Leighton Buzzard. A new station at Wixams is proposed, which once delivered, will be an addition to the Midland Main Line, located just north of Houghton Conquest, outside of the Plan area. Further to this the preferred route for the East West Rail project has been announced and will include a central corridor between Bedford and Cambridge that will run via Sandy in Central Bedfordshire. The western corridor runs from Oxford to Winslow, Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Bedford. Ridgmont Station (located in Central Bedfordshire) is a confirmed station along the western section91. Bus services operate between the main urban areas in Central Bedfordshire, and connect to neighbouring areas such as Bedford, Luton, Milton Keynes and Hertfordshire. The rural areas of Central Bedfordshire are predominantly served by bus services supported by the Local Authority.
The Walking Strategy identifies that Central Bedfordshire is conducive to encouraging walking due to the relatively flat topography and due to the presence of a number of small towns, all of which provide services accessible within a short walk. Despite this, walking only represents around 8% of journeys to work, although over half of all children walk to school on a regular basis94. Similarly, the Cycling Strategy identifies that Central Bedfordshire is conducive to encouraging cycle use due to the same reasons and identifies almost 60% of residents having access to a bike. Despite this, in 2010 only 2.6% of journeys to work were by bike, although almost 1 in 5 residents cycle at least once a week95. Away from the main towns, the Public Rights of Way network stretches over 1300km and opens up the countryside for rambling, commuting routes and leisure recreation.
There have been a number of changes since the adoption of the Local Transport Plan 3 in 2011. These will be reflected in a new strategic approach to investing in transport across Central Bedfordshire through a new Local Transport Plan 4. These include changes in Government policy and local priorities following elections in 2015; new opportunities for funding; establishment of Highways England (2015); completion of the Woodside Link & A5-M1 (spring 2017) as well as new major scheme priorities identified and the production of a new Local Plan97. In addition to this, the authority has produced a new Passenger Transport Strategy and Parking Strategy ahead of LTP4, which will then be incorporated into the Plan97.
The Council is proposing to focus the new LTP4 on delivering sustainable growth, which is considered to be the single most predominant issue facing the authority97. Given this focus, there will be three broad areas through which transport can contribute to facilitating growth, and these three areas are intended to form the objectives of the Plan97. The objectives will be supported by a series of targets and indicators, and where possible these will be the same as those adopted at the start of LTP3, to ensure continuity in monitoring and enable the Council to identify trends over a longer period of time97. The three objectives of the LTP4 are as follows97:
- Objective 1: Capacity – Provide the transport capacity to facilitate growth: New development will increase pressures on the transport network and the demand to travel in the local area. Providing new capacity and making better use of the existing capacity will allow the authority to absorb this increase and accommodate additional trips, to enable development to come forward and minimise the impact on existing residents.
- Objective 2: Connectivity – Improve connectivity to jobs and services: Connected communities which can readily access the new jobs and opportunities provided by growth ensure that all local residents can realise the benefits associated with new investment in an area. Improved connectivity also helps to give business a competitive advantage and embed sustainability into the growth agenda.
- Objective 3: Communities – Create safe and attractive communities: Safe, attractive and inclusive communities are places in which people want to live and businesses want to invest. Through the creation of more civilised streets, reducing the impact of traffic and improving safety and personal security, transport investment can help create communities and preserve a local environment that draws in external investment.
The Freight Strategy identifies that the M1 corridor running through Central Bedfordshire is a strategic location for the warehousing and transportation industry, providing good and fast access to the major strategic/national network. A number of large industrial parks, many home to national and regional distribution centres of large corporations are located close to M1 Junctions 9 through to 13 and along the A421 linking Bedford to the M1100. Improvements to M1 Junctions 10 to 13 and dualling of the A421 to the west of the motorway are partly in response to the impacts upon freight flows attributed to these large facilities. Other sites generating freight movements are located throughout Central Bedfordshire with industrial parks and warehousing facilities clustered around trunk roads by Ampthill / Flitwick, Sandy / Biggleswade, Houghton Regis / Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard / Linslade100.
Significant employment areas are largely based in the surrounding major urban areas, as well as a wider range of services and facilities; and although these are accessible by public transport, the distances to these centres result in journeys (particularly to work) which are much longer than average, with high levels of out-commuting placing additional pressure on the strategic transport routes93. Roughly 49.3% of all residents (aged between 16 - 74 years) reported driving to work in a private vehicle in 2011, compared to the England average of around 35.9%. Around 8.7% of all households also reported owning 3 or more cars in 2011, compared to the England average of 5.4%. It is also recognised that within Central Bedfordshire encouraging walking and cycling is challenging due to the relatively long distances travelled, as well as the quality of networks and perceptual barriers (e.g. estimations of time and distance)93. The longer journey times to access services and facilities also has implications for communities, and it is recognised that poor accessibility can exacerbate social exclusion, particularly for residents of rural areas, and lower income groups and the elderly93.
It is also important to note that road traffic is very closely linked to air quality, and concentrations of air pollutants are particularly high where the road network is congested. The Local Transport Plan seeks to address this by reducing the demand for travel, and encouraging the use of non-car modes of transport (through appropriate promotion and investment), as well as investment in low carbon forms of motorised transport93.
The Local Transport Plan93 further identifies schemes that are being delivered to improve transport and accessibility across the plan area, including:
- Freight re-routing investigation, walking and cycling improvements and public transport information provision in Sandy.
- Public transport interchange improvements, walking and cycling improvements, and town centre junction improvements in Biggleswade.
- Bus stop and information enhancements, development of a cycle network, and new pedestrian crossing near school in Arlesey & Stotfold.
- Introduction of shared space, bus stop and information enhancements, and pedestrian and cycling improvements in Dunstable & Houghton Regis.
- Access improvements to station, bus stop and information enhancements, and parking improvements for residents in Leighton Linslade.
Ten Local Area Transport Plans (LATPs) cover the whole of the plan area and identify a number of localised transport and accessibility issues. From these Plans common issues across the differing plan areas can be identified and include:
- Poor access to services and facilities for the smaller settlements surrounding the main towns.
