Help shape the future of Bedford Town Centre

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Bedford High Street (April 2019)
Like many all over the UK, Bedford High Street has been hit by austerity and evolving shopping habits.

Bedfordians are being asked to help Bedford Borough Council develop a future plan for our town centre.

The consultation wants to know how people use the town centre, how often they visit, and what might bring them into town more.

Sam Laycock, Chair of Bedford’s Business Improvement District, is backing the consultation.

“It is crucial that Bedford continues to hold its market position whilst recognising how it needs to adapt to change; the way people use the high street is evolving,” she said.

“Understanding what people want and need from their town centre will be critical to the success of our town centre businesses.

“We strongly encourage everyone to take part and contribute to this important process of creating a new Town Centre Plan and ‘have your say’.”

Town centres need to evolve

With the continued rise in online shopping town centres are permanently changing but Bedford has a unique story to tell.

Read: Opinion: Beyond M&S – the future of Bedford’s town centre

Alongside the town’s unique and beautiful river, 62% of local retailers are independent shops, a higher percentage than nearby Cambridge.

Small businesses also get automatic rate relief. In 2018, 77 new businesses opened in the town centre.

Read: Independent shops: saviours of the high street…

In 2020 the High Street will undergo a massive redevelopment and Bedford Borough Council wants to hear your ideas as it writes its new Town Centre Plan.

The consultation is open to all, whether residents, visitors, businesses, charities, cultural and heritage organisations and others.

The consultation must be listened to

However, Cllr Coombes, Bedford Borough Council’s Conservative Group leader says the consultation will only work if the council listens to the responses and acts on them.

“For a decade there has been an absence of energy, focus and leadership from the Mayor in supporting our town centre.

“We welcome his belated decision to adopt the Conservatives’ manifesto commitment to engage with businesses and residents and produce a coherent town centre strategy.

“Bedford continues to face the challenge posed by out of town retail and online shopping, resulting in reduced footfall.

“Despite this, our town centre has an incredible offering, including our magnificent Embankment setting and brilliant independent retailers which sets us apart from our rivals.

“Residents and businesses know best how we can make the most of these attributes so we expect the Council to listen to their ideas and act on their concerns.”

Drop in sessions

The survey is open until Friday 27 September 2019. It is available online on the Borough website at the council’s consultation pages.

There will also be paper copies available at Borough Hall, the Customer Service Centre and local libraries which can be sent to Consulting Bedford, Bedford Borough Council, Borough Hall, Cauldwell Street, Bedford, MK42 9AP.

Drop in sessions are also going to take place in Bedford Town Centre too, details on these to come.

If you have anything to add not covered in the consultation form then you can email TownCentre@bedford.gov.uk directly or write to the Consulting Bedford address.

“We are [Bedford is] the place to come whether you are a business, local resident or visitor,” said Cllr Henry Vann, Portfolio Holder for Town Centres.

“Bedford has a thriving town centre, free parking on offer, loading bays for shoppers, a huge proportion of high quality independent shops and a lower rate of empty shops than most nearby towns and cities,”

“With our investment in services in the town centre, the major redevelopment of the High Street coming next summer, and ongoing business rate support the council is doing loads to support the town centre.

“Every lever is an option and we have lots of ideas, but now we want to hear yours. Bedford town centre belongs to all of us and it really is what we make it.

“Please respond to the consultation, come along and meet me and team at one of our drop-in sessions, and give us your thoughts.”