Central Bedfordshire Draft Local Plan (July 2017)

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View Comments (43) (43) 2 Key Themes for the Local Plan

View Comments (24) (24) 2.1 Central Bedfordshire: Issues, Challenges & Opportunities

2.1.1 Covering 716 square kilometres, Central Bedfordshire currently has a population of approximately 274,000[2] 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 aged 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.

View Comments (24) (24) 2.2 Connectivity and achieving Sustainable Growth and Communities

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 potential new stations at Wixams and 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 with increasing pressure on interchanges and the rural road network. Connectivity east to west has improved 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 significant east west connections are required to deliver enhanced growth levels.

2.2.3 The key challenge 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 areas full potential and to achieve more sustainable travel.

Employment Land

Challenge:

Providing sufficient land and premises that are of a high standard and quality and in the right place, to retain existing businesses and help them grow. Retaining employment land for other uses.

Opportunity:

Ability to attract inward investment to the area and new business start ups through the provision of new floor space that better meets market demands.

Economic Growth

Challenge:

To attract more high-tech and office based businesses to the area by improving digital connectivity

Opportunity:

To attract businesses by ensuring the delivery of super fast broadband across all new developments.

Out-commuting

Challenge:

High levels of out commuting particularly to large towns on the edge of the area e.g.  Stevenage and Milton Keynes and also London. 

Opportunity:

Consolidating existing businesses and providing new jobs could encourage more people to live and work in the authority area.

Deprivation

Challenge:

Reducing the disparity in deprivation between urban areas of southern Central Bedfordshire and the north and improving employment opportunities.

Opportunity:

Strategic growth could bring new jobs and services

Connectivity

Challenge:

Poor east/west public transport/road links and some broadband blackspots particularly in rural areas. Some uncertainty over delivery of planned strategic transport improvements

Opportunity:

East-West Rail, the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway proposals and new broadband infrastructure provide an opportunity to enable significant housing growth.

Sustainable Transport

Challenge:

Slow and deficient public transport access between key centres resulting in high dependency on private vehicles and low proportion of trips made by cycling, walking and public transport.

Opportunity:

More concentrated growth located close to key transport routes with 'walkable neighbourhoods' could make sustainable transport more viable.

View Comments (36) (36) 2.3 Cross boundary and neighbouring growth pressures and the role of the Green Belt

2.3.1 Major urban areas adjoin Central Bedfordshire with growth pressures that are intensifying. Central Bedfordshire is part of four Housing Market Areas and adjoins nine local authorities. Within the HMA's, 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 play a critical role in settlement separation and other approved purposes.

2.3.2 The Council will seek opportunities to maximise the use of 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 previously developed land in the area is either now built out or already committed for redevelopment.

2.3.3 The key challenge is to establish how much these growth pressures can be provided for sustainably and where to accommodate them in a way which fits with Central Bedfordshire's own growth objectives.  There is a need to strike an appropriate balance between removal of sites from the Green Belt to meet housing pressures from neighbouring authorities while maintaining local character and its role in preventing coalescence.

Green Belt

Challenge:

Balancing the role and function of the Green Belt while delivering some growth. Pressure for release of Green Belt land, and protected landscapes for other uses.             

Opportunity:

The Plan allows the Council to review strategic designations such as Green Belt and determine whether it is still meeting the five purposes as set out within the NPPF[3]. Also presents the opportunity to ensure any lost Green Belt land is replaced elsewhere by extending Green Belt Boundaries.

Meeting Unmet Housing Need

Challenge:

Delivering unmet housing need arising from neighbouring authorities within close proximity to where the need originates.

Opportunity:

To contribute to delivering the wider requirements of the four Housing Market Areas across Central Bedfordshire in a sustainable manner.

View Comments (26) (26) 2.4 Market Towns and Villages - local economy and services

2.4.1 Central Bedfordshire is primarily a place of market towns and a number of villages whose history and character are key 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 with competition from the large urban centres on our boundaries.

2.4.2 The key challenge 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 opportunity for example the A1 corridor towns where there are regeneration opportunities which would improve economic offer and enhance the town centres.

Town Centres

Challenge:

Threats to the viability and vitality of town and neighbourhood centres through increased competition from other major retail centres.