- Improving the quality of public transport infrastructure (e.g. waiting areas).
- Maintaining and improving the frequency and routes of rural bus services.
- Tackling built environment features that restrict pedestrian movement (e.g. excessive guard railing in Flitwick and Biggleswade Market Place).
- Tackling demand for town centre parking and improving existing town centre parking provisions.
- Improving dedicated cycle provisions.
- Integrating bus and rail services to allow for interchange between services.
- Improving the quality and experience of pavements / walking routes.
- In a number of areas there is insufficient highway capacity to meet current and future demands. This results in congestion at peak times, predominantly in the main urban areas and on the strategic road network.
- Public transport is less accessible and frequent in rural areas compared to some of the larger settlements.
- Approximately 50% of residents commute for work to the surrounding areas - including Luton, Milton Keynes and Bedford - predominantly using private vehicle.
- Ensuring new development is in accessible locations that reduce the need to travel by private car.
- Supporting a modal shift, and a built environment that supports a modal hierarchy in which the pedestrian and cyclist have appropriate priority.
Evolution without the Plan
Without the Plan development may be less likely to deliver the necessary highways capacity improvements to accommodate the cumulative impact of new development, and car use is likely to remain high. The Local Plan can strategically plan for development in areas where the existing transport networks can accommodate growth, or where the necessary improvements can be more easily provided, and in locations which improve accessibility for local communities. The Local Plan provides an opportunity to coordinate the delivery of new housing, employment and infrastructure which will be more effective in helping to improve accessibility and reduce the need to travel. The Local Plan can also provide rural development that supports key services and facilities that contribute to improving accessibility within the countryside. A key issue within the plan area relates to the levels of out-commuting. The Local Plan can direct new strategic employment development to combat out-commuting and contribute towards the Local Transport Plan goal of reducing the demand for travel.
This topic explores air quality within the plan area, and the contributors to poor air quality.
Road traffic is very closely linked to air quality, and concentrations of air pollutants are particularly high in Central Bedfordshire where the road network is congested93. There are 3 Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) designated for exceedances of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) within Central Bedfordshire:
- Sandy - The designated area incorporates 10 metres from the kerbside of both sides of the A1 at the Georgetown exit, then south along the London Road A1 to the Bedford Road junction.
- Ampthill - The declared area incorporates part of Bedford St between Market Square and Brewers Lane on both sides of the road.
- South Bedfordshire - The AQMA incorporates Dunstable Town Centre, the A505 from the town centre to the junction of Poynters Road/Dunstable Road, the A5 from Union St to Borough Road, and the B489 - West St from the town centre to St Marys Gate.
Currently Central Bedfordshire uses passive diffusion tubes at 37 sites to monitor nitrogen dioxide and a real time analyser to monitor nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) in Sandy104.
The most recent Central Bedfordshire Air Quality Annual Status Report (2019) highlights that NO2 concentrations detected in Sandy and PM10 concentrations monitored within the Borough are compliant with Air Quality Objectives. It also notes that the levels of PM2.5 monitoring in Sandy have slightly dropped year on year since monitoring began in 2013, however these slightly increased in 2018105.
- Three AQMAs designated for exceedances of Nitrogen Dioxide in Sandy, Ampthill and Dunstable. Traffic is the primary cause for exceedances in National Air Quality Objectives.
- Road traffic is very closely linked to air quality, and concentrations of air pollutants are particularly high in Central Bedfordshire where the road network is congested.
Evolution without the Plan
Without the Plan there is likely to be a less coordinated approach to the delivery of new housing, employment and infrastructure in Central Bedfordshire. This could exacerbate congestion issues on the highway network and potentially affect air quality including the existing AQMAs. The Local Plan provides an opportunity to consider the cumulative effect of new development on the existing road network and determine what additional infrastructure and wider mitigation is necessary to minimise impacts. New housing, employment and infrastructure can be delivered alongside improvements to public transport in areas that will help to reduce the need to travel and potentially help to address an existing area of congestion, such as within one of the existing AQMAs.
Energy and Climate Change
This topic explores current energy consumption across the plan area, as well as renewable energy capacity and the predicted effects of climate change. Flooding is dealt with separately in the water section.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) produced the following consumption figures for Central Bedfordshire in 2017:
- Coal – a total of 74.6GWh (gigawatt hours) predominantly through industrial and commercial use.
- Manufactured fuels – a total of 10.6GWh predominantly through domestic use
- Petroleum – a total of 3,581.5GWh predominantly from road transport.
- Gas – a total of 1,875GWh predominantly through domestic use.
- Electricity – a total of 1,066.8GWh predominantly through industrial and commercial use.
- Bioenergy – a total of 96.7GWh.
The statistics indicate an average domestic consumption per household of 18.4MWh (megawatt hours)106. The total consumption of all fuels in Central Bedfordshire in 2017 was 6,705.2GWh, which has been steadily increasing since 2011 when 6150.4GWh were consumed, but remains below the 2006 level of 6,767.1GWh106 . However, the Renewables Capacity Study estimates that the total energy demand in Central Bedfordshire could rise over coming years, largely due to an increased electricity consumption. It will be important to implement measures to reverse the current trend of increased consumption each year and achieve overall reductions.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Renewable Energy Planning Database quarterly extract highlights that as of December 2019 there are eight operational solar farms with a combined generating capacity of 59MW, a 20MW windfarm, two1.5 MW individual wind turbines, a 1.1MW anaerobic digestion facility, a 16MW biomass facility and 28MW of energy produced from landfill gas. There is also 6MW of operational battery storage and a further 40MW under construction109.
This demonstrates that renewable energy development is relatively active in Central Bedfordshire, and the Capacity Study identifies that there is significant capacity for more renewable energy development106. The Council has also produced Renewable Energy Planning Technical Guidance Notes which help to steer the most appropriate renewable technology to the most suitable areas and inform planning decisions.
