Bedford, “It’s a great place to build a theme park”, says Universal’s new ventures president

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Universal Theme Park & Resorts' president of new ventures, Page Thompson, (right) addresses Bedfordians at Kimberley College during their first public theme park event 23 April 2024
Universal Theme Park & Resorts' president of new ventures, Page Thompson, (right) addresses Bedfordians at Kimberley College during their first public theme park event 23 April 2024. Image: Bedford Independent

Page Thompson, the president of new ventures at Universal Theme Parks & Resorts has told the Bedford Independent that Bedford is a “great place to build a theme park”.

A queue of up to an hour long had already formed by the time the doors to the event at Kimberley College, Stewartby had opened and, in true British fashion, showed no sign of shortening even a few hours into the first public event about Universal’s UK theme park plans.

Speaking to the Bedford Independent, Mr Thompson said the welcome from Bedfordians had been “unprecedented” when compared to other projects they’ve done around the world.

“We have been looking for quite some time for a location to build our first Universal resort here in Europe and we’ve specifically been looking at England now for several years, we found this site in Bedford that we really like for many reasons,” he continued.

“From our very first meeting, a year and a half ago, with [former] Mayor Dave, it has been an incredibly positive reception from Bedford who are really embracing the project and want it to go forward.

“And that’s really important for Universal because we want to bring a project to an area that wants to have it.”

There were queues of up to an hour to get into Universal Theme Park's public event at Kimberley College 13 April 2024. Image: Bedford Independent
There were queues of up to an hour to get into Universal Theme Park’s public event at Kimberley College 13 April 2024. Image: Bedford Independent

The Bedford Independent broke the news and confirmed that Comcast, the parent company of Univeral Theme Parks & Resorts, are looking at Bedford for the location of a new theme park in December.

Read: Universal Studios confirm they are planning a theme park in Bedford Borough

The plans to bring a theme park to the UK are still going through feasibility studies, and there is no firm decision yet. But the team from Universal were on hand to speak to anyone and tell them where they are with that study.

What we do know is that the company now owns 476 acres of land with options on some additional land and they hope to be creating a theme park, a hotel and a small retail, dining and entertainment area called City Walk on that land.

It’s that land that is key, says Mr Thompson

“The reason we like Bedford so much is because the site itself is flat, which is great for building a theme park,” he said.

“It was already slated to be developed in the town plan, so it’s not green belt, and its location makes it easy and convenient for people to get to from London on a train.

“The New East West Rail (EWR) connecting Oxford and Bedford will allow people to come down from the north more easily and get into our park.

“And we have Luton Airport nearby with 18 to 19 million passengers [annually], coming in and hopefully growing at some point in the future. So it’s really an ideal location.”

End-of-the-year decision

Mr Thompson was keen to stress that they still need to carry out a lot more work before they decide to put in an official application, but they haven’t come this far without having a good feeling about these plans.

“We’re very serious about the opportunity, we have a large team of people here and we’re working on the site now doing archaeological and environmental studies. So, we absolutely are taking this very seriously.

“It’s still many months to go before the evaluation of the feasibility study is complete… it’s difficult to nail down an exact timeline, but hopefully, by the end of the year we will have a lot more information.”

Crowds gathered at Kimberley College for Universal Theme Park's public event, 13 April 2024. Image: Bedford Independent.
Crowds gathered at Kimberley College for Universal Theme Park’s public event, 13 April 2024. Image: Bedford Independent.

Part of the information needed for that feasibility study is feedback from local people. Today’s event, which runs until 4pm was packed out at Kimberley College, but there is a second event at Bedford College on Tuesday, 16 April from 4:30 until 8pm.

The Universal UK Project website also carries a feedback survey for local people to share their views and Mr Thompson says this feedback is vitally important.

Take part: Universal UK Project feedback survey

“We’re very interested in the feedback people have, especially about areas such as how can we make this park a venue that embraces the local history.

“I have to say the most amazing thing for us at Universal has been the incredible warm welcome we’ve gotten from the people of Bedford.

“The enthusiasm for the project is almost unprecedented in terms of projects we’ve done around the world.

“Thank you for the warm reception from all the wonderful people we’ve met here today and in the past. It’s really a warm, friendly, welcoming community and I hope we’ll be part of it.”

This is the first article from the Universal Studios events, further articles will be published in the coming days.