Outrage at £26k fee for Biggleswade exhibition

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A controversial bid to build on council land in Biggleswade has ignited fury after it was revealed Central Bedfordshire Council spent £26,000 on a public exhibition.

CBC held the public exhibition on Monday, January 23, outlining proposals for council-owned land at Saxon Drive and Sorrell Way to be released for housing development.

Consultants Woods Hardwick were hired to host the event, and a Freedom of Information Request has found that CBC spent over £26,000 on the contract.

The man who carried out the FOI request, Dave McCormick, claimed “not a single person” he met at the meeting was in favour of the council’s proposals.

He said: “This has all the appearance of a done deal, as the ‘independent’ development company Woods Hardwick is being paid by the very department that is required to authorise planning permission.

“Having attended the meeting, the development company made it clear there is no further infrastructure planned to support new residents.

“I would also point out that the massive developments of King’s Reach and New Town, Potton Road, have caused massive traffic and service problems already.”

In his FOI request, Mr McCormick asked how much money CBC was paying Woods Hardwick for the Saxon Drive and Sorrell Way public consultation event.

The response came back with a figure of £26,340.

Mr McCormick added: “I find it questionable that CBC is paying a developer with tax payers’ money to promote this development.”

To date, no planning application has been submitted for the site, and CBC insists the consultation was simply in order to gauge public opinion.

When pressed with questions by Mr McCormick, planning officer Matthew Gutteridge reiterated these views.

In an official CBC response, Mr Gutteridge stated: “The land is owned by CBC who are using Woods Hardwick planning consultants to help promote the site for potential development.

“The consultation event on Monday, January 23, was a means of understanding the public’s opinion on the potential site before an application is made.”

A CBC spokesman told the Chronicle yesterday: “The £26,340 is Woods Hardwick Planning Limited’s planning consultancy fee for co-ordinating all preparation work on the sites at Saxon Drive and Sorrell Way, Biggleswade, for potential development.

“This included holding a public consultation event to engage with the local community and seek the views of local residents on the principle of development in this location.”

But Mr McCormick was left unimpressed.

He said: “I’m sure there will be an awful lot of people in Biggleswade who are against this proposed development.

“And who gives Central Beds Council the right to spend taxpayers’ money on Woods Hardwick?”