Future of dial-a-ride service in Dunstable could be at risk if Watling House is sold, say councillors

Watling House in Dunstable. Pic: Google MapsWatling House in Dunstable. Pic: Google Maps
Watling House in Dunstable. Pic: Google Maps
Town council called extraordinary meeting to discuss the potential impact

The future of the dial-a-ride service in Dunstable could be put at risk if Central Bedfordshire Council’s Watling House offices are sold off without any provision for it to remain in the town, a meeting heard.

The town council called an extraordinary meeting to discuss the potential impact of disposal of the site, CBC’s corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee was told.

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A motion was passed saying “Dunstable Town Council objects to any proposed disposal of Watling House and associated land until talks are held with CBC as to what further opportunities exist for the site”, according to town councillor Peter Hollick.

“There was no formal consultation for what CBC had in mind for such an important building in the town,” he said.

“The matter should be referred to the next Dunstable joint committee meeting for fuller discussion and the plight of South Bedfordshire dial-a-ride should have a greater consideration.

“It’s been operating in Dunstable for many years, providing a service for those unable to use public transport. And it takes people to hospital, including some in London. It occupies a small parcel of land, peripheral to Watling House.

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“This area is used as storage yard for their many minibuses. To lose this without any security for dial-a-ride would cause considerable concern for the service’s future,” he warned.

Labour Dunstable North councillor Matt Brennan suggested: “We’re destroying an adequate transport link for the people of the town. I don’t think it’s well thought out or that the recommendations fully take into account the needs of the people of Dunstable and Central Bedfordshire, for the sake of the capital budget. I want you to arrange a consultation with the town council and Dunstable residents stating what you’re going to do.”

Independent Dunstable East councillor John Gurney spoke of the anger at the town council meeting the previous evening.

“There’s been no consultation with the town council whatsoever,” he explained. “This is a major asset which has been in the town since the 1980s. We’d like this put to other uses, such as a SEND school or alternative options, before you decide to possibly sell it off.”

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Independent Biggleswade West councillor Steve Watkins replied: “There was an eight-month consultation, which concluded in August 2022.”

Conservative Dunstable West councillor Nigel Young said: “These consultations and proposals started in 2017 and in 2022 particularly. The town council has known perfectly well when we dispersed staff to Franklin House and to the new library that something was going to happen to Watling House. I understand the romantic attachment to it.

“You’ll get in the region of £5m if you dispose of Watling House. I’m aware the costs of reusing it and keeping the building open are substantial.”

Conservative Dunstable West councillor Eugene Ghent added: “The premises has shut since the pandemic essentially. Some love it, some hate the building.

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“It doesn’t fit today’s profile of a good working environment. You only keep assets which are working for you. This is situated on well contaminated land and whoever develops it has work on their hands.”