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The next thirteen years are set to be a time of change for Bedford town centre. By 2021 the town centre should be very different having experienced major redevelopment to create new and improved shopping, leisure and cultural facilities, new housing, jobs, transport interchanges and new public spaces.

The Bedford Town Centre Area Action Plan is a key part of the Bedford Development Framework (a set of planning documents which will eventually replace the Local Plan) as it sets out the vision for the regeneration of the town centre. The Bedford Town Centre Area Action Plan provides a policy framework to control and facilitate the renaissance of the town centre. The plan is also part of a suite of strategies including the Council's Community Plan and the Milton Keynes & South Midlands Sub-regional Strategy which share this common aim.

The Bedford Town Centre Area Action Plan has been prepared following earlier consultations on the issues which the Plan should address, consideration of possible options for doing this, the Council’s Preferred Option Plan, and the submission version. It also reflects the outcome of the independent examination process. In summary the Bedford Town Centre Area Action Plan aims to assess:

• Where are we now?

How is the town centre performing economically compared to other centres such as Milton Keynes, Northampton and Cambridge?

• What are the main issues facing the town centre?

• Where would we like to be? Looking forward to 2021, what is the Council’s vision for the town centre?

• How do we get there?

The Plan’s policies and proposals are the means of delivering the vision.

Several recent studies have appraised the relative economic performance of the town over the past few years. Key findings are: -

  • Compared to other areas in the South East region, Bedford struggles economically;

  • Bedfordshire was the only part of the study area that had a gross domestic product below the national average and is slipping further behind national levels;

  • Bedford has an ageing economic structure with many of its companies having their roots in the early 20th century - this contrasts with its neighbours such as Milton Keynes, Northampton and Cambridge where modern growth sectors are better represented;

  • The town has slipped several places down the retail ranking list and is losing trade to competitor destinations;

  • Bedford is showing signs of stagnation in terms of the range, scale and quality of retail and service functions on offer;

  • The strong educational tradition in Bedford is an asset;

  • Transportation links through Bedford are weak and congested during peak hours; this reinforces negative perceptions of the town;

  • Regional north-south road and rail links are generally of a good standard but demand outstrips capacity at peak times. The regional east-west links are however very weak;

  • Stagnating economic growth is reflected in the performance of the local property market.


There is, however, a real opportunity to reverse this gradual decline. The Sub-Regional Strategy for Milton Keynes and the South Midlands places Bedford at the heart of the key Bedford, Kempston and northern Marston Vale Growth Area. Significant population growth in the borough (and in adjoining areas such as Milton Keynes) is likely to drive up demand for a range of services and increase expenditure in the local economy.

Plans for Bedford town centre must harness this potential growth through significant infrastructure investment and well targeted regeneration initiatives.

Our proposed vision for the town centre is as follows:

By 2021, Central Bedford will feel very different to how it does today. It will be a destination of choice for customers, visitors and also those people seeking a good night out. It will have reclaimed its role as the county town within a fast growing sub-region supported by a dynamic local economy. It will have a personality of its own, celebrating its natural heritage (including its historic medieval street pattern), culture and riverside location. Importantly it will have emerged from the shadow cast by Milton Keynes and occupy a complementary position providing a distinctive offer. This will be founded upon energetic and flourishing businesses, providing value, good quality and a wide range of shopping, eating and leisure experiences. The town centre will be bustling, prosperous and safe. More people will live in the centre. More people will work in the centre. More people will visit the centre. The evening economy will be attractive to all. Residents will feel proud of their town centre.
Redevelopment will have increased the quantity and range of retail space, together with additional dwellings and leisure facilities. Bedford’s shopping will have regained its former glory with fewer cars, better air quality and the streetscene transformed by public art and al fresco eating. A campus of office buildings centred on the new station will be occupied by internationally branded companies and occupiers that have relocated from other cities justifying Bedford's growing reputation as a regional centre. The riverside will be embraced into the town centre with signature buildings, their activities spilling out on to a quayside crowded with rowing boats and canal craft en-route from the Grand Union Canal. The Castle Lane cultural quarter will be buzzing with visitors examining Plantagenet remains and the latest touring exhibitions or sipping cafe latte and watching the swans.
The Western Bypass and an elegant new bridge at Batts Ford will have improved traffic circulation, access from Bedford’s catchment will have improved and the gold standard multi-storey car parks will be both safe and busy. Park and ride bus services will have linked with the new railway and bus stations ensuring that passengers have safe and convenient journeys and easy access to all the facilities. Public transport and cycling facilities will have significantly improved and both will have played an important role in reducing congestion. Rail services to London and the Midlands will have become quicker and more frequent, even offering direct links to Paris and Brussels.


Following on from the vision statement the plan includes policies and proposals which cover five main themes:

  • A more competitive retail and commercially active centre

  • A more structured and distinctive centre

  • A better connected and more accessible centre

  • A more liveable and attractive centre

  • A well managed centre.

Key proposals include:

  • Provision for up to 47,000 sq.m. net additional comparison and up to 6,000 sq.m. net additional convenience goods retail floorspace within the town centre. The main focus for additional comparison and convenience floorspace will be Bedford Town Centre West.

  • Encouraging retail reinvestment in the existing centre and the High Street in particular.

  • Redevelopment of a number of key sites including:

1. Bedford Town Centre West - a major mixed use development centred on the existing Bedford bus station. Proposals include new shopping, commercial, leisure uses and housing in conjunction with a new bus station.

2. Castle Lane – new housing, commercial, shopping, heritage and cultural elements to create a new cultural quarter.

3. Riverside Square – new housing, commercial and shopping elements, a grand public square and a new foot/cycle bridge across the river.

4. Shire Hall and the Bank Building site – retention and refurbishment of the Shire Hall and adjoining listed buildings to create a regional justice centre.

5. Bedford Railway Station and adjoining land – the creation of a new office quarter, new housing and a new transport interchange at a relocated station and ticket office adjacent to the Ford End Road bridge.

6. St. Mary’s Quarter – any development to be closely integrated with the town centre and to provide a more ‘public face’ to St. Mary’s Gardens.

7. Kingsway Quarter – This includes the Kingsway, St Mary’s Street, Cauldwell Street and Melbourne Street. Mixed use development including a range of business, residential, office and public administration uses.

8. Land at Lime Street - mixed use development including shops, offices and housing.

9. Progress Ford, The Broadway – new housing.

  • A range of different measures to improve access to the town centre including, improvements to the existing highway network, a new river crossing at Batts Ford, new public transport interchanges and enhanced walking and cycling routes.

  • Public car parks will be managed in favour of short rather than long stay users and park and ride services will be extended.

  • New housing is proposed on a number of sites to help re-populate the town centre.

  • In addition the plan also aims to protect the town’s heritage, promote tourism, achieve high quality design along the river corridor, conserve biodiversity, create new public spaces and improve the quality of new shopfronts and advertisements.

  • The plan also includes policies on town centre management and amenity.

The Area Action Plan was adopted by the Borough Council on 8th October 2008.


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