Town centres across the UK are in deep crisis. We only have to pick up a newspaper or flick on the TV news for the latest story of a national chain carrying out mass closures of shops.
Here in Bedford we know only too well about those closure programmes, having suffered at the hands of Marks and Spencers’ large scale removal of shops in mid-size towns.
That was a reminder that Bedford is subject to the huge challenges facing all high streets, which are caused by a range of factors including the increase in out-of-town and in particular online shopping.
We have worked hard in Bedford to buck the trend, with a number of successes. The Riverside Bedford development has brought town centre cinema back to town along with new riverside restaurants, new public space and more reasons to visit and enjoy Bedford.
We also have a lower rate of empty shops than many nearby towns and, at 62%, our fantastic independents make up a much higher proportion of retailers than in most other areas, including Cambridge.
The strengths of the town are underpinned by the wide range of free parking deals we’ve introduced, reversing the trend in years past to simply increasing charges without consideration of how they impact trade.
But we are by no means immune to the challenges and the pressures which across the UK are causing 16 shop closures a day.
Backing our town centre is such a high priority that I have introduced a brand new Cabinet position for town centres, and appointed Cllr Henry Vann to the role. Henry is Bedford through and through, and in addition to his impressive record of achievement as Cabinet Member for Education, he is also the biggest champion of Bedford town centre you could meet.
And he wants your help in making our town centre even better. As we embark on producing a new Town Centre Plan, we are asking for your views.
Encouragingly, with a few days remaining there has been a very healthy level of response so far, with over 2,000 contributions received.
The consultation runs until 27th September, so you need to be quick if you want to have your say. You can do so at https://forms.bedford.gov.uk/TCS/
One of the many brilliant things about Bedford is how many people care about their town and want the best for it. By bringing together our thoughts and ideas, we can work towards making Bedford town centre even more vibrant, successful and enjoyable for all.
This is a monthly guest column provided by
Mayor Dave Hodgson and published unedited.