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8 / BEDFORD TOWN CENTRE

BEDFORD TOWN CENTRE POLICIES

Policy TC1 Protecting architectural and historic features

Policy TC2 Grant aid

Policy TC3 Environmental improvements

Policy TC4 Shopfronts and advertisements

Policy TC5 Riverside enhancements

Policy TC6 Secondary shopping frontages

Policy TC7 Living over the shop

Policy TC8 Town centre residential use

Policy TC9 Office use in Primary Shopping Area

Policy TC10 Town centre amenity

INTRODUCTION

8.1 Bedford Town Centre has many functions. For the residents of Bedford it is the main centre for shopping, financial and administrative services and culture. People also live and work in the town centre. For those living outside the Borough, these functions are also important and this is reflected in the town's sub-regional role. The town centre is in effect the 'hub of the wheel', providing a focus for both the local community and for visitors to the Borough. It is therefore appropriate that it is given special attention in the Local Plan.

8.2 The importance of the town centre cannot be overestimated. Its buildings and spaces give the town centre its own unique identity and sense of place. The quality of these, along with the range of shopping service and cultural activities, is critical to its success. It is also a major determining factor in attracting external investors, either as individuals or financial institutions.

8.3 The town centre is also well placed to provide a range of goods and services which serve the whole community, particularly those who do not have access to private cars. Its multi-functional role enables one journey to serve several purposes. When combined with its high level of accessibility by public transport, this means that the town centre has a vital part to play in achieving more sustainable development. This in turn emphasises the importance of safeguarding and strengthening this role.

THE DEFINITION OF THE TOWN CENTRE

8.4 The extent of the town centre is shown on the Proposals Map and comprises the primary shopping area within which the primary shopping frontage has been identified (see Policy SH3). Beyond this lies a series of secondary shopping streets which play an important role in supporting the diversity of the town centre. These include part of Tavistock Street, The Broadway, Lime Street, St Loyes Street, the High Street, Greyfriars, part of Midland Road, Harpur Street and Mill Street.

8.5 The fringe of the town centre also includes pockets of housing, the largest of which lies between Midland Road and Commercial Road. Immediately beyond the town centre to the north, west and east, are extensive areas of high and medium density housing. These in turn contribute towards the vitality of the centre. To the south lies the River Great Ouse and the start of The Embankment.

KEY ISSUES

8.6 In devising corporate strategies to protect and enhance the role of Bedford Town Centre, the Borough Council has had to address the following key issues:

  1. The development of a high quality, thriving town centre is vital if inward investment is to be attracted to the Borough.

  2. The town centre will increasingly have to compete with both other forms of retailing, and with other centres. In order to survive, it needs to establish a more attractive and distinctive image based on:

  • a high quality environment, particularly within the primary shopping area;

  • a wide diversity of uses including shopping, service, employment, residential, cultural and leisure uses;

  • better quality retail accommodation;

  • a greater number of niche retailers;

  • convenient access;

  • high quality shopper car parking.

  1. The town centre has several important assets which need to be enhanced and protected. These include the town's heritage of buildings and spaces, its riverside location and primary shopping area. Whilst these provide opportunities, they also limit the centre’s capacity for change.

  2. There is a need to encourage and support higher quality shopfronts and advertisements in the town centre.

  3. There is a need to regenerate parts of the town centre which appear run down and under used.

  4. The town centre needs to accommodate a greater diversity of uses to encourage different activities throughout the day and night. In this respect, residential use has a crucial part to play.

  5. There is a need to reduce traffic congestion within the town centre whilst improving facilities for public transport, pedestrians, cyclists and disabled people and, in particular, to create a traffic free zone within the heart of the primary shopping area.

8.7 In order to improve the health of the town centre and promote its economic development, the Borough Council has adopted a number of strategies which have a bearing on the town centre. These include strategies for economic development, transportation, tourism, and housing. Clearly scope for action extends beyond the remit of the planning system and the Council recognises the need for co-ordinated efforts to ensure that the end result is greater than the sum of the parts.

8.8 The Borough Council has adopted the following Mission Statement for the Town Centre: ‘To create a thriving and active town centre in Bedford which is attractive, interesting, enjoyable to visit, safe, accessible to all and free of congestion. The best elements which have been inherited should be regenerated and successfully balanced with additions of quality. To achieve a town centre which will be and remain a pleasant and prosperous focus of retail, service, employment and cultural activity and varied community life.’

