Free parking bays created to support Bedford’s growing ‘click and collect’ economy

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The parking bays outside St Cuthbert's Arcade will help shoppers, plus anyone collecting a takeaway from the nearby cafes and restaurants

The introduction of 10 short-term parking bays designed to support Bedford’s growing ‘click and collect’ economy have been welcomed by the town’s retailers.

The bays, at various locations around the town centre, are designed to allow shoppers to take advantage of click & collect services, introduced so businesses can continue trading during the coronavirus pandemic.

Current government guidelines allow non-essential retailers to offer pre-ordered shopping to be collected from the store.

Emma Foley of Anorak in the old Arcade said: “It’s a real positive because it makes the process of shopping locally easier and that’s what we have to work towards.

“We all know the benefits of supporting independents but anything we can do in making that process less time consuming and more cost-effective is a step towards getting more and more people to do it.”

In agreement was fellow business owner, Rosanna Heasman, who said, “For me it’s a game-changer, to be able to offer a space for customers to temporarily park whilst they collect their shopping makes shopping at the store much more accessible than before.”

Rosanna, who runs The Store on St Cuthbert’s Street, has already seen the benefit of the new bays.

“No longer are customers anxious about leaving their cars parked on double yellows, but even have time to also pop across the road to Vanilla Tree and grab a coffee to go.

“I’ve already seen the benefits this weekend, with more customers now able to stop by as opposed to feeling like they have to park and walk around the corner to the store which was usually a deterrent.”

Matt Wolton, of Herd, a restaurant and bar opposite The Store, told the Bedford Independent that the bays were very helpful for customers collecting takeaways and had not had a negative impact on the street’s traffic.

Read: Have yourself a Bedford indie Christmas

Bedford's Old Arcade
Visitors to the Edwardian Arcade in Bedford can park in the short-term bays to visit many of Bedford’s independent shops

Bedford Borough Council introduced the measures after requests from local businesses and the bays can be found at:

  • Castle Lane
  • Commercial Road
  • Greyfriars Car Park
  • Harpur Street
  • Lurke Street
  • Mill Street
  • River Street
  • St Cuthbert’s Street
  • St Loyes Street
  • St Paul’s Square

They’ll be in place for at least 18 months, but could be made permanent if they prove successful.

Councillor Henry Vann, Portfolio Holder for Town Centres and Planning, added, “We are urging residents to shop local to support our independent retailers and national chain stores this Christmas and this will make it even easier to do so.”

Visitors can park for free in the bays for up to 15 minutes and can be used to pick up pre-ordered shopping, hot food deliveries, or provide loading areas for deliveries to nearby businesses.

Conservatives say there should be more free parking

Meanwhile, Bedford’s Conservative Group don’t think the Mayor has gone far enough, while the council’s Green representatives urged caution about the panacea of free parking.

A statement from the Conservative Group’s deputy leader, Cllr Roger Rigby, said, “Bedford’s Mayor should remove parking charges in the town centre for four hours every weekday until the New Year to rescue Christmas…”

Roger Rigby
Cllr Roger Rigby of the Bedford Conservative Group

“This second lockdown has dealt Bedford’s retail businesses a heavy blow, coming so soon after the COVID restrictions earlier this year and with a huge switch to online shopping during the course of the pandemic.

“The Mayor must help make December busy and profitable, aiding in the revival of our hard-pressed retailers and bringing shoppers back into Bedford.”

Cllr Rigby believes that offering free car parking will bring them, customers back into town.

He also cited a Bedford BID survey which shows their members have asked for more free car parking long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is absolutely vital for the survival of our town’s retailers… The Borough must gift our retailers and their customers free Christmas parking,” he said.

Green councillors, however, say they support efforts to help local businesses thrive but don’t agree that offering more free parking is the answer.

“Free parking effectively incentivises more people to make even short journeys by car. Increased dominance of vehicles won’t make the town centre attractive or safer,” said Cllr Lucy Bywater.

“Evidence from both Sustrans and the Government show that people overestimate how many potential customers travel by car, and evidence shows that cycle parking delivers five times higher retail spend than the same area of car parking.

“Temporary changes to the High Street have created less room for cyclists and white paint markings elsewhere have not made a difference”

Town centre businesses that offer click and collect can be found at lovebedford.co.uk/covid.

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