Research article

Development land and planning in Bedfordshire

development land

A step change is required to meet Government's growth ambitions

The Government has identified a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to unlock major new development and economic growth in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor through infrastructure investment.

Figure 5

Figure 5 | Residential Development Pipeline
Source: Savills Development Database

The National Infrastructure Commission recommended in its 2016 report that strategic infrastructure investment needs to be married with locally led housing growth ambitions to ensure the area does not fall behind its international competitors. Central government and Homes England are proactively looking to engage on how this can be delivered through a range of measures, including new and expanded settlements. They have identified the requirement for infrastructure investment beyond the current pipeline and designated the corridor a key economic priority. Notably there is up to £4.1bn available for forward funding housing infrastructure nationally.

The potential difference in economic growth outcomes from more significant and ambitious intervention and investment compared to the baseline case is enormous (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Figure 6 | Unlocking the growth potential across the corridor by different levels of intervention
Source: Cambridge Econometrics

Alongside this, the Government has stated its interest in exploring bespoke mechanisms of Land Value Capture. This includes working with local authorities in the corridor, subject to ensuring these mechanisms do not impact on the viability of development in an area.

There has been significant investment to date with plans for further transformational improvement, including London Luton Airport’s £110 million expansion, the East- West Rail link, and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway – which recently saw the preferred route west of Milton Keynes announced.

The provision of new infrastructure will open up new potential development sites for both residential and commercial uses. The greatest opportunities are likely to be where new infrastructure intersects existing rail and road, creating new hubs. Bedfordshire sits at the centre of this opportunity, with the new east-west links crossing the Midlands Main Line and the M1 in the county.

However, realising this potential will require more proactive, locally led planning. The emerging local plans in Central Bedfordshire and Bedford have not fully taken into account the proposed infrastructure improvements, while Luton’s local plan was adopted in 2017, before many of the infrastructure plans were confirmed.

Consequently, current local plans provide for a lower level of housing than is needed to maximise the area’s economic potential. The adopted housing target in Luton of 425 new homes per year is well below the new standard methodology for calculating housing need figure of 1,417 homes. The emerging Central Bedfordshire target slightly exceeds the standard methodology number, but the objectively assessed need figure being used to inform the emerging local plan in Bedford is 950 homes per year, 30% below the standard methodology figure.

Figure 7

Figure 7 | Local Plan Status
Source: Savills Research

But meeting the Government’s ambition of delivering one million new homes across the corridor by 2050 will require local authorities to go beyond the baseline of the standard methodology. The target is 33% above the level that would be achieved by applying the standard methodology over the same period. However, local development framework timetables are such that local plans may take another four years to begin to properly reflect the scale of the opportunities.

To fully maximise the potential of Bedfordshire, there is a need for ambitious planning policy. While all of the three local authorities can currently demonstrate a five year housing land supply, to capture maximum value from the new infrastructure, more sites will need to be allocated for development.

Closer co-operation, including developing a strategic plan via a similar housing deal to the one recently agreed for Oxfordshire could also be appropriate. Local plans will also need to identify the differing types of housing need in their areas to support the diversification of product needed to deliver at the scale required to unlock the area’s full potential.

Figure 8

Figure 8 | Major infrastructure improvements
Source: Highways England, DfT, NIC

= Midland Main Line Upgrade

The Midland Main Line improvements will include longer platforms, station upgrades and more seats on trains which will increase capacity along the line. The improvements will also provide for more freight journeys, reducing the level of freight traffic on local roads. Full upgrades, including the line electrification north of Bedford towards Kettering and Corby, are due for completion December 2019.

= Oxford to Cambridge Expressway

The Expressway will provide a new, high-capacity road link between Oxford and Cambridge, supporting growth in both urban areas along with key successful and productive areas along the route. The Expressway will be a key element supporting the construction of one million new homes by 2050.

= A428 Junction Improvements

By the end of 2020, works are due to commence on the A428 between Black Cat and Caxton Gibbet. The key aim of the scheme is t o increase road capacity and reduce major congestion experienced in peak periods. The road improvements will also help support growth identified by local plans in the area.

= M1 Smart Motorway (Junction 13–19)

The M1 will become a smart Motorway between Junctions 13-19 by 2020. Smart motorways use traffic monitoring technology to regulate traffic flow and improve journey times.

= East West Rail Route

This rail line will connect areas of East Anglia with other parts of Central, Southern and Western England. The Western Section, due to open in 2024, is fully defined with planned stops at both Bedford and Ridgmont stations.

The Central Section of the project involves connecting Bedford with Cambridge. While still at early stages of development, the preferred route is due for announcement in 2019. The Secretary of State has requested accelerated plans that will see trains operating on the railway by the “mid 2020s”.

= A14 Improvements

£1.5bn has been invested to provide a new bypass in the area to the south of Huntingdon, as well as providing upgrades along the road between Huntingdon and Cambridge. Work began on the scheme in late 2016 and completion is due in 2020.

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