8.9 The Council, in partnership with the private sector has a key role in working towards the achievement of this objective and ensuring that the vitality and viability of the town centre is retained and enhanced. This fully complies with one of the main objectives of Government Policy which recognises the benefits that town centres provide. To date, achievements include major environmental improvements, the refurbishment of the Corn Exchange, improved community safety measures, shopmobility, street entertainment, a programme of events, the introduction of public art and marketing initiatives. This reflects the breadth of the Borough Council’s commitment to the town centre.

8.10 Within this context, the Local Plan’s contribution to achieving the Borough Council’s corporate strategies for the town centre focuses on five key elements. These are:

– Improving the physical framework and conserving the town’s heritage of buildings and spaces.

– Protecting and enhancing the diversity of uses within the town centre in order to improve its vitality and viability.

– The management of the town centre to ensure that co-ordinated action creates an environment which is clean, safe and pleasant to use.

– The introduction of a series of measures to improve accessibility to the town centre whilst reducing congestion in the primary shopping area.

– The adoption of robust local plan policies in order to safeguard and strengthen the primary shopping area.

BEDFORD'S HERITAGE AND PHYSICAL FRAMEWORK

8.11 The town centre represents the heart of a historic market and county town which has developed since Saxon times. Its earliest origins were focussed on the river crossing and Bedford Castle – itself a Scheduled Ancient Monument and one of the most prominent historic features in the modern townscape. The majority of the centre lies within the Bedford Conservation Area and is characterised by buildings which vary widely in terms of both style and period. A total of 41 of these are listed as being of special architectural or historic interest, and include St Paul’s Church, the Shire Hall and the Harpur Suite. The centre also includes buildings of lesser quality dating mainly from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. In certain cases, these now appear dated and unappealing. However, it is this diversity of architectural style which, in itself, forms an integral part of Bedford's character. Furthermore, even buildings of lesser merit can make an important contribution if they are kept in good order.

8.12 A key feature of the town is the fact that the existing street pattern has remained unchanged since almost medieval times. Unlike many other towns, Bedford escaped the ravages of comprehensive redevelopment in the 1950’s and 60’s, with a result that much of the town's heritage still exists today. It is this heritage which gives the town much of the character and which provides the base line for the centre’s image to be improved. Hand in hand with the encouragement of sensitively designed new development must be the improvement and conservation of the town's existing built fabric. In addition, environmental improvements within the town centre should respect the historical context of Bedford in terms of both design and the use of materials.

8.13 In some cases, existing buildings are in a poor state of repair arising from years of neglect. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many upper floors are either under used or disused. This is particularly the case in the secondary shopping streets such as the High Street, which ceased to form the main commercial focus for the town centre with the establishment of the Harpur and Howard shopping centres. The relocation of the market from St Paul’s Square also served to hasten its decline.

8.14 Three key initiatives form an integral part of the Borough Council’s strategy to address these issues and improve the town centre. These are:

  1. The establishment of a Conservation Area Partnership in association with Bedfordshire County Council and English Heritage covering the central part of Bedford Conservation Area, and targeting resources towards the repair of selected buildings, and environmental enhancement schemes. This scheme has now been completed.

  2. The Architectural Maintenance Grant Scheme which encourages facade improvements, including new shopfronts and signs which are more respectful of their context. Selected buildings within the central area of the town centre are eligible for this scheme, and to date several shopfronts and other improvements including cleaning have been carried out with grant assistance.

  3. The Living over the Shop Scheme. This recognises that buildings are more likely to be maintained if they are fully utilised. It seeks to convert otherwise empty space to residential accommodation in conjunction with the Bedfordshire Pilgrims Housing Association. A number of schemes have now progressed to completion. In recognition of the importance of this initiative and the desire to bring this space back into use, the Borough Council has relaxed its car parking policy within the primary shopping area defined on the Proposals Map. Any proposals for conversions outside this defined area would have to fully comply with the Council's adopted car parking standards.

POLICY TC1
The Borough Council will actively protect and enhance the architectural, archaeological and historic features of Bedford Town Centre including:
i) listed buildings and their settings;
ii) buildings which although not listed, form an integral part of the Bedford Conservation Area and its setting;
iii) the street pattern and historic property boundaries. (see Policy BE9)
POLICY TC2
The Borough Council will continue to support the repair and enhancement, and the re-use of selected buildings in and adjoining Bedford Town Centre through the provision of grant aid.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS

8.15 In recent years there has been a growing awareness of environmental factors, including the need for an improvement in levels of safety, comfort and accessibility for pedestrians in the town centre. This has led the Council to undertake a programme of environmental enhancement schemes combined with either full or partial pedestrianisation. To date several phases have been completed, including Silver Street, St. Paul’s Square (North and East), Allhallows/ Church Square and Midland Road (West).

