Rural campaigners demand Central Beds Council publish letter from Planning Inspectorate over draft Local Plan 2035

CBC headquarters in Chicksands
CBC headquarters in Chicksands

A local authority is "totally unjustified" by withholding a letter from the Planning Inspectorate examining its Local Plan 2035, it has been claimed.

The allegations relate to Central Bedfordshire Council’s decision not to publish a letter sent to the local authority as part of its Local Plan 2035 process.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Bedfordshire has submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for the contents of the letter to be put in the public domain.

“It was a great surprise to us that CBC prevented the publication of a letter from the planning inspectorate for legal reasons they are not prepared to release to the public,” said Gerry Sansom from CPRE Bedfordshire.

The council’s Local Plan is in the final stages of examination by the Planning Inspectorate.

Examination hearings were held in public over the summer, allowing the inspectors to consider the plan and its policies in detail, according to the council’s director of regeneration and business Jason Longhurst.

“We have been anticipating the inspectors’ feedback and the council received a letter from the Planning Inspectorate relating to the plan,” he said.

“This gives us confidence that the inspectors are content with a number of critical points of policy.

“But the letter also raises a number of questions, some of which relate to correspondence which this authority has not seen,” he added.

“In this context, we are seeking urgent clarification from the inspectors about information they seem to be drawing on and why this has not been shared.

“Until we have received clarification on these important points, our legal advice is that the inspectors’ letter should not be published.

“As and when the situation changes, we will continue to update all interested stakeholders.

CPRE Bedfordshire called for the letter to be published immediately in its entirety and unredacted on the council’s website.

“The action that the council has taken is a deliberate move to prevent public examination of the inspectors’ letter and contrary to the democratic process,” the campaign group said.

“It represents a flagrant disregard for the established protocol of the examination. It is not at all in the public interest.

“It is also very much in the public interest to have sight of the entire correspondence between CBC and the inspectors relating to this matter, as well as the correspondence to which you refer and which you say you have never seen.

“The public can then be fully informed of the reasons for your totally unjustified decision to prevent publication of the inspectors’ letter.

“We shall be writing to the inspectors demanding their orginal letter be published as intended.

“CPRE Bedfordshire would like to receive full details of the legal advice that the local authority has been given which you say enables the council to subvert the democratic process and prevent the publication of the letter from the inspectors.”

The council’s programme officer for the Local Plan, Ian Kemp replied: “I fully note and understand the points you are making.

“Please be reassured that the publication of this letter is a priority for us and I am currently in dialogue with both the council and the inspectors in an effort to ensure the inspectors’ note is released as soon as possible.”