UK CP18 projections for the East of England identify the following main changes to the climate by the end of the plan period (2035):
- Increase in mean winter temperature by 1.0°C.
- Increase in mean summer temperature by 1.2°C.
- Decrease in mean winter precipitation by 5%.
- Decrease in mean summer precipitation by 10%.
The Central Bedfordshire Climate Change Adaptation Evidence Base Report identifies that the impacts of climate change that are likely to affect Central Bedfordshire most are:
- water resources;
- subsidence; and
- risks to the natural environment.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy produced the following emissions figures for sectors in Central Bedfordshire in 2017:
- Industry and Commercial: 446.9 kt CO².
- Domestic: 409.3 kt CO².
- Transport: 799.5 kt CO².
Evidence therefore suggests that road transport is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions within Central Bedfordshire at approximately 49% of the total emissions113. However, it is also important to note that domestic use contributes approximately 25% and industry and commercial contributes approximately 27% to the total emissions in Central Bedfordshire113.
- Evidence suggests that demand for energy is rising.
- Road transport is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; however commercial and industrial buildings are also significant contributors.
- Adapting to the predicted effects of climate change.
- Evidence suggests that there is significant capacity for new renewable energy development.
Evolution without the Plan
Existing planning guidance provides a framework for the delivery of renewable energy technology. However, the Local Plan can provide further support in the long-term approach to climate change mitigation and adaption, particularly through; setting aspirational energy efficiency targets for new development; the appropriate siting of new development; and the delivery of mitigation measures like new green infrastructure, sustainable drainage systems in new development and contributions to improved flood defence. Without the Plan therefore, development may be less ambitious in its energy performance, and planning gains are less likely to be delivered in a timely and coordinated manner.
Water: Resources, Quality and Flooding
This topic explores all aspects of the water environment in Central Bedfordshire, including the demand for and supply of water, wastewater treatment, the quality of water bodies in the plan area, and fluvial and pluvial flood risk.
The majority of Central Bedfordshire falls within the Ruthamford South Water Resource Zone (WRZ), which is supplied by Anglian Water. A small proportion of Central Bedfordshire to the south falls within the Lee WRZ, which is supplied by Affinity Water.
The Anglian Water Resource Management Plan (WRMP) 2019 forecasts that under dry year annual average conditions and without investment to maintain the supply-demand balance, the Ruthamford South WRZ will be in deficit of -15.4 Ml/d by 2020, reaching 23.7 Ml/d in 2045. This is predominantly as a result of population growth, climate change, and environmental needs114. The Anglian WRMP sets out a preferred plan including challenging the company and customers with regards to levels of future consumption, maximising the use of existing resources before developing new ones, and delivering environmental benefits by reducing abstraction and ensuring no deterioration in the ecological status of water bodies within the region114. However, the plan states that this deficit will be resolved in 2024 by the transfer of additional resource from Lincolnshire into the Ruthamford system114.
The Affinity WRMP forecasts that the Lee WRZ will also be in deficit during the Plan period without appropriate mitigation and investment. One of the primary reasons for this is that the population is projected to grow by 25% within the Lee WRZ during the life of the WRMP115. The Plan proposes a number of options to maintain the supply-demand balance including reducing leakage and improving water efficiency115.
Central Bedfordshire overlies areas of Secondary and Principal Aquifer as well as unproductive strata. Principal Aquifers are geological strata that exhibit high permeability and provide a high level of water storage. They may support water supply and/or river base flow on a strategic scale. Secondary aquifers are often capable of supporting water supplies at a local scale and normally provide an important source of flow to some rivers117. The use of groundwater in the area makes it vulnerable to pollution; and, a number of licensed abstractions are present across the plan area. Central Bedfordshire exhibits all groundwater Source Protection Zones (SPZ)118.
It is also recognised within the Water Cycle Study118 that one of the most likely effects of climate change to impact upon Central Bedfordshire will be a deterioration of water quality as a result of reduced river flows decreasing the dilution of effluent. Tighter Environment Agency environmental permits may be required to ensure that no deterioration in effluent quality results. The Water Cycle Study assessment also indicates that Bedford, Biggleswade, Clifton, Marston Moretaine, Shillington and Tempsford are all forecast to exceed their permitted dry weather flow as a result of planned growth during the plan period. Continued liaison between Central Bedfordshire Council and the Water Companies, as well as between developers and the Water Companies, is essential to ensure that additional wastewater treatment capacity is in place in time to accommodate the planned growth, and that there will be no detriment to service to customers or to the environment.
Central Bedfordshire predominantly falls within the Upper and Bedford Ouse catchment management area, within the Anglian River Basin District, which is itself comprised of five smaller operational catchments. Within Central Bedfordshire, the area to the north and north east of Luton falls within the Ivel catchment, the area to the west of Luton and south east of Milton Keynes falls within the Ouzel and Milton Keynes catchment, and the north of Central Bedfordshire to the east of Milton Keynes falls within the Bedford Ouse catchment120.
The overall water quality classification status for the water bodies within these catchments are predominantly moderate. Within Central Bedfordshire, no water bodies are currently identified to have an overall bad status, and only the River Ivel (US Henlow) and Broughton Brook are identified to have an overall poor status121. Seven water bodies are identified within Central Bedfordshire as having an overall good status; Brogborough Lake, Ickwell Brook, Millbridge and Potton Brooks, Hexton Brook, New Inn Brook, Clipstone Brook and Clipstone Brook Tributary121.
The percentage of water bodies within the Great Ouse Bedford, Ivel and Ouzel and Milton Keynes catchments identified as having 'good' overall status has steadily decreased since 2013, however some waterbodies have seen improvements over recent years and others have seen a decline121. There are a variety of reasons as to why a waterbody does not achieve good status; however the majority of reasons identified for these catchments are due to the water industry (the reason for 23.9% of cases), including sewage discharge, and agriculture; and rural land management activities (the reason for 33.8% of cases), including poor nutrient management, land drainage, poor livestock management and poor soil management121. The majority of Central Bedfordshire is also within surface water Safeguard Zones with associated issues of pesticides in drinking water sources, as well as some zones associated with issues of nitrate, boron, and benzo-a-pyrene116. In line with the Water Framework Directive the Local Plan should seek to prevent deterioration of water quality, and ultimately seek to improve water quality in the plan area.