8.16 Policies BE43 and BE44 refer to the Council’s desire to create high quality public spaces and introduce public art into the built environment. The streets and squares of the town centre form the most important parts of the ‘public realm’ in the Borough, and the Council has a key role in ensuring that this is well designed, readily accessible and maintained to a high standard.

8.17 The Borough Council intends to extend the programme of environmental improvements in the town centre, both individually and in partnership with other organisations. Public consultation will form an integral part of this process. Priorities for action include the following:

Midland Road (East)

8.18 The Borough Council has recognised the considerable potential to improve the pedestrian environment in Midland Road (East) in conjunction with Harpur Street (South) and Harpur Square. This section of Midland Road includes the predominant part of the primary shopping frontage and environmental enhancements to reinforce this role have recently been completed.

Harpur Street (South) and Harpur Square

8.19 Harpur Square is one of the main public spaces in the town centre and the western side is defined by the Blore facade of the former Bedford Modern School. Work has recently been completed on the resurfacing of the area to provide a major new civic square for Bedford. This provides a new focal point for the town centre and has been designed to support a wide range of activities including community use, entertainment, exhibitions and speciality markets. A contra-flow bus lane in River Street/Horne Lane allows buses a suitable alternative to the previous route through Midland Road (East) and Harpur Street (South) which are now pedestrianised.

The High Street

8.21 A key problem for Bedford Town Centre is its continued location on the A6. This enters the town centre at Tavistock Street to the north and continues southwards towards the Town Bridge. The combination of relatively narrow footways, heavy traffic flows and vehicle speed creates a poor quality pedestrian environment in the High Street. As a result, pedestrian flows are no longer sufficient to sustain a good range of shops. Many shops which once provided attractions are now charity shops or have gone ‘down market’. However, the recent redevelopment of Nos. 29-41 High Street represents a major new investment, and reflects the opportunities that exist for sensitive regeneration in this part of the town centre. The Shopping chapter highlights the need to focus appropriate retail development in the High Street in order to prevent its further decline. Concerted action is required to achieve significant improvements in the short and medium term. In the long term, once the highway improvements are in place, including the western element of the Bedford Bypass and the Bedford Transport Development Plan, a more comprehensive set of measures will be appropriate including partial pedestrianisation.

St Paul's Square (North and South-West)

8.24 St Paul's Square is currently dominated by vehicular traffic as it forms one of the main gyratory systems in the town centre. St Paul's Church and churchyard are located within a traffic island which detracts from the quality of this building and its associated public space. In the long term, once both the Bedford Bypass and the Bedford Transport Development Plan are operational, potential exists for the removal of vehicles from the northern side of the square. Any pedestrianisation scheme would also complement and extend the proposals for Harpur Street (South). There is also potential to undertake these works in conjunction with the remodelling of the northern side of St. Paul's churchyard to include new pedestrian routes and to support a wider range of activities.

8.25 The south-western corner of the Square is currently used for short-stay parking. Opportunity exists for the re-provision of this parking area in conjunction with associated environmental improvements to effectively form an extension of the forecourt of the Town Hall. This will also complement the proposed opportunity site on the southern side of the Square (see Borough Strategy chapter and Appendix D).

8.26 In designing these enhancement schemes, the Borough Council will seek to achieve a fully co-ordinated approach to street furniture, landscape and materials. Whenever possible, spaces will be designed to accommodate a wide range of activities from street theatre, mobile exhibitions, kiosks and street markets. Full consideration will also be given to the needs of disabled people including the partially sighted in the design of any scheme.

POLICY TC3
The Borough Council will make provision within its capital programme for a series of environmental improvements within the town centre in order to achieve high quality public spaces which are fully accessible, attractive, free of congestion and which support a wide range of activities.

SHOPFRONTS AND ADVERTISEMENTS

8.27 Many shopfronts and advertisements in parts of the town centre are of poor quality either in terms of scale, materials or their relationship to the parent building. This gives the town an ‘anywhere’ image, and cumulatively, reduces its attractiveness.

