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Focus on the north Chilterns

Pegsdon Hills, Bedfordshire

On this page you will find out about current and proposed Chiltern Society activities, opportunities and issues in the north Chilterns.

The north Chilterns – Central Bedfordshire and North Hertfordshire – benefit from some very attractive countryside, a significant section of it being in the AONB.

If you are familiar with this part of the Chilterns, you know that there are extensive views, excellent landscape, plenty of wildlife and some intriguing industrial and agricultural archaeology. There are several nature reserves along the chalk escarpment managed by our friends in Natural England, Natural Trust and the Wildlife Trust. As a bonus, the area is handsomely provided with a good many award winning country pubs.

If you are not yet familiar with the north Chilterns, then get out there and enjoy something new!

If you have a bit of spare time and want to get involved helping the Chiltern Society in the north Chilterns, then please contact the Chiltern Society volunteer coordinator, Geoff Wiggett by email or the Chiltern Society Trustee with special interest in the north Chilterns, Geoff Lambert by email .

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Further reading

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North Chiltern Trail

An opportunity to build on the success of the Chiltern Way and promote the Chiltern Society in the north Chilterns is taking place with the launch of the North Chiltern Trail.

For more information go to the North Chiltern Trail page in this website.


North Chilterns Outdoor Festival

As part of the Chiltern Society’s campaign to raise awareness of the opportunities for walking and other activities in the north Chilterns, we are holding a mini outdoor festival of walking and other activities between September 14th and October 5th.

Events on offer include walking parts of the North Chiltern Trail over four consecutive Sundays, Horse Riding Taster Sessions, Cycling, Nordic Walking and a range of shorter guided walks.

Most events are FREE, but places are limited and need to be booked in advance –
Full details and booking form (scroll down the page to September).

Central Bedfordshire Conservation Group

Conservation volunteering is a key activity helping to protect our Chiltern countryside. Without volunteers, many sites, some of unique and precious character might not survive.

The Chiltern Society has a proud record of conservation volunteering in Buckinghamshire, South Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire; we have conservation groups in Wendover Woods, Bottom Wood, Brush Hill, Captain’s Wood, Marlow Common, Chesham Bois, Prestwood Local Nature Reserve, Hyde Heath Common, plus the Central Chilterns Conservation Volunteers and the Hertfordshire Conservation Volunteers, not to forget the much praised ROWG Path Maintenance Volunteers. The Society would very much like to contribute more to the protection of the North Chilterns.

As part of this aim, it is hoped to create and develop a Chiltern Society conservation group in Central Bedfordshire. The goal is to identify a leader, recruit a team of keen volunteers and offer the services of the team to local organisations and authorities, including other members of the North Chilterns Chalk Partnership.

The job of the volunteer team leader would be to help establish, develop and co-ordinate the activities of this new group. The group would offer to maintain the condition of rights of way as well as helping on nature reserves, commons, village greens and countryside sites throughout Central Bedfordshire.

In addition to the aspirations for a new conservation group in the North Chilterns, the Chiltern Society is always interested in volunteers for the successful Rights of Way Group (ROWG), either as an Area Secretary or for footpath representatives in Central Bedfordshire. This ROWG continue to carry important monitoring and maintenance of the paths and bridleways throughout the Chilterns.

Anyone interested in contributing a bit of spare time to a new Chiltern Society conservation group or ROWG activity for the North Chilterns should contact the Society's Volunteer Co-ordinator, Geoff Wiggett or Chiltern Society Vice-Chairman, Paul Mason .

Volunteering Opportunities

We are keen to build our presence in the North Chilterns and have vacancies for key volunteering opportunities…

Central Bedfordshire Conservation group.
We're looking for volunteers to join this new group and help establish, develop and co-ordinate its activities. The group will help maintain the condition of rights of way as well as offering volunteer help on commons, village greens and countryside sites throughout the Central Beds area and occasionally working with other interested parties and 'Friends of...' groups. We are similarly active in many other areas throughout the Chilterns and have a great reputation for providing skill and expertise on some stunningly beautiful visitor sites, nature reserves and footpaths and, above all, offering our volunteers great opportunities to help maintain these beautiful locations. Interested? Call Geoff Wiggett, our volunteer co-ordinator, on 01442 875906 or for an informal chat.

