“Bedford’s best days are yet to come” says Mayor after reports of major investment in Borough

Mayor Tom Wootton standing along Bedford's River Great Ouse with the town bridge in the background.
Mayor Tom Wootton

Bedford’s mayor said he is “overjoyed” over recent announcements that he says prove “Bedford’s best days are yet to come”.

Tom Wootton (Conservative) repeated his manifesto mantra, which he first used when he launched his mayoral election campaign exclusively in the Bedford Independent in March.

Read: Exclusive: Conservative candidate Tom Wootton reveals his manifesto for Bedford Mayoral challenge

Now, after reports of major investment plans in the Borough and Bedford Town Centre, the mayor has been speaking to John Guinn, of the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), about making the most of these opportunities.

Earlier this week the Bedford Independent broke the worldwide exclusive that Universal Studios could be building a theme park in the borough.

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

And now the mayor has confirmed that the council is the preferred bidder to buy the Debenhams store in Bedford’s town centre.

Read: Breaking News: Bedford Borough Council planning to buy former Debenhams building

“It’s been empty and it’s been derelict, and it’s right in the middle of our town,” the Conservative mayor said. “It became a real election issue, and I did a little video outside Debenhams calling for something to be done.

“It took a while to work that through and we’ve agreed the price, we’ve agreed everything. I’ve just got to wait for the 10-day call-in period to pass.”

A “call in” is a scrutiny function and gives councillors the right to examine an executive decision that has been made but not yet implemented.

Call in

The LDRS asked if this meant opposition councillors could ask the mayor and the executive to reconsider this decision.

“[The Lib Dems] are unlikely to call it in now because they’ve said it was their idea all along, you just couldn’t make it up,” the mayor said.

“That’s why we didn’t do any big sort of hoo-ha because I thought, ‘well what’s the point of doing a big hoo-ha if they call it in?’.

“Instead of that, they did a press release saying it was all their idea,” he said.

The Liberal Democrat Group also said in their press release (published today, December 21) that “despite progress earlier in the year”, council activity over the site had “stalled” since the Conservatives had taken over discussions.

In response, mayor Tom said: “They had the chance to do anything they wanted, but they chose not to, didn’t they?”

While the mayor is “overjoyed” with the announcement, there are examples of councils buying properties and then running into problems.

The LDRS asked the mayor if he is worried that this could happen in this case.

“Let’s look at it like this, we bought it when it’s been empty for years,” the mayor replied.

“We’ve bought at the bottom of the market and I reckon we’ve paid a good price because the site was valued a lot higher than we’ve paid.

“It could go south, it could go wrong, but you’re got to be positive and look forward and just say Bedford’s best days are yet to come.

“Because whatever I put in this site has got to be better than what’s in it now. There is nothing in it now, it’s sitting empty right in the middle of the town.

“So I’m going to be looking for loads of stuff to bring in, we’ve got quite exciting plans that we’re going to bring forward, so let’s see what we can do.

“It’s all part of the regeneration of the town centre.

“No matter how you count it, that footfall has been falling, and now it’s slowly, but surely, just starting to creep up.

“That four hours of free parking and everything else is just starting to work.

“We’ve got quite some exciting plans to bring forward, so let’s see what we can do to ensure Bedford’s best days are yet to come.”

Additional reporting by Paul Hutchinson
for the Bedford Independent

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