It should also be noted that the Anglian Water WRMP (2019) states that pollution from pesticides and other agricultural by-products present challenges to water supply123. Climate change projections predict that there will be more frequent and intense downpours in the region, which could result in increased agricultural nitrate and pesticide run-off from fields.
Records of historic flooding are spread throughout Central Bedfordshire, but there is a greater intensity of reported events to the centre and northeast of the area. It should be noted that the parishes of Ampthill, Arlesey, Clifton, Harlington, Northill, Sandy and Shefford have the greatest density of historical flooding incidences124. Generally historic incidences within these parishes have been attributable to high water levels in field or highway drainage (ditches)124.
The areas of Ampthill, Campton and Chicksands parish and Henlow, each sited close to watercourses which flow eastwards towards the River Ivel, as well as Eaton Bray, are reported to have higher numbers of properties at risk than elsewhere within Central Bedfordshire124. The parishes at greatest risk from surface water flooding are also identified in the Local Flood Risk Management Strategy as Biggleswade, Dunstable, Flitwick, Houghton Regis and Leighton Buzzard124.
- Increased pressure on water resources particularly in the Anglian region as a result of high population density and relatively low rainfall.
- According to the Environment Agency (EA) water quality is declining in some areas and improving in others. The EA identifies sewage discharge from the water industry and agriculture and rural land management activities, including poor nutrient management, land drainage, poor livestock management and poor soil management, as being some of the most common reasons for water bodies not achieving good status under WFD.
- High flood risk areas situated around existing water courses, and areas at risk of surface water flooding.
Evolution without the Plan
Development will still come forward without the Plan and will need to be in line with current national and local policies and guidance in relation to the protection of water resources and quality; incorporation of efficiency measures; management of surface water run-off and avoidance of flood risk areas. However, the Local Plan gives the Council the opportunity to more effectively coordinate development and direct it towards those areas that are potentially less sensitive and have lower risk of flooding. It also provides an opportunity for the Council to set more aspirational requirements for future development in terms of water efficiency standards and the management of surface water run-off.
Soil and Land
This section explores the availability and quality of land across the plan area, to include the underlying geology, agricultural land and its quality, existing or potential contaminated land, Green Belt land, and the use of previously developed land.
The geology of Central Bedfordshire has shaped a number of the other topics discussed in the baseline information, including landscape, the historic environment, water resources, water quality, flooding, and economic mineral excavation. The geology of Central Bedfordshire is largely comprised of clay and chalk116. The dominating soils include lime-rich loamy and clayey soils with impeded drainage, slightly acid loamy and clayey soils with impeded drainage, freely draining slightly acid loamy soils, freely draining slightly acid sandy soils, and shallow lime-rich soils over chalk or limestone116.
The plan area is identified as a predominantly rural landscape (see landscape baseline information below). Defra identifies areas of the best and most versatile agricultural land (Grades 1, 2 and 3a) situated largely in the north east of the Plan area116.
Of new employment completions in 2017/18, only 19% were completed on previously developed land. This is significantly lower than recent years, for which the figure ranged from 70-99% from 2011/12 to 2016/17. The Authority Monitoring report notes this is was primarily due to the Marston Gate expansion development, a greenfield site that accounts for the majority of employment floorspace gained during 2017/18125. Of all new housing completions in this same period, around 30% were located on previously developed land125. The proportion of houses completed on previously developed land has been steadily decreasing in 2013/14, whilst the total number of houses completed has been significant increasing since 2012/13125.
In 2010, the Council identified some 1,800 sites of potential concern of contamination due to their historical or current exposure to landfill, sand/clay extraction, and various other types of industrial land use. Further to this, some areas of Bedfordshire have been designated as lowest level radon affected areas and require case-by-case investigation126.
- The retention and protection of best and most versatile agricultural land, which is a national issue.
- The appropriate remediation of contaminated land.
Evolution without the Plan
Land and soils are key in the provision of new development, and development can lead to significant effects on the quantity and quality of soil. Development has the potential to result in the loss of best quality soils, and to affect the quality of base and surrounding soils as a result of disturbance or contamination. The Local Plan can act as a delivery mechanism for the protection of soil quality and appropriate direction of new growth, for example by directing development towards previously developed land where possible, or the appropriate minimisation of risks, for example requiring remediation of contaminated sites where necessary. Without the Local Plan, there is likely to be a less coordinated approach to the delivery of development. For example, development may not be directed to those areas of lower agricultural land quality.
Biodiversity and Geodiversity
This topic identifies designated biodiversity and geodiversity across the plan area as well as important habitats and species. It also seeks to identify key ecological corridors.
There are no European designated sites within Central Bedfordshire; however, Habitats Regulations Assessment work carried out for the submitted Local Plan in 2018 scoped into the assessment the following European sites within the influence of the Plan:
Distance from Central Bedfordshire Boundary (km)
Eversden and Wimpole Woods
Upper Nene Gravel Pits
There are a number of nationally designated sites, including 33 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and three National Nature Reserves (NNRs) within Central Bedfordshire. Barton Hills NNR is recognised for neutral and calcareous grassland and ancient semi-natural woodland128. King's Wood, Heath and Reach NNR is recognised for its ancient semi-natural woodland, neutral grassland and boulder clay grassland128. Knocking Hoe NNR is an area of species rich calcareous grassland in the north of the Chilterns. For further details on the SSSI's and their qualifying features, please refer to Appendix 2 of the Nature Conservation Strategy (2015)128.
