Luton loses court battle with Central Beds over Houghton Regis development

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Central Bedfordshire Council emerged the winner today in a legal battle at London’s High Court with neighbouring authority, Luton Borough Council.

Mr Justice Holgate rejected a challenge by Luton to plans approved by Central Bedfordshire for more than 5,000 new homes near Houghton Regis, which will help pave the way for a £172million link road between the A5 and the M1.

He dismissed the claim brought by Luton after Central Bedfordshire granted outline planning permission for the 5,150 home urban extension, as well as wide-scale further retail and employment development on 262 hectares of Green Belt land. The development will provide funding for the link road, intended to serve as a bypass to the Luton/Dunstable/Houghton Regis conurbation.

The ruling means that, once other details still pending approval have been approved and full permission granted, a consortium of builders can push ahead with the scheme.

Luton had argued that the approved plans won’t provide enough much-needed affordable housing, but will include far too much retail provision – more than is necessary to serve the area. It also claimed that Central Bedfordshire failed in its duty to cooperate with it as a neighbouring authority.

However, the judge today rejected all of its grounds of challenge, branding several of them as “wholly unarguable”.

He added: “It is most unfortunate that this project, which will deliver much needed development and nationally important infrastructure, has been delayed by a challenge lacking in legal merit.”

He refused Luton permission to appeal, but it remains open to it to ask the Court of Appeal directly for the go-ahead to take its case further.

The judge said that Central Bedfordshire considers that the A5-M1 link road, which is projected to cost £172m, could not be delivered without funding from the “Houghton Regis North Site 1” (HRN1) project, and in turn the HRN1 cannot be completed without the link road.

The developers have committed £45m to the road, on top of £127m Government funding.

The judge also found that Central Bedfordshire had not acted “irrationally” by failing to assess alternative sites, because housing needs could not be met without “substantial releases of land” from the Green Belt.

At the hearing earlier this month, Peter Village QC, representing Luton, had told the judge: “We make no bones about the fact that Luton is very concerned about the quantum of affordable housing provided as part of the Houghton Regis North scheme, with a guarantee of only 10 per cent.

“There are also other highly unsatisfactory aspects of the scheme. Retail provision goes well beyond what is required by Houghton Regis residents, and no special circumstances have been identified.”