8.28 Paragraphs 4.27 to 4.31 and Policies BE16 refer to the Borough Council’s desire to improve the quality of shopfronts and advertisements, especially within conservation areas. In recognition of this the Borough Council has prepared design guidance on this topic and will refer to this when considering applications for shopfronts and advertisements. The Borough Council will therefore actively seek to promote the highest standards of design in respect of both new shopfronts and advertisements, and the private sector will be encouraged, where appropriate by use of grant aid, to support the Council’s initiative and invest in a quality image. Closely allied to this is the need to achieve more sympathetic shopfront security measures in order to prevent the creation of ‘dead frontages’. See also Policy BE46 in the Built Environment chapter.

POLICY TC4
Within the town centre, the Borough Council will expect new shopfronts and advertisements to be designed to the highest standards in terms of:
i) their relationship to both the local context and the building of which they form a part;
ii) the quality and durability of materials used;
iii) the level and means of illumination.

THE RIVERSIDE

8.29 The River Great Ouse is one of Bedford’s greatest assets, and forms the southern boundary of the town centre. The river and the land which adjoins it also falls within the River Protection Area (see Policy NE15). Whilst the river is only 200 metres from the primary retail frontage in Midland Road, there are very few direct routes towards the river and the riverside environment is not readily apparent. Consequently, visitors can spend some time in the town centre without being aware that the river exists.

8.30 The riverside is one of the main features which makes Bedford different from other town centres. It is important therefore that this asset is both exploited and made more accessible, particularly its role as a major promenade. This in turn will have the effect of strengthening the identity of the town centre as a whole. The key elements of the strategy to achieve this are:

– The redevelopment/refurbishment of important river frontage sites and the establishment of uses which will attract people towards the river and increase activity (see Appendix D). In particular, the riverside lends itself to outdoor eating and drinking and opportunities for this need to be fully explored. Given the importance of the riverside environment, any new development will need to be of the highest quality in terms of design and materials.

– The provision of a new footbridge for pedestrians and cyclists at Batts Ford, aligned with the main pedestrian route through the Howard Centre. This, and other improvements, will be the subject of a bid within the Council’s capital programme. The potential for inclusion of a future bid in the Local Transport Plan (LTP) will also be explored.

– The retention and enhancement of public access to the riverside in any redevelopment of Riverside Square.

– The improvement of the existing Queen’s Walk to form a quayside environment. Policy LR9 also refers to the provision of short stay moorings at St. Mary’s Island to enable river craft to use the town centre.

– Improved signposting of the river within the town centre.

POLICY TC5
The Borough Council will seek to integrate the riverside environment with the function of the town centre through the use of high quality development on river frontage sites, the provision of environmental improvements and new pedestrian routes.

USES AND ACTIVITIES

8.31 Government Policy recognises that the vitality and viability of a centre is dependent on much more than retail use alone. The variety of uses and activities are critical to the success of town centres. They also give the town centre the edge over other forms of retailing and this needs to be exploited and enhanced. In addition, the concentration of a number of uses in one location reduces trip generation and is more sustainable. Therefore there is a need to encourage a wide diversity of uses within the town centre, and to ensure that the diversity that exists at the moment is not lost. The Borough Council recognises that uses which support the evening economy such as entertainment and leisure have an important role to play in the liveliness of the town centre. Detailed criteria against which proposals for entertainment and leisure use will be judged are set out in the Leisure and Recreation chapter.

8.32 Policy BE1 and the preamble in paragraphs 4.6 to 4.8 highlight the Borough Council's desire to achieve this through the promotion of mixed use developments. Appendix D also identifies a number of opportunity sites within the town centre where mixed use developments will be actively encouraged. These include:

– Land at Lime Street/Harpur Street.

– The former Granada cinema site at St. Peter’s Street/Lurke Street. (now redeveloped)

– Pilgrim Square.

– The former Howard Congregational Church, Mill Street. (now redeveloped)

– Riverside Square.

– Properties on the south side of St. Paul’s Square.

– Castle Lane.

These include sites which are vacant or under-utilised, and which provide the opportunity to enhance the built fabric of the town centre. In the case of Pilgrim Square, redevelopment of this site has a fundamental role in securing the vitality and viability of the town centre, and consequently, its implementation has greater priority. This is discussed further in the Shopping chapter.

