Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Fights Greenbelt Development

By Caroline Lewis | 31 March 2008
photo of a steam train running through a rural landscape

Part of the Leighton Buzzard Railway that could be affected by new housing developments. © LBR

Staff at Leighton Buzzard’s narrow gauge railway have spoken out against planning applications for nearby greenbelt land.

The application proposes 4,000 homes plus roads, industry and amenities in South Bedfordshire. The development would cover the last remaining stretch of open countryside on the route of the Leighton Buzzard Railway (LBR), which is designated greenbelt land.

The railway’s chairman, Mervyn Leah, is sending out a rallying call to make sure that not only is the landscape around LBR protected, but that people speak out against threats to greenbelt land, which is protected by law.

“I have been saying for some time that what happens to us tomorrow will affect what happens to everyone else the day after,” said Mr Leah. “So now is the time for all of us in the heritage and tourism sectors to stand up and say very loudly that this is just not on!”

The developers, Arnold White Estates and Willis Dawson Holdings Ltd, have submitted their plans despite public consultation showing support for development around the existing Luton conurbation.

Ironically, Arnold White Estates is the successor of Joseph Arnold and Sons – the local sand quarrying company that owned and operated the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway in its industrial era.

The 2ft (610mm) gauge steam railway was opened in 1919 to transport sand, and has operated a passenger service since 1968. It now possesses an important collection of narrow gauge rolling stock, offering hour-long trips between stations Page’s Park and Stonehenge Works to the north.

screenshot of the shape your future leaflet

The 'Shape Your Future' consultation process is taking place to decide which parts of Bedfordshire and the Luton area will be developed.

The new planning application is due to be dealt with by South Bedfordshire District Council in July, and given the land’s status it should be refused.

However, the statutory review process that makes final allocations of land for future development is ongoing. Public consultation as part of this process has favoured building around Luton, not Leighton Buzzard, which Mr Leah hopes will retain its greenbelt status threatened by the interest in building there.

On a visit to Leighton Buzzard on March 27, Iain Wright MP, a Junior Minister At The Department for Communities and Local Government, indicated he would expect the government’s consultation process to be followed without regard to such planning applications made in the meantime

“If developers think they can ride roughshod over the government’s carefully designed public consultation processes, and over the interests of one of the country’s leading heritage railways of its kind, then nowhere will be safe from them,” said Mr Leah.

All current South Bedfordshire District Council planning documents are displayed on the council’s website. Contact the council planning team by email at planning.online@southbeds.gov.uk or write to Planning Department, South Bedfordshire District Council, The District Offices, High Street North, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 1LF.

Find out more about the public consultation process in place for the allocation of development sites in the area at www.shapeyourfuture.org.uk.

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