Rights of Way Group – Area Secretary
We are also looking for an area secretary to work with our Rights of Way group (RoWG) and covering The Central Bedfordshire and Luton area. If you love walking and really appreciate the huge network of footpaths in the Chilterns, this could be just the thing for you. There are about 20 area secretaries volunteering with the Society. They help monitor the condition of footpaths in their 'patch' and take appropriate action to resolve any reported difficulties. If you fancy this, why not contact the RoWG secretary, Brian Lawson on 01494 815814 or .

Rights of Way Group – Footpath representatives
In addition to the Area Secretary role, there are opportunities for Footpath Representatives. Each of our Path Representatives monitors paths in a parish or part of a parish – there is no requirement that the parish should be their own, though that will often be their preference. Their essential task is to walk their allocated paths with a view to identifying and reporting to their Area Secretary any problems they come across. It is very welcome if Path Representatives are also able to carry out some minor maintenance work on their paths but quite acceptable, and no hindrance to appointment, if they choose not to.

North Chilterns Workshop

A North Chilterns Workshop was held in the British Schools Museum, Hitchin on 26 September 2013.

The objective was to identify ways in which the Chiltern Society could play a more useful role in the north Chilterns and thereby attract new members and volunteers. Working in syndicates, participants generated a total of thirty-three new suggestions which have been grouped into differing categories for further consideration and possible development.

Planning – proposals included the hosting of a public North Chilterns Planning debate/forum, the communication of Society views to local interest groups, and also the suggestion to lobby for an extension of the AONB.
Umbrella – providing assistance on a regional basis to other organizations. This might be appropriate with civic groups or small conservation teams needing assistance.
Activities Group – providing a range of new activities for residents in the north Chilterns
Project – identifying a major project such as the acquisition of a new Site (as per the success transfer of three sites earlier this year from WD).
Promotions – to increase awareness of the Chiltern Society in the north Chilterns.
Miscellaneous – other ideas.

The Workshop attendees came from several organizations including Hertfordshire County Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Parish Councils and ‘Friends of Groups, civil Societies and members of the Chiltern Society.

How the Society takes forward any of these suggestions has yet to be developed, but certainly there was some enthusiasm amongst the participant at the Workshop to report some progress next year. Progress will depend to a large degree on the numbers of volunteers willing to help.

If you have any ideas how the Chiltern Society could grow in the north Chilterns, contact the Chiltern Society Trustee with special interest in the north Chilterns, Geoff Lambert by email .

Anyone interested in contributing a bit of spare time to any aspect of volunteering for the Chiltern Society in the north Chilterns should contact the Society's Volunteer Co-ordinator, Geoff Wiggett by email .

North Chilterns Planning Issues

The north Chilterns are currently under threat from several major development proposals which would impact on the Green Belt, impinge on the AONB and increase significantly the level of noise and traffic in the area.

The potential developments impact on the north and east of Luton, north of Houghton Regis and also south-west of Hitchin. Several thousand houses might be built in the region. A rail/freight interchange at Sundon would be a further intrusion on green belt close to the AONB. In addition, the proposal for the expansion of Luton Airport has serious implications, particularly night noise. All these possible developments have associated traffic implications.

Extracts from articles published in Chiltern magazine during 2013 give some background to the issues – three of these can be seen at the bottom of this page.

The visual impact of these proposals would exceed the damage done by HS2 in Buckinghamshire. To many local residents in the north Chilterns, the outcomes of the proposals are a matter of great concern.

The perceived planning threat to the north Chilterns is a difficult topic to address because some people, in say Luton or Hitchin, favour the concept of additional housing and improved employment but others in the area are very strongly against further encroachment into the green belt.

Anyone with comments on the planning threats in the north Chilterns should contact Michael Jepson, Chiltern Society Trustee and Chairman of the Chiltern Society Planning Group by email , or the Chiltern Society Trustee with special interest in the north Chilterns, Geoff Lambert by email .

