Central Bedfordshire Pre-submission Local Plan (January 2018)
2 Key Themes: A Snapshot of Central Bedfordshire – Challenges and Opportunities
2.1.1 Covering 716 square kilometres, Central Bedfordshire currently has a population of approximately 278,900 and is the 11th largest Unitary Authority in England by area and the 15th largest by population. Central Bedfordshire is one of the least densely populated Unitary Council areas and is classified as predominantly rural with just over half the population living in the rural area. Approximately 63% of the population are within the working age group, being between 16 and 65 years of age, although 81% of the population are considered to be economically active (aged 16-74).
2.1.2 The Luton and Central Bedfordshire SHMA (May 2017) identifies population growth of 19.5% over the plan period to 2035 for Central Bedfordshire compared to a 13.4% increase identified for England over the same period.
2.1.3 In line with national trends, Central Bedfordshire is also projected to have a rise in older age groups over the period (age ranges 70+), but also is projected to have rises in the 55-69 age range. It is also likely that the delivery of new starter homes and family homes together with skilled jobs will also attract younger people and families which may have a significant effect on the age profile in Central Bedfordshire. This will put additional pressure on public services, but this will be addressed as part of the wider consideration in delivering sustainable growth.
2.1.4 Central Bedfordshire residents are generally healthy and the life expectancy for both men and women is longer than it is in England as a whole. However, residents of Central Bedfordshire do experience inequalities in health outcomes. Whilst overall levels of deprivation within Central Bedfordshire are low, there are three areas that are within the 10-20% most deprived area in England and a further 6 within the 20-40% most deprived areas. The majority of these wards are within the southern area of Central Bedfordshire, which is more densely populated, and urban in character.
2.2.1 Central Bedfordshire is one of the most accessible areas in the East of England and is particularly well connected on all of the main north-south routes, namely the M1, A1, A5, and A6. It is well served by existing rail stations on the East and West Coast and Midland Main rail lines and East West Rail will also deliver further connectivity with a committed upgrade to Ridgmont station and the potential new station north of Sandy. This excellent access brings potential for business and housing growth but also pressure on infrastructure and a high outflow of residents for employment and services.
2.2.2 Travel patterns within Central Bedfordshire are less sustainable with a high reliance on car commuting, together with increasing pressure on interchanges and the rural road network. Connectivity east to west will improve with the duelling of the A421 in the northern part of Central Bedfordshire, and will continue with the opening of the A5-M1 link road in the south. However, further strategic east west connections are required to deliver significantly enhanced growth levels over and above that planned for in this Local Plan.
2.2.3 The key challenge this Plan addresses is driving more sustainable growth by improving and extending the range of economic opportunities and services available locally and securing additional infrastructure, including enhancing digital connectivity, to unlock the area's full potential and to achieve more sustainable travel.
2.3.1 Major urban areas adjoin Central Bedfordshire with growth pressures that are intensifying. Central Bedfordshire is part of four Housing Market Areas (HMA) and adjoins nine local authorities. Within the HMAs, urban areas are often constrained by tightly drawn boundaries and therefore due to housing pressures, may have to look beyond their administrative area to accommodate growth. Less expensive housing costs and the availability of employment space in the area is also attractive to those looking to move from areas further south. Accommodating growth pressures in the form of unmet housing need from neighbouring authorities, close to where the need arises, could be achieved in the south of the area by removing the most sustainable locations for development from the Green Belt, but overall the Green Belt continues to serve its purposes very well, safeguarding the identity of Central Bedfordshire by maintaining the openness of the countryside, preventing coalescence of our towns, and protecting the dispersed settlement pattern.
2.3.2 The Council will seek opportunities to maximise the use of suitable and available, previously developed or 'brownfield' land before looking to sites within the Green Belt or green field sites elsewhere in Central Bedfordshire to accommodate future growth requirements. An Urban Capacity Study for Dunstable, Houghton Regis and Luton identified opportunities to increase the capacity of current sites within the conurbation, which could contribute towards the unmet housing need within the Luton Housing Market Area. However much of the available and suitable previously developed land in the area is either now built out or already committed for redevelopment.
2.3.3 The key challenge this Plan addresses is to establish where these unmet housing needs can be accommodated sustainably, whilst also meeting our own objectively assessed housing need. Removal of sites from the Green Belt to meet unmet needs will be balanced against the requirement to maintain our local character and prevent coalescence of settlements.
2.4.1 Central Bedfordshire is primarily a place of market towns and a number of villages whose history and character are integral to its identity and attractiveness. The two largest towns, Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable are located in the south of Central Bedfordshire whilst the north of Central Bedfordshire contains a series of smaller towns including Biggleswade, Sandy and Flitwick. Whilst some settlements have become successful growing service centres with a good range of local employment, others find it increasingly difficult to maintain their services and economic strength in the face of competition from the large urban centres on our boundaries.
2.4.2 The key challenge this Plan addresses is to manage growth so that as far as practicable it can avoid damaging the role and special value of Central Bedfordshire's market towns and villages, for example through policies on coalescence, whilst at the same time directing growth to the larger towns and locations where it can make a real difference in improving local services and employment opportunities; for example the A1 corridor towns where there are regeneration opportunities which would improve economic offer and enhance the town centres.
2.5.1 Given the small scale of existing urban development across most of Central Bedfordshire, there is a limit to how much new growth can be accommodated either as infill, re-use of redundant sites, or in village or urban extensions. In many of these locations services and infrastructure are unsuitable (or could not easily be upgraded) beyond moderate scale additions. This Plan has identified Allocations and a number of Identified Locations where large scale new communities can be delivered. These new settlements have capacity for a minimum of 1500 homes and can provide a mix of housing types and tenures as well as a range of new services and facilities. These new communities provide the opportunity to secure new physical, social and community infrastructure and higher standards of design and sustainable development though it is recognised that these need upfront funding and have longer build out trajectories, often stretching beyond this plan period.
2.5.2 The key challenge this Plan addresses is the identification of sustainable locations in Central Bedfordshire where large scale, new communities have the best prospects of success based on viability, deliverability, access to services and improved economic potential and where planned, development enabling, strategic infrastructure can be delivered to support growth and unlock future potential.
2.6.1 Much of Central Bedfordshire is of high landscape and biodiversity value. Key assets include the Greensand Ridge recently designated as a Nature Improvement Area, parts of the Chilterns AONB which is a national priority area for landscape conservation and the Forest of Marston Vale. The authority area also contains a number of water bodies as a result of former clay workings which offer significant potential for recreation and tourism and can be connected as part of the proposed Bedford to Milton Keynes Waterway. There are also approximately 11,000 recorded buildings, sites and records of historic interest. However, maintaining and enhancing these assets has become more difficult in the light of development, activity pressures and reduced funding.
2.6.2 The key challenge this Plan
addresses is to find ways in which new
development can be used to strengthen and enhance these
assets, as well as creating new green infrastructure.