Final defeat for Luton Borough Council in bitter dispute over Houghton Regis development scheme

Outline sketches for the HRN1 development
Outline sketches for the HRN1 development

A bitter six-figure court battle with a neighbouring authority has ended in final defeat for Luton Borough Council, we can reveal.

Despite being told by a High Court judge in December that its opposition to plans for 5,150 homes in Houghton Regis was “wholly unarguable” and “lacking in legal merit” the council decided to make a Court of Appeal challenge, which was dismissed this week.

LBC claims that Central Bedfordshire Council failed in its duty to cooperate under the Localism Act and that the scheme’s 10% affordable housing provision is too low.

The Court of Appeal unanimously rejected the challenge, with a detailed report on its reasons set to be handed down in due course.

The initial High Court battle set Luton taxpayers back £109,992 in legal fees, while Central Beds Council was also forced to foot a bill of £48,666.

Critics slammed the spending as “financial mismanagement”.

It is not yet known how much the appeal has cost both councils.

Speaking today, LBC deputy leader Sian Timoney told the Luton News that the “door is not closed” on negotiations over the Houghton Regis North scheme.

She said: “At the end of the day we thought the cost of an appeal would be less than the value of one house...gaining access to more homes would have been more than worth the challenge.

“We have now got to go back into discussions with Central Beds Council to find the balance with the duty to cooperate and see how much they are prepared to help us with.”

Matters between the two councils were made more complicated in February, when planning inspector Brian Cook told CBC that its cooperation with LBC had “fallen short of the required level”.

CBC continues to fight the accusation and has lodged an application for a judicial review over Mr Cook’s decision to reject the council’s Local Plan.

Cllr Timoney added: “We do have meetings regularly (with CBC).

“The things we can do with the local plan are not exhausted as it has been rejected.”

On the Court of Appeal ruling CBC councillor Nigel Young said: “We received a very favourable decision but we will comment further after we receive the judgement.”

The Houghton Regis North scheme was given outline planning permission by CBC in September.

As well as up to 5,150 homes the urban extension will include a range of retail and employment developments, which are said to create 2,450 new permanent operational jobs and 2,550 temporary construction jobs .

The scheme’s backers have pumped £45m into the A5-M1 link road currenly under construction.