Plans to rejuvenate a prominent town centre site in Bedford have stalled because of the impact of the pandemic on the local authority’s finances.
But the proposals to redevelop the Greyfriars Police Station building remain on the agenda, a Bedfordshire Police and Crime Panel meeting heard.
The project has been dogged by a series of frustrating delays, with the coronavirus crisis proving to be the latest setback.
One of the issues is maintaining an access route into the premises for future occupants of the site, without which its value would drop.
The development is situated between Greyfriars and Priory Street.
When its potential availability first became known there was interest from several bidders wanting to build residential accommodation.
“Sadly, at the moment, Covid-19 has meant planning applications haven’t been taken in the usual way,” Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway told the panel.
“I achieved the original outline planning permission for the change of use,” she said.
“We then sought outline planning permission for the development that was being suggested, working very closely with the officers of Bedford Borough Council.
“The planning officers wanted us to have housing on the upper levels and not too high a building.
“And, in their words, to add to a lively street scene have a cafe or a shop at the ground floor level.
“You’ll appreciate with Covid-19 there has been an enormous impact that, as yet, hasn’t been fully quantified in relation to the High Street,” added the PCC.
“So we’re absolutely fluid in working with planning officers over their requirements as we move forward out of the Covid emergency and whatever happens in terms of the economy, which is very difficult to predict.
“Having said that, it’s common sense you achieve a much higher price for a building when you can provide a developer with outline planning permission for it.”
Outline plans for the whole site redevelopment were due to have been considered at a planning committee meeting in April, according to a report to the panel.
The chief finance officer for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Phil Wells confirmed work with the borough council is continuing.
“Covid has had an impact on the amount of cash all our local authorities have got, and consequently on where they are going with their road schemes,” he explained.
“There is a road scheme right outside Greyfriars Police Station which for now has been put back to an indefinite period.
“We’re just working closely with them about whether we can bring that into the planning permission, so that we push that work on to the developer to get the road done and the building ready for sale.”
The premises was put on the market by the PCC as long ago as July 2017, when Kathryn Holloway described it as “no longer fit for purpose”.
She promised police would receive “maximum benefit” from the sale, with the funding destined to replace their temporary custody suite at Kempston.
SOURCE: Bedfordshire Police and Crime Panel meeting.
by Euan Duncan
Local Democracy Reporter