“Smaller shops and plenty of events” is the vision for the future of Bedford town centre

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Bedford Flea
Events like Bedford Flea bring visitors into the town centre and improve economic growth

Bedford’s future will be about smaller shops and plenty of events, the town’s mayor has said.

On Thursday (17 November) the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee was given a report on how Bedford Borough Council plans to attract new businesses to Bedford.

Following the report, the Conservative Group leader, councillor Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead), asked what Bedford town centre will look like once all the initiatives were completed.

“When is the sort of finite date you can say ‘there you go, that’s what we’re expecting it to look like by this specific date,” he asked.

The portfolio holder for town centres and planning, councillor Henry Vann (LibDems, De Parys), replied that the vision is published in the Town Centre Plan

“It does say what we want it to look like and what we’re going to try to do,” he said. “And in fact on later pages there to sort of break down what those aims are.

“There is a timeline on some of those clearly, but for others, the change over time is going to be you know slower, I think it’s fair to say,” he said.

Bedford mayor, Dave Hodgson said to councillor Coombes: “If you can tell me where the events world will be in 10 years’ time because I think that’s where your specialism is and where it was 10 years ago, please can we have a chat because we can probably make a killing.

“And likewise, I don’t think we can say where the town centre will be.

“When we published the vision for the town centre and Henry said 2020 to 2023, we didn’t know just around the corner was a pandemic.

“We’d already set up the Town Centre Priority Fund to try and get events.

“Retail in traditional market towns is not going to be what it was in the 1960s, 70s or even the year 2000, it is going to be different.

“We’ve seen already, and I think that was happening back in 2020, the demise of the big department store and the big store

“It’s [having] a small town centre presence, probably backed up by some internet, either sales or marketing.

“It’s [also] about having events happening, it’s about coming into Bedford as somewhere to go, to go to a nice restaurant, but ideally to do a little bit shopping beforehand, or go around to see some stuff,” he said.

The mayor said Bedford was “blessed” with many places, both inside and out, that can host events and activities that bring people into Bedford.

“And we need to get them in early, [we need] to get restaurants to say, ‘look if you get in here at six o’clock, we can get you out for your performances by seven, seven thirty’, [this] will be really advantageous,” he said.

“[Bedford] is a place to come and visit, and hopefully you’ll do some shopping, and you’ll wander around and think, ‘I want to come back here because there’s nice little shops’,” he said.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter