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2.1 Bedford Borough is within the East of England region but also adjacent to the East Midlands and the South East regions. It is included within the Milton Keynes and South Midlands Growth Area. The borough has a population of 150,800 (as estimated in 2004) and covers an area of 476 square kilometres. The borough includes the county town of Bedford and also a large rural area. In addition to the town of Bedford and the neighbouring area of Kempston, the borough includes many villages. The largest of the villages is Bromham with a population of almost 5,000 people. Many of the rural parishes of the borough have several small settlements with a combined population of under 500 people. In total, approximately 66% of the population live in the Bedford/Kempston area, yet this accounts for only 8% of the land of the Borough as a whole.

2.2 The population of the borough has grown from 138,000 to almost 151,000 in the period 1996 to 2004. With over 60 different ethnic groups represented in the area, the borough is one of the most cosmopolitan in the country. Black and Asian groups make up over 10% of the local population, rising to 15% in Bedford itself and nearly 40% in Queens Park ward, with main ethnic minority languages spoken being Urdu, Bengali (Sylhet dialect), Hindi, and Punjabi. In addition the borough includes significant Italian, Irish and Polish communities. The population is projected to increase to over 172,000 by 2021. By 2021 the population of over 75s in the borough is expected to have increased from nearly 8% during 2001-2006 to over 14% in 2016-2021.

2.3 The town of Bedford is located to the south of the borough, other neighbouring smaller towns include Sandy and St Neots to the east, Rushden and Wellingborough to the north. The largest neighbouring towns are Milton Keynes to the west, Northampton to the north, Cambridge to the east and Luton to the south. The proximity of Luton airport and London further to the south create pressures and opportunities, and Bedford’s position in the middle of the Oxford to Cambridge arc has the potential to stimulate economic growth through knowledge based industry. Bedford town centre has a potential regional role for shopping and employment, despite the continued growth of Milton Keynes and Northampton.

2.4 The borough's traditional economic base was centred on engineering and related manufacturing but this has declined in recent years. The top employment industries in the borough are currently education and health, followed by finance and business, wholesale and retail and manufacturing. In 2001, nearly 20% of the residents of the borough worked in education and health. Most employment sites and centres of excellence in the borough are located in or near to Bedford, however there are also important sites at Wyboston, Thurleigh Airfield and Colworth House, Sharnbrook. Potential key future employment sectors are higher-value manufacturing, research and development, computing and related activities, hotel and catering, recreation, cultural, sporting and education. Agriculture has traditionally been important in the economy of the rural parts of the borough.

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1 Bedford in the context of Milton KeynesFigure 6






Figure 1 Bedford in the context of Milton Keynes & South Midlands Sub-Regional Strategy

2.5 The distance that residents of the borough travel to work varies considerably. Those living in the rural wards mostly travel between 0 and 20km to work. However, in all urban wards, the clear trend is that the majority of people travel less than 5km to work. This distance accounts for between 50% and 60% of responses in each urban ward. There is a high level of commuting both into and out of the borough. Nearly 29% of the working age residents commute out of the borough, though the majority of the borough’s residents both  live and work in the borough. People who commute into the borough account for 26% of the workers in   the borough. Of those people who commute outside of the borough to work, the most popular  destinations are Mid Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and London.

2.6 In terms of transport accessibility, the town of Bedford is linked to the north and south by rail. Both the Midland Mainline and First Capital Connect rail services serve Bedford. Trains to Milton Keynes are by Silverlink County Marston Vale services. London St Pancras station is approximately 40 minutes away by train. There are no train services to the east or west of the borough. By road, the A421 is a ‘strategic route’ from west to east (which runs from the M1 via the south of Bedford to the A1), a portion of which is dual carriageway. Other main roads converge on Bedford from Rushden to the north, Olney and Newport Pagnell to the west, Sandy to the east and Clophill and Shefford to the south. Congestion hotspots in the borough are the A421 swan roundabout (south-west of Bedford) and A421 Great Barford (east of Bedford).

2.7 By far the most popular mode of travel to work is the car, accounting for the journeys of between 50% and 77% of people. Fewer people in the urban wards travel to work by car, with more preferring to walk and cycle. This corresponds with the statistics for car ownership. An average of nearly 22% of households in the borough have no access to a car or van. This rises significantly in the urban wards, where in Harpur for example, the figure is nearly 40%.

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2.8 The main retail location in the borough is Bedford. The town still hosts a traditional market twice a week as well as a gourmet market every Thursday and other specialist markets. The town includes the Harpur Centre as well as pedestrianised shopping streets, both within minutes of the bus station and rail station, although links to both these are in need of improvement.

2.9 The borough has a wealth of leisure and community facilities. For a town of Bedford's size, it has a wide choice of facilities. These include Bedford Athletics Stadium, several swimming pools and a number of parks in the urban area (Bedford Park, the Embankment, Priory Country Park, Addison Howard Park, Mowsbury Park and Jubilee Park) as well as Harrold-Odell Country Park in the rural area. The historic and cultural core of the town includes Bedford Museum, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and the recently enhanced Castle Mound and Gardens. The Corn Exchange is a multi-purpose venue which hosts a variety of arts and entertainment programmes. These facilities serve both residents and visitors. The borough attracts around 3m day visitors and 300,000 staying visitors each year.

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2.10 Bedford includes the campus of the University of Bedfordshire. The University caters for 3,000 students and over 200 staff based within the town. The University specialises in primary and secondary education, sports and leisure and arts and humanities programmes.

Figure 10

2.11 Approximately 7% of the borough's population are school pupils or full-time students. This is higher than the national average of 5% in England and Wales. In the last academic year GCSE results were lower than the national average. Despite this, the level of skills in the adult population is higher than the national average; 25.6% of the borough's population aged 16-74 have no qualifications, compared to a national average of 29%.

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2.12 Housing in the borough reflects the historic nature of the county town. Bedford has a Victorian core but significant expansion in the last fifty years has diversified the nature of housing available. The rural areas have developed at various rates, with the larger villages being located on the most popular transport routes. Between 1999 and spring 2006 house prices have doubled, with the average house price rising to £180,049. Neighbouring districts have higher house prices, with the exception of Wellingborough and East Northamptonshire. Despite the national trend for rising house prices, the market for new homes has been relatively weak with fewer homes being built than are planned or already have planning permission.

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2.13 The River Great Ouse is a prominent feature of the landscape in the borough. In particular the Ouse valley gives rise to the distinct character of the villages in the north-west of the borough. The river is also a major attractive feature within Bedford itself and provides the basis for sporting and leisure activities. Because of this there are areas of the borough that are at risk of flooding. These areas include the centre, east and west of Bedford and parts of the rural area along the route of the River Great Ouse.

2.14 The borough prides itself on the wealth of open spaces within the urban areas and the attractive countryside that surrounds the rural villages. In the south of the borough however, there are areas of landscape degradation due to the legacy of brickmaking in the Marston Vale. Through the designation of the Forest of Marston Vale the area has become a focus for landscape enhancement. The borough has eight nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and seven designated Local Nature Reserves. The borough also contains 26 conservation areas, 1,363 listed buildings, 69 scheduled ancient monuments and 4 historic parks and gardens.

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