8.33 The shopping policies provide a framework against which new retailing proposals will be assessed. In considering new retail proposals, the Borough Council will positively encourage their location within the primary shopping area, or as a second preference, on appropriate edge of centre sites and, having regard to the time period of the plan, will resist new retail development elsewhere so as not to undermine the strategic policy objective of securing the Pilgrim Square redevelopment.

8.34 Policy SH3 also identifies the primary shopping frontage within which changes of use from retail on the ground floor will not be permitted. This aims to support the town centre’s retailing function and maintain a strong retail core. This does not of course prevent the upper floors of buildings being used for alternative uses eg. offices or residential. Outside the primary frontage, a wide diversity of uses can be accommodated provided they are compatible with each other, appropriate to a town centre location and do not result in the concentrations of such uses to the detriment of either environmental quality, amenity or the street’s retailing function. An example of the latter would be restaurants and take-aways (see Policy SH19).

8.35 It is widely recognised that a variety of uses in a locality helps to keep the streets lively. In secondary shopping streets in particular, non retail uses, especially A2 uses can make a positive contribution to achieving this diversity. Furthermore, the retention and preservation of continuous pavement level streetscapes and the avoidance of 'blank frontages' and inward-looking development, can both retain pedestrian activity and prevent crime. It is vital therefore that such uses do not 'turn their back' on the street and that a window display is provided at all times, otherwise this will create a 'dead' frontage.

POLICY TC6
Within the secondary shopping frontages, changes of use from retail to non-retail will be considered on their merits subject to the proposal:
i) having no materially adverse effect on the character and amenity of the area;
ii) being compatible with adjoining uses and appropriate to a shopping street and a town centre location;
iii) providing, where appropriate, a suitable ground floor window display and avoiding the creation of a 'dead' frontage;
iv) avoiding the concentration of similar uses, whose cumulative impact would be to the detriment of either environmental quality, amenity, parking, or the street’s retailing function;
v) making a positive contribution to the diversification of uses within the town centre; and
vi) being in conformity with the other policies set out in the Local Plan.

RESIDENTIAL

8.36 Planning policies have in the past actively encouraged changes of use from residential to commercial use within the town centre. As a result, few people now live within the primary shopping area and in 1991, the Census recorded a total of less than 40 people. This in turn has had serious implications for the vitality and security of the town centre.

8.37 Residential use brings life to the town centre especially after shopping hours and facilitates surveillance of the town's buildings and spaces. Within the town centre, the Borough Council is actively seeking to increase the supply of residential accommodation. Two opportunities exist for the introduction of additional housing in the town centre. These are:

– The re-use of vacant or under-used space above shops under the 'Living Over the Shop' scheme is important in repairing and retaining the existing built fabric. In recognition of this, recent changes to the General Development Order have, in certain circumstances, made such changes of use ‘permitted development’. In some cases, the re-use of premises above A2 uses may be unsuitable on grounds of security. However, this needs to be balanced against the enhanced security that having more people living in the town centre brings. In addition, vacant office accommodation itself may provide opportunities for conversion to residential use.

– The inclusion, where appropriate, of an element of residential use in any mixed use redevelopment proposal.

8.38 In addition, where residential use currently exists, it is important for the vitality of the town centre that these remain and are not lost to alternative uses (see Policy BE1). It is accepted however that in certain cases, the loss of existing residential use has to be balanced against the benefits that a comprehensive regeneration scheme may bring to part of the town centre. Furthermore, environmental conditions may be such in terms of noise, smell or other disturbance that the continuation of single properties in residential use may not be desirable.

POLICY TC7
Within the town centre, planning permission will be granted for the conversion of vacant space above shops to residential use.
POLICY TC8
Within the town centre, redevelopment proposals for nonresidential development will be required by the Borough Council to have fully considered the potential for the inclusion of an element of new residential accommodation. Changes of use from residential use will not be permitted. Within the primary shopping area, where such proposals would bring about substantial benefits in terms of economic regeneration and environmental enhancement, or where it would not be desirable to retain the existing residential use on environmental grounds, loss of residential use may be acceptable.

OFFICES

8.39 The existence of office accommodation is also important for the vitality of the town centre. Offices provide employment, are readily accessible in central locations and support the other uses and services which the town centre provides e.g. restaurants, retailing etc.