There are also a number of sites that are designated locally for their biodiversity and geodiversity importance, these include:
- 12 Local Nature Reserves (LNR); Galley and Warden Hills, Coopers Hill, Marston Thrift, Maulden Church Meadows, Flitwick Wood, Cottage Bottom Fields, Henlow Common and Langford Meadows, Kingswood and Glebe Meadows, Totternhoe Knolls, The Riddy, Flitton Moor and Stotfold Mills Meadows116.
- 259 County Wildlife Sites (CWSs); eight are shared with Bedford, and five are shared with Luton128.
- 20 Road Verge Nature Reserves (RNRs); nine are within or adjacent to a SSSI128.
- 20 Local Geological Sites (LGSs)128.
Central Bedfordshire contains a variety of habitats and species that are recognised in Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 as of "principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity". Around 107 species and 18 habitats of 'principal importance' have been recorded in Central Bedfordshire. Some of these habitats and species are set out below128:
- Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus).
- House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) and Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) along with a range of other birds.
- White Helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium) amongst a few other flowering plants including other orchids such as the Man Orchid (Aceras anthropophorum) and Musk Orchid (Herminium monorchis).
- Butterflies such as the Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus), Small Blue (Cupido minimus) and Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages).
- Depressed river mussel (Pseudanodonta complanata).
- Large Garden Bumble Bee (Bombus ruderatus).
- Slow worm (Anguis fragilis) and Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara).
- Water vole (Arvicola amphibius), Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) and Brown Hares (Lepus europaeus).
- Lowland dry acid grassland.
- Cereal field margins.
- Floodplain grazing marsh.
- Lowland beech and yew woodland.
- Lowland calcareous grassland.
- Lowland fens.
- Lowland heathland.
- Lowland meadows.
- Lowland mixed deciduous woodland.
- Open mosaic habitats on previously developed land.
- Purple moor grass and rush pastures.
- Traditional orchards.
- Wet woodland.
- Wood-pasture and parkland.
It is recognised that access to some designated sites may be detrimental if there are large numbers of people visiting them due to disturbance, and that some sites are more sensitive to this disturbance at certain times of the year. It is important to ensure the protection and conservation of the species and habitats for which these sites are designated. It is also vital that the connectivity of habitats are maintained to ensure ecological corridors that enable the movement of mobile species within Central Bedfordshire and surrounding local planning authorities. Local Plans must therefore ensure that development seeks to avoid important biological networks and seeks opportunities to enhance them where possible.
The Greensand Ridge is a narrow, elongated, elevated area which runs in a north-east/south-west direction covering a significant part of Central Bedfordshire. It is recognised as a locally designated Nature Improvement Area (NIA) by Central Bedfordshire Council and the Bedfordshire Local Nature Partnership, and is associated with grassland, heathland and woodland. However, the distinctive mosaic of habitats that give the Greensand Ridge its character have been eroded over time by changes in land use and agricultural practices132. The habitats that remain within Greensand Ridge NIA support a rich variety of species, some of which are locally or nationally rare. Although core biodiversity hotspots still exist, they have become increasingly smaller and more isolated133. Small isolated populations are more vulnerable to local extinction than larger, well-connected populations133. Therefore, the designation of the Nature Improvement Area aims to protect the existing habitats and ensure that the necessary ecological corridors exist to maintain habitat connectivity and healthy populations of species132.
- The need to protect and enhance the nationally and locally designated sites for nature conservation and geodiversity that are present within Central Bedfordshire, as well as a range of important habitats and species.
- The need to protect and enhance important ecological corridors within Central Bedfordshire and the Greensand Ridge NIA, as well as into the surrounding LAs.
Evolution without the Plan
Development will still come forward without the Plan and will need to be in line with current national and local policies and guidance in relation to the protection of biodiversity and geodiversity. However, the Local Plan gives the Council the opportunity to more effectively coordinate development and direct it towards those areas that are potentially more vulnerable. It also provides an opportunity to consider and address potential strategic cumulative effects on biodiversity that may not be taken into account at a lower level of plan-making. Development could be directed away from important ecological corridors or perhaps help to improve habitat connectivity, not only within Central Bedfordshire but also the surrounding areas.
Landscape and Townscape
This topic explores both designated and non-designated landscapes, their special qualities and overall character, and the potential threats to both designated land and landscape character areas.
Central Bedfordshire stretches across the centre and south of Bedfordshire, over an area of 716km². The area is predominantly rural, comprising countryside, villages, and small to medium sized towns, including Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable. The area has a varied and distinct landscape, informed by the underlying geology of clay, chalk and greensand.
South east of Dunstable and north of Luton lies the distinctive chalk escarpment of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The AONB was originally designated in 1965 and then extended in 1990 to encompass a total area of 833km² 135. It aims to protect several special qualities of the area, including the steep chalk escarpment, flower-rich downland, woodlands, commons, tranquil valleys, a network of ancient routes, villages with brick and flint houses, chalk streams and a rich historic environment of hillforts and chalk figures135. The Chilterns is one of the most densely wooded parts of the UK with nearly 23% woodland cover, of which 56% is ancient woodland135. Some of the Chilterns' most distinctive natural features are its chalk streams, fed by groundwater from the chalk aquifer. Chalk streams are a globally scarce habitat and support a range of specialised wildlife. In the Chilterns, these habitats provide a home for the threatened water vole135.The Chilterns is also a significant tourism attraction in the UK, being relatively accessible to a large population - 1.6 million people live within 8km of the AONB135.
In the north of the Plan area lies the southern half of the Marston Vale Community Forest. As one of only 12 Community Forests across England, the area was designated in the 1990s to regenerate land around the towns and cities, scarred by industrialisation. The Forest of Marston Vale is being created to address the effects of the brick making industry, and with over 2 million trees already planted the woodland cover has increased from around 3.6% to around 15.4%. The target is to get to 30% cover by planting over 5 million more trees. The forest offers several benefits to the landscape and local community, including habitats for wildlife, atmospheric CO2 removal, a revitalised economy through a future timber supply, and physical and mental health benefits through recreational opportunities and local community engagement137.
