Children face 'terrifying' walk to school after council decision to postpone building new primary on Houghton Regis development

Around 2,000 homes have been built at the development – with more expected
Central Bedfordshire Council Chicksands HQCentral Bedfordshire Council Chicksands HQ
Central Bedfordshire Council Chicksands HQ

Children face a “terrifying” walk along Bedford Road in Houghton Regis, after a council’s decision to delay building a new primary school at Bidwell West, a meeting was warned.

Around 2,000 homes have been built there, with more expected, Central Bedfordshire Council children’s services overview and scrutiny committee heard.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Independent Houghton Regis East councillor Tracey McMahon recalled walking the route to school from Bidwell West, explaining: “There’s dirty water running off the fields down the road, and you’re getting splashed with sewage.

“Going back uphill is even more terrifying. It’s an absolute horror show. There are children who get taxis, as parents won’t chance walking up that hill. The traffic is backed up all the time. There are always roadworks. It’s bedlam.”

Liberal Democrat Houghton Regis West councillor Susan Goodchild demanded a future timeline, saying: “Bidwell West residents invested into the community in the hope of building dreams. The decision not to proceed with the school has had a profound effect on them. I feel I’ve let them down, as I’ve been unable to influence the decision.

“Many described it as the one opportunity to make a difference to Houghton Regis. This will set the community back so much. There’s no indication the decision will be revisited.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark backed her requests, adding: “I don’t like to see a promise we made as the previous administration being reneged on.

“I’m interested to see the data which suggests there’s no longer a demand for school places in Houghton Regis and Shefford.

“The Bidwell West money to deliver this school, made up of £11m of Section 106 collected from the developer, is in our possession and losing value as building inflation continues.

“The S106 was much less at Campton, where most of the finance was made up of basic need grant and £3m of council-funded money.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Both of those schools were expected to cost more than £14m. If built now, it would be in excess of £15m. I understand the basic need grant has been reallocated to Biggleswade and Fulbrook.

“How will the money be found for Bidwell West and Campton in future, two schools approved and funded?” she asked.

Independent Biggleswade West councillor and executive member for families, education and children Hayley Whitaker replied: “The economic climate has changed considerably.

“The birth rate is even lower in Houghton Regis than most other areas. The town has quite a considerable school place surplus. Now isn’t the right time to build the school.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“A new premises would attract pupils from other schools, which are only just viable. Then they can’t afford heating and to recruit staff. For under eights, the Department for Education says two miles is an acceptable walk to school. It falls within that.

“Where we need extra school places Biggleswade is getting £17m, Fulbrook is having some money, and Cranfield is receiving quite a significant amount of the basic need grant as part of its transition to two-tier.

“That money has to be spent cleverly. We expect to have a future allocation, which will allow us to build Bidwell West.”

Related topics: