Continuing this series looking at potential options for strategic growth locations in the forthcoming Ox-MK-CAM framework we turn to Bedfordshire.
The South of Bedfordshire is fairly easily dealt with. There was a rather good joint local plan of Luton and South Beds that has shaped what goes in the local plans now. This included growth to the North and East of Luton and around Houghton Regis South of an A5 M1 link Road. Growth East of Luton is included in the draft North Herts local plan.
This broadly represents the natural limits of Luton and Dunstable constrained as they are by the Chilterns AONB and Sutton Hooe. Therefore, because it is such a large town, there will need to be major overspill to Central and Northern Bedfordshire. Development north of the new link road would be car based and not sustinable.
Most of the rest of Central Bedfordshire, south of Marston Vale, is composed of very small towns which are not good candidates for strategic growth, with two exceptions.
The first is around Biggleswade which has some growth proposed but could take far more. It all depends on the route of East West Rail. If as is likely a new station is proposed between Sandy and Biggleswade there could be growth north and east if Biggleswade (avoiding the common) and South of Sandy.
The other big candidate is Henlow Barracks, recently declared surplus and now in the draft local plan. It could be extended further east next to Arlesely station. Henlow Camp developed alone would be isolated and car based. A joined up masterplan with BRT connections to Arlesley station would transform it to one of the best candidates for strategic growth in the Arc.
Turning to Marston Vale. This has the problem of being split between Central Beds and Bedford. It comprises worked out brickfields and is the largest brownfield area by far in the Arc. There is a plan to connect the Grand Union Canal to the Ouse with a canal and the Forest of Marston Vale projects plan afforestation in those areas unsuitable for development because of flood risk. There were proposals for an Ecotown in the area, effectively a linear city linked by the two rail lines passing through the vale, but local authorities resisted it, part from the large Wixhams site south of Bedford. The main sites in Central Beds are now in the local plan. Some sites in Bedford area, at Stewartby and some employments sites to the West, which are owned by a large Chinese investor. Those further East are not. Rather Bedford laid all of their bets on a new settlement at Sharnbrook Station next to the Colworth Park Research Park (the former Unilever Research Park). This made a lot of sense. The problem was proximity of the Santa Pod Raceway at former RAF Podington. The sensible thing to do would have been for Homes England to CPO the former RAF base and move Santa Pod East to the former Bedford Aerodrome, much further away from houses, enabling a much larger strategic site.
With 5,000 houses missing from their local plan Bedford had the choice of developing to the South of Bedford. Local firm Phillips has put forward a masterplan for the area but the response of Bedford was, well its just too hard, were developing a lot South of Bedford anyway, we will look at in the next local plan. The truth I suspect was that they were stalling because of the uncertainty over the route of East West Rail, will it have a station at Wixhams or pass through Bedford Midland to the East (which requires demolition of small retail warehouse park) or pass along the East Coast mainline and then veer east North of Bedford. It looks like the third is being pursued which is the very worst – and by far the longest – option. Sharing track with the east coast mainline will radically throttle capacity, preventing the sub-5 minute headway originally proposed (requiring Japanese style digital signalling) and essential to forming short stop zero carbon new settlements along East West Rail in a string of pearls fashion. Also Bedford is woefully underesourced
Bedford itself is now completing expansion to the South East to the edge of a bypass whose alignments was first plotted in the 1930s. Another option for Bedford is to develop a new settlement or settlements to the West beyond the Great Ouse Valley along the alignment of the Former Bedford to Northampton Railway. The restoration of this to rail is now formally on the table, though I think mid term as BRT would be much more practical. This is exciting as it could drive zero carbon growth South East of Northampton, west of Bedford and around Oundle. I evan did a sketch masterplan for the area West of Bedford a couple of years ago and grasping for a name called it Radcliffeville – after local hero Paula Radcliffe.
The final option is either North West of Bedford, which is very rural with poor roads, or South East, East of the Cardington Hangers. depending on the route of East West Rail. The latter is by far the best and could utilise part of a former railway line that passes through Cardington.