For details about the activity of the Chiltern Society Planning Group, click here.

Anyone wishing to get involved in helping the Planning Group should contact the Society's Volunteer Co-ordinator, Geoff Wiggett by email .

Similar organisations

.Chilterns Conservation Board


.Campaign for Rural England – Herts


.Campaign for Rural England – Beds




.Countryside Management Service (Herts)


.The Hiz… is the newsletter of 
Friends of Charlton Village


.Friends of Studham Common


.Groundwork Hertfordshire


.Open Spaces Society


.The Box Moor Trust

Barton Hills, Bedfordshire

Extracts from our Chiltern magazine…

  • Assault on the Green Belt
  • Chiltern countryside at risk
  • Luton Airport

Assault on the Green Belt

(Charles Firth, Planning Group. Winter 2014/15)

Following public consultations conducted in 2013/14, Central Bedfordshire Council submitted their draft Development Strategy on 24th October 2014 to an Independent Inspector for examination.

In the Society’s opinion some of their proposals will have quite a detrimental effect on both the Chiltern Hills, the Chilterns AONB and an SSSI. In this context the Society wrote to Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) objecting to three of their proposed policies. Our letter, together with other objections, will be considered by the Inspector in his assessment of CBC’s proposed Development Strategy.

The common thread in these three policies is the removal of Green Belt status from large areas of the countryside by moving boundaries out and thereby creating land for development for housing, employment, roads and rail links. This is in contravention of Government policy to retain and protect Green Belt land and contrary to CBC’s policies.

The three areas are as follows.

Land North of Houghton Regis.

Whilst the main area of this land is located between the M1 and the A5, there is a smaller section to the east, between the town and the M1. The new M1-A5 link road will form the northern boundary of the area proposed to be taken out of the green belt which also includes some land for the new junction 11A on the M1.

Development of this land, which is predominantly prime agricultural land, would seriously impact on an area of attractive landscape, with the consequent loss of an important piece of green infrastructure linking areas of the AONB and Chiltern Hills. New buildings would be very visible being on rising ground and would extend the urban sprawl of Dunstable and Houghton Regis northwards, a process which green belts were designed to prevent. It would also destroy a rural area used for recreational purposes and crossed by a number of public footpaths including The Chiltern Way.

CBC have given conditional approval to an outline planning application for development of the eastern section and part of the northern section of the land known as Houghton Regis North Site 1. This proposed development is for 5,150 homes and 202,500 sqm of other buildings, primarily for employment purposes. The Society sent a written objection to CBC against this application. The Society understands Luton Borough Council have lodged a challenge to CBC’s decision.

Initial planning enquiries have been made in respect of Houghton Regis North Site 2.

Land North of Luton.

This proposed policy involves another land take out of green belt status and the area concerned lies between the M1 at its western end, and the A6 at its eastern end. It is adjacent to the Chilterns AONB to the north and in fact takes two sections of land from it.

CBC are proposing this land is developed primarily for residential and have put forward plans for some 31,000 new homes as well as additional employment areas and other facilities. Development of this magnitude would have a major impact on the AONB and allow the northwards spread of the Luton urban conurbation up to the AONB boundary as well as encroaching into it in two areas.

Implicit in this land release is the construction of the M1-A6 road link from the new Junction 11A, though the exact line of the road appears yet to be determined.

Sundon Rail/Freight Interchange

The site for this proposed development is currently green belt land, close to the Chilterns AONB and, next to the Sundon Quarry SSSI.

Not only would the development be a serious threat to the SSSI wildlife but it would also have an adverse visual impact on the AONB. The site will be serviced by roads to be constructed from the new M1 junction 11A.

We understand that a significant area of chalk downland will be lowered to accommodate this development and the large scale warehousing associated with it, thus damaging the sensitive chalk scarp landscape which is both precious and rare. Added to this will be the associated noise and light pollution from a 24/7 operation which will have a very detrimental effect on the neighbouring villages of Upper Sundon and Chalton.