National Character Areas
The Central Bedfordshire plan area contains four different National Character Areas (NCAs) (87, 88, 90 and 110), each are summarised below116.
NCA87: East Anglian Chalk:
A small area of this NCA lies in the east of Central Bedfordshire and north of Letchworth Garden City. It includes Stotfold and Arlesey. The NCA is characterised by the narrow continuation of the chalk ridge; a visually simple and uninterrupted landscape of smooth, rolling chalkland hills with large regular fields enclosed by low hawthorn hedges, with few trees, straight roads and expansive views to the north. Rain is largely absorbed through the porous underlying Chalk geology which replenishes the strategically important chalk aquifer below. Historic use of the land has led to botanically rich grasslands, which are now often fragmented, and care must be taken to maintain soil quality. There is pressure for more development which can increase the demand for water and is likely to reduce the tranquillity of the NCA. There is great opportunity to work with the horse-racing industry to improve the quality of the grassland and shelterbelts for the benefit of biodiversity. The area contains ancient trackways, including Icknield Way, and strategic road and railway transport links.
NCA88: Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Claylands:
This NCA surrounds NCA90 (Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge below) to encompass the remaining areas of Central Bedfordshire including Biggleswade, Cranfield, Shefford, Toddington and Wrestlingworth. The NCA is a broad, undulating, lowland plateau, dissected by shallow river valleys that gradually widen in the east. The NCA contains the Forest of Marston Vale and a small proportion of the Chilterns AONB. Restored clay, sand and gravel extraction areas provide opportunities for recreation and biodiversity. Tranquillity within the NCA has declined and is impacted by; visual intrusion; noise and light pollution from agriculture; settlement expansion; improvements in road infrastructure; mineral extraction; and landfill activities. Many areas, however, retain a rural feel with numerous opportunities for local, quiet and informal recreation. The area provides unique genetic diversity found in local varieties of fruit, and the rivers and wetlands provide water resources and regulate water quality. The NCA faces significant challenges with accommodating future growth, increased demand for leisure and recreation, and the management of water resources, including potential impacts further downstream in other NCAs, whilst at the same time protecting and enhancing its character.
NCA90: Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge:
This NCA runs in a north-east to south-west band through the Plan area to include Potton, Sandy, Chicksands, Ampthill, Eversholt, Woburn and Leighton Buzzard. The NCA is a narrow ridge rising out of the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Claylands (NCA88 above). The historic landscape of this area, combined with small settlements, greenbelt and woodlands give parts of the NCA a more timeless feel than the surrounding claylands. There is a patchwork of semi-natural habitats throughout the Greensand Ridge area, including flood plain grazing marshes, lowland heathland, meadows and mixed deciduous woodland. The north-west facing scarp slope overlooks Milton Keynes and Marston Vale forming a significant landscape feature from a distance. Food, timber and biomass provision on the Ridge are regionally important, and the Ridge is nationally important for recreation. The main pressures on the NCA would result from development, use of bland, non-local materials, increased congestion and increased traffic noise and light pollution.
This NCA lies in the south of Central Bedfordshire and includes Houghton Regis, Streatley, Barton-le-Clay, Dunstable and south Luton. The area is an extensively wooded and farmed landscape, underlain by chalk bedrock and breached by the River Thames. Approximately half of the NCA is located within the designated Chilterns AONB, and a small area south of the River Thames is within the designated North Wessex Downs AONB (though this is not within the plan area). Motorways and railways make the area very accessible to visitors and connect the Chilterns to nearby London. The area includes a wealth of opportunities for recreational activity, including extensive rights of way and National Trails; open access commons; woods and downland; Registered Parks and Gardens; golf courses; shooting estates; and urban green spaces. The River Thames and Grand Union Canal are also major water-based recreation corridors. Farming continues to be a major land use today. Chalk streams are found only in the main valleys and can be dry in the upper reaches. The NCA is renowned for its native beechwoods, a number of which are designated as European Special Areas of Conservation.
Local Landscape Character
The Central Bedfordshire Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) characterises the rural landscapes of the plan area and identifies key features and attributes which contribute to character and sense of place, and which could be vulnerable to change. The LCA has identified key villages which are vulnerable to the impacts of development, including; Cockayne Hatley, Biggleswade, Astwick, Sandy, Barton, Charlton, Salford, Stewartby, Woburn, Aspley Guise, Heath and Reach, Husborne Crawley, Flitwick, Ampthill, Whipsnade, Studham, Caddington, and Toddington, as well as the landscapes at Wrest Park, Woburn Safari Park, East Hyde, and Tempsford Airfield142.
A historic pattern of linear development is also a concern for future development, particularly at Cranfield, Marston Moretaine, Lower Shelton, Moggerhanger, Charlton, Blunham, Stanbridge, Tilsworth, Billington and Little Billington, Totternhoe, Streatley, Kensworth, Dunstable, Pulloxhill and Greenfield. Linear development along river corridors and transport corridors, particularly roads, is generally discouraged to prevent coalescence of settlements, which can erode local sense of place and the identity of individual villages142.
A key aspect identified as contributing to landscape character is the presence of significant and far reaching views particularly due to areas of flat topography. As such, there are concerns over the potential disruption of significant views, including through the alteration or cluttering of skylines and common development concealment techniques like bunding. This indicates a need to monitor the height of new development throughout the rural area and protect significant views where appropriate. Key guidelines therefore refer to retaining the open, level qualities of the landscape, avoiding incongruous bunding142. Local building materials, and locally appropriate plant species are also noted as a key contributor to landscape character.
A number of GI assets are also identified as contributing to the landscape character and sense of identity, in particular hedgerows, woodland and wooded shelter belts. Further opportunities to enhance GI assets that contribute to landscape character are identified, including142:
- appropriate woodland and hedgerow creation, and orchard restoration,
- new wetland habitats, particularly as an opportunity to strengthen the connections of Sandy and Biggleswade with the river Ievel and its floodplain,
- landscape enhancement along the A1 corridor, and prominent road or rail corridors,
- opportunities to restore derelict sites such as disused market gardens, and former quarries and pits,
- boundary enhancements around exposed urban edges,
- village entrance enhancements, and;
- Country Park enhancements.
