1. ITV Report

Fight against out-of-town retail park on church land heads to London

Protesters met in Leighton Buzzard ahead of their trip to Westminster Abbey. Photo: ITV News Anglia.

Campaigners staged a protest in London today over plans for a new retail park in Leighton Buzzard - on land currently owned by the Church of England.

People living in the Bedfordshire town along with traders are opposing the proposals for Grovebury Road.

They fear it will take trade away from Leighton Buzzard's town centre and say it could lead to the closure of many shops and local businesses.

The protesters have criticised the Church Commissioners, the body which looks after the assets of the Church of England.

Victoria Harvey with campaigners in Leighton Buzzard. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

"It's a bit of a David and Goliath but the Town Council oppose it, the market traders oppose it, local residents oppose it and, if it ends up with direct action, we'll go all the way. No way can Leighton Buzzard be destroyed."

– Victoria Harvey, protest organiser

David Prior, from LB First, a group representing residents and high street traders, said: "It's a very old market town. It's got a very long tradition of traders and high street trading, and I think the local people want it to remain that way."

Plans for the £15m shopping development have been approved by Central Bedfordshire Council who say it will benefit the town and the local community.

Councillor Nigel Young said: "This planning permission is strictly controlled. It's for bulky goods - that means it's not small things that are sold on the high street. It will attract new people to Leighton Buzzard and I believe that, when they've visited the retail park, they'll go into the beautiful high street that Leighton Buzzard has and they'll shop, and they'll eat, and they'll drink in local shops."

Also at today's protest was Canon Grant Fellows from the town's All Saints Church.

He said: "I care very passionately about what's going on in our town, and I want to make sure the Church Commissioners hear that there is concern and that they will respond carefully and thoughtfully."

The Church Commissioners have said they take their obligations seriously and believe the development has a number of benefits.

"We respect the right of anyone to voice their opinion and stage a a peaceful protest. Equally the commissioners always take into account local interest and planning regulations and take seriously their obligation and right under the Charities Act to seek the best price possible while selling land or buildings. _

"Both the planning and legal processes in this case have been thorough. The proposed development at Grovebury, Leighton Buzzard will, in the judgement of the authorities, provide a much needed facility for the town, attract new inward investment and create a large number of jobs for local people."_

– Spokesman, Church Commissioners

The plans for the retail park are now under judicial review.

Developer the Claymore Group said it was disappointed there would now be further delays, adding that the local residents they had spoken to had been "overwhelmingly supportive".

"Our guiding principle from the outset of this project has been to offer real retail choice which complements the town centre rather than competes with it. This has been reflected through the scale of our proposal and the retailers we are seeking to attract. _

"The development will provide a number of community benefits including the creation of up to 100 jobs, substantial contributions to the town centre, improved transport links and the potential for up to 15 small start-up business units."_

– Claymore Group spokesman.

Protesters say they do not want the development to go ahead and are prepared to fight it all the way.