There is also a serious question mark on whether or not another rail freight interchange is necessary in this location with a major one operating at Daventry to the north and a further one recently granted planning consent on the old Radlett aerodrome to the south. The Society objected to the Council’s proposals with the intent of ensuring the setting, ambiance and enjoyment of the Chiltern Hills is preserved for the future. It appears that Network Rail have already commenced work on site installing additional track to create a train passing facility which then would be the starting point for the rail/freight interchange.

Chiltern Countryside at Risk

(John Davies, Hitchin Society, Autumn 2013)

All who know and appreciate Hitchin, and its surrounding countryside, are dismayed at the thought of the massive housing development being contemplated south-west of the town. But that is just what the local authority is considering as part of a public consultation on housing options to meet future housing needs.

Hitchin proposed developmentProposed development sites are shown in red

The full impact of such a scheme only becomes clear when considered in context. Hitchin is a remarkable survival of a traditional market town firmly rooted in its surrounding countryside. It is also a typical town of the Chilterns, located in a fold in the surrounding hills and beside its local chalk stream, the river Hiz. The town is generally taken as marking the northern limit of the Chiltern Hills, beyond which the chalk uplands gradually fade away eastwards as the broader and less well-defined East Anglian Ridge.

The threatened countryside to the south and west of Hitchin is of a quality that makes it undoubtedly part of the Chilterns. It is ranked as a Landscape Conservation Area and is also part of the Green Belt. North of the A505, the proposed housing allocation extends right to the boundary of the AONB. Perhaps even more tellingly, the whole area forms a remarkably pleasant, and indeed precious, patchwork of fields and woods, hedgerows and narrow country lanes. An important aspect of this countryside is its accessibility. Its dense network of public rights-of-way, whether footpaths, bridleways, green lanes or the country lanes themselves, ensures ready access for a range of leisure activities; walking or cycling, or the country pursuits of riding and shooting. The village of Charlton would be surrounded by the development, including the source of the River Hiz, and the birthplace of Sir Henry Bessemer, engineer and pioneer of the modern steel industry.

The background to this disturbing prospect is that the local authority, North Hertfordshire District Council, is currently carrying out a housing allocation exercise as part of the development of a new Local Plan. Despite the findings from previous public consultations on appropriate levels of new housing provision, the District Council have concluded that they must allow for no less than 10,700 new dwellings in the twenty year period to 2031. They believe this total for the District is necessary if they are to convince an Inspector that future requirements will be met, including inward migration. This is in itself highly contentious as a local authority can cite reasons, such as the high proportion of Green Belt land in the District, to justify a more constrained approach to housing provision.

Even more contentious is the approach adopted by the Council for consulting on housing allocations. It might have been expected that the Council would have examined locations throughout the District for sites with the potential for sustainable housing development, for example, in close proximity to good transport links. However, the Council arguing that deliverability is a key issue in gaining acceptance of its plan, limited itself to listing only the sites proposed by developers or landowners. These sites were then put forward for consultation as a ranking exercise by the general public. The countryside south west of Hitchin is just one such site proposed by development interests. It is, nevertheless, by far the largest prospective site in North Herts, offering up to 7,400 new dwellings, or almost 70% of the planned total for the whole District.

But it gets worse. This scheme has been associated with an apparent offer to fund a new south west bypass to Hitchin provided that planning permission is granted for house building up to the bypass. This road would cause great damage to this special area of countryside, and severance of existing communities, while only making a limited contribution to easing traffic congestion in Hitchin. It must be hoped that the planners will be able to resist such an offer.

And then there is the impact of such a massive housing development on Hitchin itself. The town has already taken a disproportionately high level of new dwellings (44% of all new housing in North Herts in the current 20 year period) with virtually no new infrastructure. Any surplus carrying capacity that might have existed has been used up, leaving nothing to support the huge increase in housing now suggested.