Similarly a number of historic assets (both designated and undesignated) contribute to the landscape character and sense of identity and particular concerns are expressed in regards to Biggleswade Common, surviving areas of ancient enclosure, unscheduled medieval earthworks and moated sites, pockets of ridge and furrow which are unprotected from conversion to arable uses, and pockets of parkland, ponds and surviving areas of meadow that are vulnerable to new development142.
Ultimately new development will have an urbanising effect, however the LCA identifies particular concerns over the potential loss of tranquillity and the appropriate protection of the predominantly rural character142. This also applies to the infrastructure that accompanies new development with expressed concerns over minor / secondary roads and bridges that contribute to landscape character, as well as potential expansions at Luton Airport Parkway142.
Water resources and quality are explored in the relevant water section of the baseline information, however in landscape terms it is recognised; that river corridors often provide far reaching and tranquil views that the floodplain around river corridors contributes to the character; and that there are opportunities to improve the recreational links to rivers in many cases142.
The LCA further identifies that the farming industry plays a role in maintaining significant landscape features and characteristics, including grazing of grasslands and field boundary and associated habitat management142. Agricultural reorganisation is also identified as a sensitivity for a number of landscape types, and it will be important to monitor the effects of changing practices142.
Important town and village centres across the plan area include Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard, Houghton Regis, Ampthill, Sandy, Biggleswade, Shefford and Woburn. These towns are recognised for their architectural, historic and commercial significance.
- Balancing the need for new development with the retention of a predominantly rural landscape character with important ridges, large areas of flat land, far-reaching views and high levels of tranquillity.
- Maintaining traditional field boundaries, habitats and building materials that contribute to landscape character.
- Urban expansion is changing the landscape character of the Plan area.
- Protecting appropriate landscape settings e.g. the setting of the AONB.
- There are a number of settlements that are vulnerable or sensitive to changes in the landscape/ townscape identified within the Landscape Character Assessment (2016).
Evolution without the Plan
Without the Plan, key designated landscapes will retain a level of protection in accommodating new development, however as identified in the baseline information above, a number of non-designated features, assets and characteristics significantly contribute to the overall landscape character and sense of place. The Local Plan offers a tool or delivery mechanism for extended protection of these key assets, for example policy protection for non-designated assets, or protection against coalescence; thus, reducing the risk of loss, or detriment to, factors affecting landscape character. The Plan can also coordinate opportunity and investment across the whole of the plan area to ensure that development delivers the best possible, high quality, and multifunctional benefits, for example in delivering development that can support the targets of the Marston Vale Community Forest. Therefore, without the Plan future development has an increased likelihood of resulting in negative effects on landscape character, and a decreased likelihood of delivering coordinated and prioritised improvements. With changing agricultural practices, the Local Plan can also provide a flexible policy approach to agricultural land management and appropriately monitor the effects of the changes in the industry and its implications for the landscape.
The Historic Environment
This topic explores the designated and non-designated heritage assets within the plan area, including potential and existing archaeological sites, and heritage 'at risk'.
It is identified that within Central Bedfordshire there are:
- 84 Scheduled Monuments;
- 23 Registered Historic Parks and Gardens143;
- 1,909 Listed Buildings (63 Grade I, 100 Grade II*, and 1746 Grade II) ;
- 62 Conservation Areas144;
- Several thousand non-designated archaeological sites143; and
- Non-designated locally listed buildings143.
Historic England's 'Heritage at Risk' Register identifies 12 entries in Central Bedfordshire that are at risk of being lost through neglect, decay or deterioration:
- Grade II* Listed Building; Priory House (Council Offices), High Street south, Dunstable; Priority Category A.
- Grade I Listed Place of Worship; Church of St Peter and All Saints, Battlesden; Priority Category D.
- Grade II* Listed Place of Worship; Church of St Mary the Virgin, Church Rd, Meppershall; Priority Category B.
- Grade I Listed Place of Worship; Church of All Saints, Eyeworth; Priority Category A.
- Grade I Listed Place of Worship; Church of All Saints, The Grove, Houghton Conquest; Priority Category A.
- Grade I Listed Place of Worship; Church of All Saints, High Street, Houghton Regis; Priority Category F.
- Grade II Listed Place of Worship; Parish Church of St Margaret, Higham Gobion, Shillington; Priority Category A.
- Grade I Listed Place of Worship; Church of St Peter, Church Lane, Wrestlingworth, Wrestlingworth and Cockayne Hatley; Priority Category D.
- Ringwork at The Round House, Brogborough Park Farm, Brogborough; Scheduled Monument
- Totternhoe Castle: a motte and bailey castle, medieval quarries and cultivation terraces, Totternhoe; Scheduled Monument.
- A ringwork and bailey castle, ring ditch and enclosures east of Brookland Farm, Biggleswade; Scheduled Monument.
- Moated site at Ivy Hall, Cranfield; Scheduled Monument.
Central Bedfordshire has a rich and varied archaeological heritage with a number or nationally and internationally significant sites and monuments dating from the prehistoric through to the post medieval periods. The earliest archaeological remains relate to the Palaeolithic period over 125,000 years ago discovered at Caddington and are internationally recognised.
Central Bedfordshire is a largely rural area and the agricultural fields, pits, ditches and structures can be traced to prehistoric settlements, and monuments survive below the surface of the ground142. Two major Roman roads pass through Central Bedfordshire; Watling Street (A5), and the road linking Godmanchester and Baldock via Sandy (partly on the line of the A1)146.
