Protest walks erupt in Bedfordshire this weekend as residents say 'enough is enough' to housing development

'Our wildlife is fading, hedgehogs are close to extinction, bees are struggling. Nowhere is really protected'

By Joanna Gravett
Thursday, 10th February 2022, 2:50 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th February 2022, 3:17 pm

Protest marches will sweep through Bedfordshire on Sunday as residents in Great Barford and beyond say 'enough is enough' to housing development.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is organising a National Day of Protest in support of an online Change.org petition, which is calling on the government to end private house building targets.

Local action groups will be marching across locations including Flitwick, Wrest Park, Bedford, Clapham, Renhold, Ravensden, Great Barford and Wilden, hoping Westminster will hear their plea.

North West Bedfordshire.

The online document states: "We are petitioning the government to make a new Environmental Planning law and to radically and urgently update the National Planning Policy Framework.

"Our wildlife is fading, hedgehogs are close to extinction, bees are struggling. Nowhere is really protected.

"[We need to] make the Planning Law fit for a climate crises, and to close down all the environmental loopholes that allow the system to be perilously developer-led."

As well as putting an end to private house building targets, the petition calls for the government to ban large scale housing development on greenfield sites ensure new homes are built to "the highest environmental standards."

The peaceful protest walks will begin on Sunday from noon, with many different organisations taking part, including Shillington WI, who will be starting from Wrest Park.

Councillor Alison Graham, Independent, representing Silsoe and Shillington Ward, told the Chronicle: "This is a constant and ongoing thread of discourse in Central Bedfordshire, and specifically in my ward; I'm responsible for this enormous area and it's under threat.

"The whole area between Barton-Le-Clay and Silsoe is beautiful, it's idyllic, it's rural. It has beautiful woods, agricultural fields, and it's well-loved by the residents - there's leisure walks, cycle tracks. But there was a planning application for over 4,000 houses, a retail centre, a school, everything, for the whole area between Barton-Le-Clay and Silsoe.

"It has been refused by Central Bedfordshire Council but it will be back..."

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However, Cllr Graham admitted that she had reservations about whether Westminster would listen to the walkers' concerns.

She claimed: "From an Independent point of view, I don't think the government understands how local government operates.

"They never come out of Westminster; they don't understand the legislation they impose on local government and the outcomes it will have."

Cllr Graham feels that large scale local planning applications would have a "monstrous" impact on the environment, especially to the "rich and bio-diverse" Buckle Grove.

She also noted that the area's facilities are already struggling to cope, with "schools filling up", "doctors practices overflowing", and "poor public transport".

She added: "Central Beds Council is doing all it can to protect our green spaces, although its hands are tied by central government legislation.

"Despite that, its local plan is doing everything [it can]; it stipulates that there must be no coalescence between villages and towns.

"I hope the sun is shining on Sunday and I hope they have a wonderful walk through the countryside. Long may it continue to survive.

"Central Beds Council and CPRE are all singing from the same hymn sheet, and I think we should all be pulling together - we are!"

Richard Fuller, MP for North East Bedfordshire, covering Great Barford, said: "I welcome this initiative by CPRE to highlight the pressures on our countryside from too rapid housing development, which is particularly felt in my constituency, growing at five times the national average; threatening the rural character of much of our county and putting pressure on local services like GPs and school places.

“I have lobbied successfully to have the 'one million houses' target of the Ox Cam Arc project formally dropped and to have the government conduct a review on the pressure of housing growth locally on schools and GPs.

“I have worked with local parishes to voice their concerns at the process that resulted in a routing for East West Rail that will create a brutal scarring of North Bedfordshire and will open up demands for more housing in villages already finding it hard to cope.

“I will continue to work in lock step with parish councils and local authority councillors of all parties to oppose large scale developments that do not fit the criteria set out in neighbourhood plans.”

A CPRE Bedfordshire spokesman said: "Our countryside is needed for farming, for carbon capture, to provide wildlife havens to protect against alarming biodiversity loss - and for our wellbeing. Local people are concerned about the amount of Greenfields that are being lost to housing and want to make their voice heard."