Opportunity:

The potential to regenerate our town centres in order to improve their attractiveness and usability and to offer quality retailing experiences.

Rural Services

Challenge:

The lack of accessible key services in rural locations and an over reliance on car travel. 

Opportunity:

Some incremental growth in villages could sustain existing services and enable new ones; new public transport routes enabled by strategic development may also be used by existing communities. 

View Comments (33) (33) 2.5 New community scale growth

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 small scale additions.  There are however a number of sites in Central Bedfordshire where large scale new communities could be envisaged, taking a minimum of 1500 homes and providing a mix of housing types and tenures as well as a range of new services and facilities as part of the development, and several locations have already been proposed. Securing new physical, social and community infrastructure (and developer contributions) and higher standards of design and sustainable development is a benefit but these large projects take time and upfront funding to deliver.

2.5.2 The key challenge is to identify 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.

Housing Mix

Challenge:

Diverse needs from different age groups for different types of housing.

Integrating new development with existing communities.

Opportunity:

The potential with growth to provide sufficient housing in line with national policy, which is of the right size and type to meet the needs of all residents.

Housing Tenure

Challenge:

Overall housing needs and affordable housing in the area.

Insufficient appropriate forms of affordable tenure, particularly intermediate housing.

Opportunity:

The potential with growth to provide sufficient housing in line with national policy, which is of the right tenure to meet the needs of all residents.

Gypsies & Travellers

Challenge:

Needing to provide accommodation to meet the needs of all communities across Central Bedfordshire.

Opportunity:

The ability to identify appropriate locations across the area and to ensure communities are well integrated and have access to services and facilities.

Ageing Population

Challenge:

There is a significant increase in the older population and a lack of suitable housing.

Opportunity:

The Plan provides the opportunity to plan holistically for older persons accommodation which can be integrated with new communities.

Education

Challenge:

The need to raise educational attainment to improve individual employment prospects and the attractiveness of Central Bedfordshire to future employers.

Opportunity:

Growth will bring new schools and the potential to expand further and even higher education.

Community Infrastructure

Challenge:

Provision of sufficient community infrastructure to meet current and future demands.

Opportunity:

New development can make community infrastructure more viable.

Wellbeing

Challenge:

Significant levels of obesity in adults and children (in line with the national average). A potential lack of leisure facilities to match a growing population.

Opportunity:

Through the Local Plan, the area can be comprehensively planned to ensure that it does not detrimentally impact upon the quality of life, health and well-being of residents.

View Comments (27) (27) 2.6 Environment, Heritage Assets and Sustainability

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. We also have a number of water bodies as a result of former clay workings which offer significant potential for recreation and tourism and could be unified as 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 is to find ways in which new development can be used to strengthen and enhance these assets, as well as creating new green infrastructure.

Biodiversity

Challenge:

Halting the overall decline in biodiversity by helping establish coherent and resilient ecological networks and a net gain in `biodiversity in accordance with the biodiversity opportunity mapping for Central Bedfordshire.

Opportunity:

The opportunity to enhance priority habitats in line with the Biodiversity Action Plan.

Landscape Assets

Challenge:

The need to protect our valuable natural environment including the Forest of Marston Vale, the Greensand Ridge and the Chilterns AONB.

Opportunity:

Improving access to the local and wider countryside. The need to improve the quality of and access to open spaces.

Heritage Assets

Challenge:

The need to protect and enhance the area's rich historic environment The need to conserve and enhance the historic significance of the area's heritage assets and settings. The risk of loss of local characteristics through unsympathetic design.

Opportunity:

The ability through the use of careful master planning and design codes to protect and enhance heritage assets when planning new development.

Climate Change

Challenge:

Threats to the biological and geological interests of the area from development pressures and climate change.

Opportunity:

Reducing the carbon footprint of residents and businesses through measures relating to mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Ensuring measures put in place are fit for purpose and future proof.

Air & Water Quality

Challenge:

3 AQMAs[4] and being located in an area of water stress presents challenges for growth.

Opportunity:

The ability to support measures to reduce water use/limit pollution through the Local Plan.


[2] Central Bedfordshire Key Facts and Figures July 2016

[4] Air Quality Management Areas https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/aqma/

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