New cycle lanes and wider pavements are on the horizon, plus Debenhams is to reopen, as Bedford town centre prepares to welcome shoppers as government guidelines relax.
In a move to encourage pedestrians and cyclists safely back into the town centre, Mayor Dave Hodgson has today (Friday) announced that traffic on Bedford High Street will be reduced to one lane later this month.
The existing narrow pavements along the High Street mean that social distancing is impossible to adhere to.
The scheme will help pedestrians to visit High Street shops whilst socially distancing, particularly around people who may be queueing for shops.
A statement from the Council said, “This work was already planned via the Transporting Bedford project this summer and, while permanent works have had to be put on hold due to the outbreak, these changes will deliver wider pavements and a more pleasant shopping experience, supporting our town centre at this difficult time.”
The implementation will see semi-permanent bollards to identify the walking areas, partially funded by £121,000 from the Government emergency active travel fund.
In addition, there will be new cycle lanes and markings on four roads: River Street, Greyfriars, Bromham Road and the Embankment.
Mayor Dave Hodgson said, “We have been working to find ways to make it easier for people to visit our town centre businesses, and to be able to walk and cycle to where they need to go.
“These improvements will help people to feel safe and welcome when they visit our town centre for their essentials, and the schemes for cyclists will hopefully give more people the confidence to try commuting by bike.”
Cllr Henry Vann, Portfolio Holder for Town Centres said, “We are working to support town centre businesses, to remind people to stay safe, and to ensure that people feel safe when visiting essential stores in line with Government guidelines and abiding by social distancing not just for their own safety but for the safety of others.
“Creating this additional space for pedestrians by widening the pavements on the High Street will help people feel safer visiting essential shops in the town, and make it easier for businesses to keep operating at what is a very difficult time.”
The High Street works are expected to start during week commencing Monday 22 June, with the works on the new cycle lanes expected to take place later in the summer.
Debenhams to reopen
In other good news for the High Street, Bedford’s Debenhams store is among 50 branches that the retailer is reopening on 15 June.
The announcement was made yesterday (Thursday), and Steven Cook, Debenhams’ managing director told the BBC, “We are delighted to be welcoming customers back to our stores in the coming weeks.
“From the installation of perspex screens at till points to the roll-out of social distancing procedures and PPE, we have been working hard to ensure our colleagues and customers can work and shop with confidence.
“Our reopening plans follow the successful conclusion of lease negotiations on 120 stores, meaning that the vast majority of our stores will be reopening.”
“This is obviously great news for our town centre,” said Henry Vann.
“Debenhams is an important part of Bedford’s retail offer – alongside our strong and nimble independent sector – and it is welcome news that the Bedford store is re-opening.
“We had understood that this was a possibility and I am delighted that it has been confirmed.”