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10. Leisure and Tourism Sites

10.1 Bedford Borough is home to a number of key leisure and cultural facilities that attract visitors from within and beyond the borough boundary. Some are in the urban area but others fit in well with the rural character of the countryside and villages beyond Bedford and Kempston. This part of the Allocations and Designations Local Plan explains how the Council is working towards maximising the benefits of the leisure and tourism economy. It also provides the context within which other allocations and designations are made. This chapter does not deal with public play and outdoor sporting space; such provision is dealt with in Chapter 7 (Green Infrastructure).

10.2 The Bedford Borough Sustainable Communities Strategy 2009-2021 sets out how the Council and its partners will seek to make Bedford a thriving borough and one aim is to work with the local tourism industry to expand what the borough has to offer and to market the area as a tourist destination.

10.3 The value of the visitor economy and the number of jobs it supports grew steadily over the five years to 2008. In 2008 direct expenditure by visitors in the borough was valued at around £170 million. When indirect expenditure is taken into account this figure rises to around £220 million, supporting 3800 jobs or 5% of all employment in the borough. More recent figures are not yet available but they will undoubtedly reflect the impact of the recession on businesses in the relevant sectors.

10.4 The local visitor economy will remain significant as a share of the overall local economy and its importance is recognised in the borough’s 2011-14 Economic Development Strategy which highlights tourism and hospitality and the creative sector (arts, cultural) as key attractor sectors.

10.5 ‘Experience Bedfordshire’ was originally established in 2007 as a public/private sector partnership to work together towards growing the visitor economy in Bedfordshire by 5000 new jobs to 2021. Bedford Borough Council has worked with partners to further develop the partnership to create a new Community Interest Company, named Experience Bedfordshire, to promote the county of Bedfordshire to domestic and international visitors and to protect and enhance the leisure and tourism business sector. The company was established in 2012 as a not for profit association of private business and the public sector.

10.6 Bedford’s Development Plan works alongside the local economic development strategy and Experience Bedfordshire to help deliver growth in the visitor economy. In this respect the Allocations and Designations Local Plan contains policies that allocate new development to attract staying visitors e.g. Policy AD21 for fishing lodges at Land at Chawston Lakes, Roxton Road, Wyboston as well as policies to assist the delivery of key green infrastructure that will also attract day visitors into the borough (e.g. Policy AD27 Bedford to Milton Keynes Waterway Park, Policy AD26 Bedford River Valley Park and Policy AD25 Forest of Marston Vale, see Chapter 7). The delivery of the state-of-the-art watersports lake east of Bedford will also help to make the borough a destination of choice, providing high quality training facilities for national and international rowers.

10.7 The gradual delivery of potential project or scheme proposals within the 2011 Bedford Waterspace Study which includes, for example, the planned major new development on Bedford’s ‘Riverside North’ area, will also have a significant impact on the visitor economy.

10.8 In turn the growth in tourism sector employment will assist the delivery of new jobs, supporting the recovery of the housing market and the wider economy.

10.9 Delivering the Council’s vision for Bedford as a tourist destination will continue to be a challenge but the borough already has much to offer visitors and residents alike. Details of leisure and tourism attractions in the borough are found on the Visit Bedford and Experience Bedfordshire websites (www.visitbedford.co.uk and www.experiencebedfordshire.co.uk). Key destinations in the borough are listed below and their location is shown on Figure 8.


Leisure and Tourism Sites

10.10 This is not a definitive list of all sites that may be of local interest and will inevitably change over time. The websites mentioned above will provide the most up to date information.

Parks and Gardens

1. Bedford Park
2. Bedford, Castle Mound and Gardens
3. Bedford, Priory Country Park
4. Harrold Odell Country Park
5. Stevington, Manor House Gardens
6. Forest of Marston Vale

Cultural Attractions

7. The Higgins (Bedford Museum, Bedford Gallery and Cecil Higgins Art Gallery)
8. Bedford, John Bunyan Museum and Bunyan Meeting Free Church
9. Bromham Mill
10. Cardington Airship Sheds
11. Clapham, Glenn Miller Museum and Twinwood Arena
12. Elstow, Moot Hall and Elstow Abbey
13. Sharnbrook, Tofte Manor
14. Staploe, Bushmead Priory
15. Stevington Windmill
16. Sharnbrook Mill Theatre
17. The Place Theatre, Bedford
18. Thurleigh Airfield Business Park, 306th Bomb Group Museum
19. Turvey House
20. Willington Dovecote

Leisure Activities

21. Bedford, Aspects Leisure Park
22. Bedford, Corn Exchange
23. Bedford, Oasis Beach Pool
24. Bedford, Priory Marina
25. Bedford, Kids World Indoor Play Centre
26. Kempston Outdoor Centre
27. Clapham, Bodyflight Indoor Skydiving and Flowhouse Indoor Wave-Rider
28. Kempston Rural, Box End Park Watersports Lake
29. Keysoe, College Equestrian Centre
30. Little Staughton, Robins Reach Archery
31. Odell, Skirmish Central Paintball Games
32. Podington, Santa Pod Raceway
33. Riseley, Sporting Targets
34. Thurleigh Airfield Business Park, Palmer Sport
35. Thurleigh Farm Centre: children’s activities
36. Willington, Danish Camp Riverside Visitor Centre
37. Wyboston Lakes Corporate Events Centre
38. NIRAH

10.11 Outline planning permission was granted in September 2009 for the proposed NIRAH (National Institute for Research into Aquatic Habitats) project: an international visitor destination and science park, including tropical biotope, water adventure park, spa, three hotels, conference and exhibition facilities, 50 seater cinema and associated ancillary retail and food and drink uses, on-site car parking (Quest Pit) and dedicated park and shuttle bus facility. The permission expires in September 2014.

10.12 The site lies to the east of Stewartby in the former Quest clay pit. A small part of the area lies in Bedford Borough with the remainder in Central Bedfordshire. The development has not yet commenced however discussions continue about options for financing the project.

Figure 8:
‘Key Parks and Gardens, Cultural Attractions and Leisure Activities’

‘Key Parks and Gardens, Cultural Attractions and Leisure Activities’

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