8.40 Within the primary shopping area, offices have an important role to play in utilising space above shops. However, in certain cases, where older buildings are involved, these cannot be satisfactorily converted to provide accommodation which meets the needs of modern office users. In such cases conversion to residential may be a more viable proposition. Offices can also form an important component in mixed use redevelopment schemes. Within the primary shopping area, offices uses will be restricted to space above ground floor level in order to safeguard the retailing function of this part of the town centre. Outside the primary shopping area, freestanding offices will be acceptable and should be within convenient walking distance of the main shopping area so as to maximise the benefit to the town centre as a whole.

POLICY TC9
Within the primary shopping area planning permission will be granted for office uses which form an integral part of mixed use developments provided:
i) no loss of existing residential use is involved;
ii) the proposal is predominantly above ground floor level; and,
iii) it does not prejudice major retail development.
Freestanding office developments will not be granted within the primary shopping area.

ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE AND THE EVENING ECONOMY

8.41 This forms an essential part of the life of Bedford and the town centre has an important role in providing leisure facilities in a central location which is readily accessible by public transport. Existing facilities include the Corn Exchange, Civic Theatre, Harpur Suite and Bedford Central Library. The Borough Council also recognises the need to improve and upgrade these facilities and a substantial refurbishment of the Corn Exchange has been undertaken. In addition, and in the longer term, the Borough Council is actively looking at the feasibility of establishing a major performance venue in the town centre. Allied to this is the continuing support the Council gives to the performing arts. A recent example of this is the residency of the Philharmonia Orchestra.

8.42 Elsewhere, proposals for leisure and entertainment uses within the squares and meeting places of the town centre will be encouraged. In particular, opportunities to introduce artistic, cultural and community event entertainment will be fully explored. The proposed environmental improvement schemes will also be designed so as to accommodate and support these activities. In addition, the Council recognises the role that quality pubs and restaurants can play in enhancing the image of the town centre and generating ‘street life’ in the form of street cafes, entertainment etc. Because of the cosmopolitan nature of Bedford’s population, there is also considerable potential to create a distinct continental image in terms of eating and drinking places. When considering proposals for entertainment and leisure uses within the Borough, the Council will, where appropriate, encourage these to be located in town centre or on edge of centre sites. The potential to include such uses as part of mixed use developments within the opportunity sites needs to be fully explored.

8.43 In seeking to encourage uses which promote the ‘evening economy’, the Borough Council is aware that there is a potential conflict between uses which generate potentially large numbers of people late at night and the amenity of both residents and other users of the town centre. In order to support the ‘evening economy’ it is imperative that the town centre is perceived as being both safe and secure. The Council is committed to enhancing security and crime prevention measures in the town centre and has introduced a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system and the Bedford Retail Radio Link. The use of CCTV has been a significant success in deterring anti-social behaviour, and reducing autocrime. As a result, it will help to attract people back into the town centre after the main shopping hours. In order to reconcile potential conflict between uses such as nightclubs, public houses etc. and the amenity of residents and other town centre users, it may be appropriate to negotiate developer contributions towards the improvement and extension of the CCTV system.

POLICY TC10
Within the town centre, where uses are proposed which in the opinion of the Borough Council have the potential to affect the amenity of residents or other users by virtue of noise, security of premises or other disturbance, applicants will be expected to implement measures to mitigate adverse impacts. Such measures may include contributions towards the improvement or extension of the existing Closed Circuit Television System.

TOWN CENTRE MANAGEMENT

8.44 The Borough Council recognises that many of the factors which combine to create a quality town centre fall outside the scope of the planning system. The maintenance of streets, car parks and planting areas through to the organisation of events and activities are all part of the Council's corporate approach towards the town centre. Many of the Council's functions impinge on the town centre and there is a need to work in genuine partnership with both the private sector and the local community to achieve a high quality environment. This is being achieved through the establishment in 2000 of the Bedford Town Centre Company Ltd and by extensive public consultation. The Bedford Town Centre Company Ltd brings a sharper, commercial focus to promoting the town centre and making it more attractive. In 2001, the Borough Council undertook a survey of town centre users in conjunction with a major exhibition. This gave an insight into how the 'consumer' viewed the town centre environment and highlighted areas in need of improvement. Further research into shoppers’ expectations in order to obtain a realistic ‘health check’ for the town centre was undertaken in 2002 as part of a major initiative looking at options for the key town centre opportunity sites. This will also ensure that appropriate and sustainable development can be encouraged in partnership with the private sector.

