Figures obtained by Conservative mayoral candidate, Cllr Gianni Carofano, show that footfall in Bedford town centre fell by nearly three quarters of a million in 2018 compared with 14.7m in 2017.
Footfall had increased between 2014 – 2017, so the latest figures are a stark reminder of the challenges facing town centres, posed by changing shopping habits including online and out of town retailing.
Cllr Carofano is now calling on the Council to engage with and listen to businesses and residents in order to submit a ‘compelling’ bid for investment to the Government’s new £675m Future High Streets Fund. He said:
“Mayor Hodgson has failed to produce a coherent strategy for Bedford town centre. He told us that Riverside North would bring in 500k visitors but footfall actually reduced by 710k in 2018 compared with 2017.
- A zero tolerance policy on littering, street drinking and antisocial behaviour so the town feels clean and safe again
- Working with all partners to end rough sleeping on our streets
- Introducing a less restrictive parking policy, including 2 hours free parking in multi story[sic] car parks every day of the week, not just on Saturdays
“We need to offer an experience to bring people back into Bedford. There should be more of a focus on leisure by exploring activities such as bowling and trampolining for children and teenagers. The Council should also provide a clean and safe environment with a zero tolerance crack-down on anti-social behaviour and street drinking which has blighted some areas such as Midland Road.
“Bedford town centre has a very positive future but it will only reach its potential if we work with residents and businesses to produce a vision for regeneration.”
Defending the footfall figures, Mayor Dave Hodgson said:
“After four straight years of footfall increases – in contrast to national decline – suddenly the Conservatives have something to say about footfall after the first drop in five years, in the context of a massive national crisis for all town centres. And while other indicators such as our empty shop rate continues to be better than nearby towns and the national rate.
“My clear vision is for a town centre which is attractive not only for retail but also leisure, culture, food and drink and more. That’s why we’ve brought a cinema back to the town centre after 30 years, we’ve delivered the redevelopment of the Higgins Bedford, we have festivals and events, we’ve opened up new public space by our beautiful riverside and more.
“Commercial operators and investors are also backing Bedford in a big way, as shown by the investment at the Harpur Centre, Swan Hotel, Beales, the new Days Department store in the old BHS and more. And with our free parking deals giving us an advantage over other towns, we’ll keep working in support of businesses and residents to ensure Bedford is able to take on the huge challenges facing all towns.”
The Bedford Independent approached Bedford BID, whose Love Bedford brand promotes Bedford town centre, for a comment. We have not received a response.