It is however the loss of such fine countryside that is the overwhelming issue, with all civic and conservation organisations united in their opposition to the scheme. The Council has been urged to examine more sustainable housing options before selecting their preferred housing allocations. However, it is already clear that should any part of this scheme be included in an eventual Local Plan, it will face massive and sustained opposition at every stage of the process.

Luton Airport – ‘Flight Blight’

(Paul Mason, Summer 2013)

The current operator of Luton Airport (LLAOL) has submitted a planning application to Luton Borough Council for a major development of the airport.

The proposal is intended to enable the airport to handle 17.8 million passengers per annum by 2031 compared with 10.3 million anticipated for 2013, an increase of 73%. The projected increase in the number of aircraft movements over the same period is 40% indicating a substantial increase in average aircraft size in future years. The number of night time flights is also expected to increase.

In order to handle such a large increase in passengers, LLAOL proposes to make alterations to the access roads, to enlarge the terminal buildings, to extend the mid and long term car parks and build a new multi-storey car park. The proposal includes a new taxiway and extensions to the aircraft parking stands. No change to the runway itself is proposed. The changes to the taxiways and aircraft parking aprons are intended to enable a more intensive use of the runway. All the proposed changes to the roads, passenger facilities and aircraft handing arrangements will be contained within the present airport boundary.

The LLAOL planning document claims that the development will create an extra direct 5100 gross new full-time equivalent jobs plus an estimate of 4400 gross indirect and induced jobs in the area. The same document outlines proposed noise mitigation measures including an extension to the prohibition of the noisiest aircraft at night and working with operators to encourage the voluntary phase out of noisiest aircraft.

Full details of the Luton Airport expansion application by the operator LLAOL are available in a massive collection of extensive documents that can be viewed here using the application reference 12/01400/FUL. A summary of the Planning Application can be found in item 141.

Reactions to the proposal have been very mixed. Local business groups such as the Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce are in favour, not surprisingly since any expansion will bring extra demands for services and supplies and the possibility of a considerable number of additional jobs. Similarly the expansion has the support of Unite, Britain’s largest union who argues that ‘the self interest of a small group of 'not in my back yard' campaigners who are clearly out of touch with the reality which confronts tens of thousands of unemployed people should not be allowed to stand in the way of sensible growth and development’. Not everyone is so enthusiastic. The campaign group Hertfordshire Against Luton Airport (HALE) has been particularly vocal claiming that a majority of the public are against the plans to expand the Airport, despite rival claims that a public consultation showed clear support.

The BBC reported on the disputed consultation process earlier this year. HALE has warned of a 50% increase in night time flights, and campaigns against the additional noise and noise footprint, increased road traffic and unrealistic job creation estimates. Details of the campaign being lead by HALE are available here. Local Hertfordshire MP Anne Main has written to the Minister of State, Eric Pickles asking him to call in the plans. Harpenden MP Peter Lilley has called for an independent enquiry. Meanwhile Hertfordshire County Council and North Hertfordshire District Council have both expressed their concerns. Others warn of a 70% increase in CO2 emission from the Airport.

The Chiltern Society has also looked hard and long at the proposals contained in the application. While making no comment on the general principles of the planned expansion, it would recognise the proposals being for the benefit of the people using the airport. However, the Society has expressed specific concerns about increased aircraft noise from additional flights in and out of the airport and particularly from more night flights. As the whole purpose of the airport improvements is to increase passenger throughput it will inevitably mean more planes taking off and landing. This will obviously have a direct effect on those living in the Chiltern Hills area, especially those underneath the flight paths.

The Chiltern Society’s aim is to ensure that the impact on the tranquillity and character of the Chilterns by current and future operations of the airport is minimised. In that context, the Society has urged Luton Council that particular attention is paid to the question of additional aircraft noise and that appropriate conditions are included in any approval to mitigate the inconvenience to residents in the Chilterns.

To further complicate the situation, there have been press reports that Abertis, the Spanish based company that owns the majority shareholding in LLAOL is studying the possible sale of its airport division. How any change in ownership of the operating company at the Airport would affect the planning outcome is uncertain.

RoWG volunteers

The Rights of Way Group helps in keeping all kinds of rights of way open and safe.