'Fight goes on' says Wandon Park campaigners after government opts against call-in
A group of Luton residents say the "fight goes on" as they consider their next move in a battle to protect their neighbourhood park, following the latest setback to their campaign.
Legal action is one option on the table after the government's decision not to call in plans by Luton Borough Council's housing company, Foxhall Homes Limited, to build 60 homes on Wandon Park.
The project consists of nine two-bedroom maisonettes and four two-bed homes, plus 16 three-bedroom, 29 four-bed and two five-bedroom houses, as well as access from Hayling Drive and parking.
It also includes moving public open space to the former school playing fields on land next to Wandon Close, over the boundary in north Hertfordshire.
The Friends of Wandon Recreation Park said in a statement: "We're taking stock of the situation and speaking to our consultant, as we still intend to continue the fight to save the park.
"The battle is ongoing," they warned. "As if we aren't in enough trouble, the council has become estate agents now.
"Surely we have enough estate agents in the town as it is."
Approval of the application by the council's development control committee hung on the chairman's casting vote, but was later referred to full council.
That decision was upheld by 22 votes to 16, subject to referral to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Some residents opposing the scheme received a reply from planning caseworker Kevin White.
"The government remains committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues and believe that planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible," he explained.
"The call-in policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively.
"The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to this policy, not to call in this application.
"He's satisfied that the application should be determined at a local level. I appreciate this isn't the preferred outcome for you.
"And I understand that there will be great disappointment as a result. It's now for the council to determine this application."
Mr White also referred to comments made by the residents regarding "the council’s actions in respect of its consideration of the application".
He said: "Local authorities have a general duty to act fairly and will have rules governing procedures and the conduct of committees.
"In considering a planning application, it's the responsibility of the committee to ensure it's in possession of all the relevant facts and it would be for the committee to decide what further clarification is necessary.
"Councils are independent of central government and ministers have no statutory duty or powers to supervise the general propriety of individual authorities."
A letter to LBC's head of planning Sunny Sahadevan from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government confirmed the Secretary of State "is content that it should be determined by the local planning authority".
It said: "The Secretary of State hasn't considered the matter of whether this application is environmental impact assessed development for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning (EIA) Regulations 2017.
"The local planning authority responsible for determining this application has a duty for considering whether these regulations apply to this proposed development and, if so, for ensuring the requirements are complied with."
The borough council obtained planning permission for the alternative open space close to Wandon Park from North Hertfordshire District Council.