Still no timescale for Hatters vote, as councillors speak about why saga is dragging on

Luton Town Hall
Luton Town Hall

Delays in producing a final planning report on Luton Town’s new stadium could result from the way the borough council has resourced the process, it’s been claimed.

The football club and Hatters’ supporters are keenly waiting for a date to be announced when the stadium plans for Power Court will be considered by local authority planners.

Power Court graphic

Power Court graphic

The council’s development control committee will also hear the Newlands Park proposals for retail, office and leisure space near junction ten of the M1. The projects were due to be considered in August, but there remains no date for the finalised plans.

Now the council’s overview and scrutiny board has been asked whether a lack of resourcing has contributed to the lengthy wait.

“We have to deal with major planning applications in 13 weeks,” Liberal Democrat Wigmore councillor Peter Chapman told the committee on Monday night.

“But the biggest planning application, which is for the relocation of Luton Town Football Club, is now more than two years since it was put in,” he said.

A 3D model of the plans for Newlands Park

A 3D model of the plans for Newlands Park

“Similar applications for Brentford, Arsenal, Tottenham and Wimbledon, all with supporting development, were all dealt with in less than a year.

“What have been the problems in that situation that led to this humongous delay?” he asked.

“And we’ve still not got a day for even the report to be written.

“It’s a farce that if someone agrees to an extension it’s assumed that it’s being dealt with. What person who wants the council to be on their side and to get an application through like this is going to disagree and jeopardise it by going against the council?

“The reality is we have got this huge issue which is not being dealt with. We still haven’t got a date.”

The council’s corporate director for place and infrastructure Laura Church said: “The statistic for dealing with a planning application is within 13 weeks.

“But if the applicant agrees for an extension of time that still gets recorded as being done on time.

“As you know there are still some issues we are working on regarding the football club applications. I know everyone is waiting for us to be able to give a timescale, but I can’t do that tonight.”

Cllr Chapman added: “The other issue around it is resource problems. I think really we need to look at this as a committee.

“Were too few resources put into this? One person from outside put in charge of this application, an external consultant, and a few others as advisers.

“Has this lack of resources been a reason for this two-year plus delay or two-year plus process, and still no answer?” he asked.

“If you give all that work to one person they’re going to take a hell of a long time to do it,” he said.

“Where as if you give that work to four people, and resource it properly, the process of that major application would be quicker.

“And we would not be so reliant on a tiny group of people, and possibly one. I do think it’s a big issue.

“Laura is going to come up with a date for us I hope soon.

“If it (the delay) carries on, we are going to be looked at as ‘Oh well, it isn’t just a question of being tight and getting the whole thing tight’. It was a question of it (the process) not being resourced properly and therefore the report has not been written.”

Labour Northwell councillor Roy Davis said: “Councillor Chapman has been sulking for a long time. He understands the reality of the situation as well as anyone.

“The enabling development is not on the same site. That’s a big difference to begin with.

“It’s not the amount of time it takes as to whether or not you grant permission. It’s how long it takes for the appeal process afterwards if you leave yourself any gaps in your armour.

“There is at least one body out there which is hell bent on appeal, if they can find a slightest chink in the armour.

“Therefore, it’s actually far more important to get it right than it is to get it through,” he added.

“If you go into an appeal process, that can take a darn sight longer than two years and nobody wants that.

“Getting it dead right enables it to go for a decision which sticks, that’s got to be worth doing, rather than try to rush it in some way and make people feel a little warmer at the beginning.

“And then dash their hopes by sitting and waiting two, three or four years while it grinds its way through the courts, and through god knows what other processes and I don’t think any of us wants that.”