8.45 In order to achieve this co-ordinated approach, the Borough Council supports the concept of town centre management. This is also important for the staging of events and activities which encourage life in the centre, both during and outside shopping hours. Street entertainment, specialised markets, exhibitions etc. all help to achieve this and complement the land use planning measures outlined in this plan.

ACCESS

8.46 Accessibility is one of four key elements which contribute towards the health of the town centre. In Bedford's case there is a need to improve access to the town centre whilst reducing congestion and achieving a balance between the needs of vehicles and pedestrians. In 1993, the Borough Council and Bedfordshire County Council adopted an Integrated Transportation Strategy for the Borough of Bedford. Many of the issues discussed in the document and the policies contained within it relate to the town centre. These are summarised below:

NEW HIGHWAYS

8.47 The Transport chapter highlights the need for additional highway capacity in the form of the Bedford Bypass and new distributor roads to enable environmental gains to be made. Of particular importance to the town centre is the construction of the Bedford Transport Development Plan which will have a significant impact on traffic flows. It will also bring benefits to public transport by enabling buses to be given greater priority, and to pedestrians by reducing congestion and establishing more extensive pedestrian priority areas.

TOWN CENTRE PARKING STRATEGY

8.48 Off-street parking demand will increase in the future and effective management is required. It is not intended to increase off-street parking capacity in the central area. Instead, existing space will be geared towards short-stay business and shopping users. Longer stay users will be encouraged to use the Park & Ride or other public transport facilities and this will assist in reducing peak period congestion in and around the town centre. A programme of positive measures to improve the attractiveness of existing car parks is underway and represents a major investment by the Borough Council. This includes improvements to their appearance, ease of use, accessibility and security. In certain cases, improved lighting and CCTV has been introduced into the town centre car parks and this has significantly reduced auto crime. This will be extended and upgraded further. A system of 'variable message ' car park information signs will also help visitors to find parking space and will optimise car park use.

8.49 The central area of Bedford has around 5000 spaces that could be satisfactorily used for on-street parking during the daytime without adversely impeding the flows of traffic. Conflict occurs where residents on the fringe of the town centre are unable to find parking space close to their home. In response to this, the Integrated Transportation Strategy proposes the establishment of controlled parking zones thus maximising the use of onstreet parking space to meet the needs of both residents and short stay shoppers. In all cases, schemes will be introduced only after full consultation with residents, traders and other interested parties.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

8.50 On the issue of bus penetration of the primary shopping area, the main challenge is how to make access to public transport convenient to the main shopping area whilst removing buses from it and thereby removing pedestrian/vehicular conflict. The potential solution would be to restrict buses to the outer fringe of the primary shopping area. When this is carried out, stops placed around the town centre would ensure a maximum walking distance to the centre in the order of 170 metres. The provision of a contra-flow bus lane in River Street/Horne Lane has facilitated the removal of buses from the primary shopping area (see para.8.19). The Borough Council will also examine the potential to improve the link between the town centre and Bedford Midland rail station.

PEDESTRIAN PRIORITY AREAS

8.51 Further pedestrianisation schemes should be provided in the centre of Bedford to improve the shopping environment. Details of recent schemes have already been referred to in Policy TC3 including Midland Road (East) and Harpur Street (South). These have brought considerable benefits in terms of comfort, safety and convenience and are a key element in the Borough Council's strategy to improve the town centre. In addition to the Council's desire to remove buses from the main shopping streets, it is considered that given the reasonable proximity of the town centre car parks, access by car to the primary shopping area is both undesirable and unnecessary.

8.52 Elsewhere in the town centre, there is scope to improve pedestrian safety and convenience, particularly at main crossing points. Measures such as speed tables can provide at grade crossings and assist disabled people to cross the road. They can also indicate to the driver that he/she is entering an environment where vehicles do no predominate and where pedestrians have greater priority. Such measures can be used to reinforce the main gateways into the central core, along with the introduction of planting and public art, and when combined with the greater use of dropped kerbs will improve accessibility within the town centre. The Council’s commitment to more accessible environments also extends to its support for the Shopmobility scheme.

CYCLISTS

8.53 The majority of Bedford’s cycle routes converge on the town centre and there is a need to encourage this mode of transport, whilst avoiding potential conflict with pedestrians in particular. This can be done by improving the cycling environment, introducing measures to minimise the risk of accidents to cyclists and pedestrians and providing adequate cycle parking in secure locations. See also the cycling section in the Transport chapter.

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