Recent archaeological work in Ampthill, Marston Moretaine, Stratton (in Biggleswade) and Henlow have confirmed that these settlements originate in the Saxon period. Leighton Buzzard is also thought to have Saxon foundations. The major towns of Leighton Buzzard, Ampthill, Biggleswade and Dunstable were certainly established by the medieval period and archaeological evidence for the everyday lives of their inhabitants can be readily found in the towns and villages. Central Bedfordshire was once home to at least seven religious houses, including the Gilbertine monks and nuns at Chicksands, the only English monastic order.
Furthermore, common land such as the Dunstable Downs and the north of Biggleswade contain relics of the First and Second World Wars, including practice trenches and search lights, all of which are considered archaeological sites146.
It is evident that Central Bedfordshire has a large number and a range of heritage assets that are widespread across the plan area. It is also recognised that there is potential for the presence of unknown and unidentified heritage assets. It is important that the design of future development is of a high quality in order to protect and enhance historic environments in the plan area, including designated and non-designated heritage assets and their setting.
- The need to protect and enhance the large number of designated heritage assets in Central Bedfordshire.
- The need to conserve and enhance both designated and non-designated heritage assets and the contribution made by their settings
- The need to protect and where possible enhance the condition of heritage assets that are deemed 'at risk' of neglect, decay, or deterioration.
Evolution without the Plan
Without the plan, designated heritage assets would be protected through National and Local policy. However, as identified above, there are a number of undesignated heritage assets, heritage settings and potential archaeology that could be vulnerable to the impacts of development. Importantly, the Local Plan and SA can consider the cumulative effects of proposed development on both designated and non-designated heritage assets and their setting. The Local Plan can provide a delivery mechanism for enhanced protection for undesignated assets, settings and features that contribute to the historic environment. It can also secure enhancements for the historic environment, for example in promoting new development that regenerates derelict buildings, or through appropriate investment and contributions. With such an abundance of heritage assets in the plan area, the Local Plan can ensure that development is well designed and located appropriately.
Minerals and Waste
This topic identifies the mineral resources and any planned extraction within the plan area, as well as existing waste facilities and waste production statistics within Central Bedfordshire.
The underlying geology of the area yields the economic mineral resources which are subject to the Minerals and Waste Local Plan: Strategic Sites and Policies (MWLP: SSP). The major mineral resources in Central Bedfordshire are aggregate sands, gravel, chalk, and silica sand148. Aggregate sand and gravel is located in the river valleys of the Ivel and Ouse and in glacial deposits west of Biggleswade148. A range of medium to fine grained sands can be found at the Greensand Ridge148. These are of very high silica purity in the vicinity of Leighton Buzzard, and have been worked extensively for industrial purposes148. There are currently two sites which extract chalk within the plan area - a large scale quarry near Dunstable, from where it is transported via a slurry pipeline to cement works in Rugby; and at Totternhoe quarry for building stone148.
From January to September 2014, approximately 69,151 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) was recovered/recycled or sent to an Energy from Waste facility in Central Bedfordshire, while 17,998 tonnes of MSW was sent to landfill/disposal sites. This equates to 79.3% of total municipal waste recycled or sent to an EfW facility149. The figure for England is lower, at 44.7% in 2018. In Central Bedfordshire the majority of waste that is not reused, recycled or composted is processed to remove recyclable material such as metals and the remainder is made into a fuel which is used to create energy. 26% of municipal waste is sent to landfill149.
There are four household waste recycling centres within Central Bedfordshire, located within Ampthill, Biggleswade, Houghton Regis and Dunstable (Thorn Turn household waste recycling centre), and Leighton Buzzard. The development and operation of minerals and waste facilities is influenced by a number of land constraints or designations, including; South Bedfordshire Green Belt, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Forest of Marston Vale, the Greensand Trust Area, and the Leighton Buzzard and Heath and Reach Sandpit Strategy Area.
Minerals and waste are both strategically planned across the three Local Authority areas of Central Bedfordshire Council, Luton Borough Council, and Bedford Borough Council148. The 2014 Joint Minerals and Waste Local Plan sets out the strategic allocations for mineral extraction and for waste management development across these Local Authority areas, comprising the Plan area, together with strategic policies which will guide the ongoing supply of minerals and development of waste management facilities148. The Plan identifies that minerals and waste are substantial elements of the freight carried within the Plan area148. Although freight policies are planned separately by each individual council in their own Local Transport Plans, they are identified as important drivers for ongoing development in minerals and waste management148. Forecasts predict that the total tonnage of waste requiring management in the Plan area is likely to increase from approximately 2,121,000 tonnes in 2013/14 to approximately 2,269,000 tonnes in 2028/29149. This is likely to comprise of municipal (MSW), commercial and industrial, construction, demolition, and excavation wastes, as well as a small and diminishing amount of residual waste from London149.
The Councils have designated Minerals Safeguarding Areas (MSAs) which are identified on the Policies Map in the Minerals and Waste Local Plan: Strategic Sites and Policies (2014) for the following minerals148:
- river valley / glacial sand and gravel;
- woburn sands;
- oxford clay;
- cornbrash limestone; and
- gault clay.
- Ensuring that new development does not conflict with the strategic allocations and plans outlined within the Minerals and Waste Local Plan and minimises the associated effects of minerals and waste development / operations on human health.
- Supporting the waste hierarchy and encouraging increased recycling rates.
Evolution without the Plan
The strategic directions for the ongoing management and future development of waste and minerals facilities and operations are planned for in the Minerals and Waste Local Plan, and as such already have a guiding framework in place. Although the Local Plan will have less bearing on this aspect, it will be planning for the future growth of housing and communities. Minerals and waste can affect human health through noise pollution, dust and odour and as such, the Local Plan provides the opportunity to plan for development that minimises the impacts of these effects. The Local Plan can also ensure that new housing and employment development considers the implications of its waste production and management, to plan for sustainable waste management and support the aims of the Minerals and Waste Local Plan. The Local Plan can also act as a means of highlighting sensitive receptors (e.g. landscapes that are sensitive to bunding) that could potentially affect future minerals and waste planning.
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 Luton Borough Council has sought a judicial review into the consent which has been refused and at the time of writing no further application has been made.
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