£12m for Biggleswade may be 'back on the table' in 11th hour U-turn over land east

Applicant indicates willingness to discuss Section 106 legal contributions with council officers

By Euan Duncan
Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 5:42 pm

An eleventh hour U-turn is on the cards over a recommendation to refuse eagerly anticipated plans for housing, commercial and leisure development east of Biggleswade – after the applicant indicated a willingness to discuss Section 106 cash contributions to the town.

UK Regeneration Limited’s outline scheme for up to 1,500 homes on the 263-acre site was due to be considered by Central Bedfordshire Council’s development management committee tomorrow (Wednesday, August 3).

Now a suggestion by planning officers to defer the project until October has been included in the late sheet for councillors, ahead of the meeting.

CBC headquarters, Chicksands.

The site featured in CBC’s adopted Local Plan with the housing and commercial development, 12.5 acres for a primary school, ten acres of other leisure and community facilities, and 150 acres of open space, allotments and a country park.

A second application with alternative access arrangement was approved in November 2019, subject to planning conditions and a Section 106 (legal) agreement, according to a report to councillors.

“The committee was explicit that securing S106 heads of terms at least equivalent to those achieved by the first application was material in its decision-making,” said the report.

Representatives of the applicant wrote to CBC seeking material changes to these heads of terms in June 2021.

“Officers have made multiple attempts to engage with the applicant’s representatives since September 2021, with no substantive response.”

UK Regeneration wanted to explore how CBC did calculations for healthcare, sustainable transport and leisure facilities, while seeking an £11.5m reduction in contributions towards new schools for Biggleswade.

The late sheet explained: “At the time of drafting the latest report, no substantive response had been received from UK Regeneration Limited.

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“Since the report was published, a representative of the applicant has contacted officers and has indicated a willingness to engage in talks with the council, and to seek to agree legal conditions that ‘mirror’ those of the original agreement.

“In the spirit of providing the maximum opportunity for the applicant to agree heads of terms with CBC, it’s recommended the committee defers this item until its October meeting. That should provide adequate time to complete the process.”

Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker said in a social media post: “It seems this threat of refusal may have prompted UK Regeneration into action with (planning) officers.

“So yet another U-turn and the £12m may be back on the table. I would argue that given inflation and the huge increases in costs since the original agreement in 2019 that CBC needs to ensure it can still deliver the much needed infrastructure for the monies offered.

“It would seem likely more is needed with increased costs of up to 25 per cent seen almost routinely.

“The council may also be wise to be wary of a developer which is potentially struggling to balance the books.

“But in the (firm’s) recent accounts, the director said: ‘There’ll be self-generated funding from initial development of the minority of the site’, suggesting there may be plans afoot.”

Councillors are expected to be asked to defer the development tomorrow.