Bedford Borough Council say they’ve highlighted a number of “priority initiatives” which could secure Government funding to enhance sustainable transport, event infrastructure, and the ‘street scene’ of Bedford town centre.
But the town’s Green Party Councillors say the list doesn’t go far enough to support sustainable travel and the town centre economy.
The ‘Town Deal Accelerator’ is part a £3.6 billion fund available to council’s across the country, for projects that are ‘shovel ready’, can, start as soon as funding is approved, and will be complete by 31 March 2021.
The current list of schemes under consideration include:
- Cycle Enhancements: To improve and encourage cycling to the town centre by improving cycle links and providing secure parking.
- Silver Street Square: Removing planters and street furniture to create an open space for performances and encourage cafe culture to encourage businesses to open. The design would match the works to be delivered via the High Street Heritage Action Zone and Transporting Bedford projects.
- Event Infrastructure Enhancements: Installation of additional electricity points to enable the greater use of public squares in the town centre for performances.
Cllr Henry Vann, Town Centres Portfolio Holder at the council says that if successful this funding will help restart projects that suffered from a previous shortage of cash.
“This is a great opportunity to deliver real improvements to Bedford town centre, continuing to improve our environment and drive forward investment,” he said.
“These are schemes that we would like to deliver and were ‘shovel ready’ but were unable to happen because of a shortage of funding in most cases.”
The schemes are part of the Mayor’s Priority Fund announced in June 2019, which continues to be open for other schemes and is open to further bids.
But Green Councillors, Lucy Bywater and Ben Foley say funding would be better diverted to more sustainable transport options in the town.
“We welcome measures to make the town centre more attractive to draw local people in, said Cllr Bywater, “but decent new cycling infrastructure is a really vital part of this too.”
The Councillors highlight two ideas that could also benefit from the funding:
- A safe south-north cycle lane over the town bridge and up the High Street
- Physical separation from cars rather than just white road markings
“The Council has been going down the wrong path by subsidising car parking,” added Cllr Ben Foley.
“We urgently need a shift to active travel and so the Council must make it attractive and safe for people to walk and cycle, and not incentivise them to get in the car.
“Many people including those with children would like to cycle into town given the confidence to do so safely”.
Citing recent House of Commons research, Cllr Bywater and Cllr Foley say there are numerous arguments for promoting and enabling safe active travel (walking and cycling) to support the economy.
“People walking and cycling spend almost a third more in town centres over the course of a month than car drivers,” they said.
The final list of capital investment schemes must be submitted to Government by 14 August.
- Correction: this article was updated on 5 August 2020 at 08:33 to include further information about which projects are eligible for funding. The words ‘and will be complete by 31 March 2021’ were added.