Mayoral candidates reveal hopes for borough’s future

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The men who want to be the Mayor of Bedford came together to reveal their plans for the future of the borough.

The politicians addressed a packed meeting organised by the Bedford and District Mature Citizens’ Action Group, in the Salvation Army Hall, Bedford, on Monday, March 16.

Bedford mayoral hustings

Bedford mayoral hustings

First to talk was Labour’s Tim Douglas, who focussed on improving transport and the economy. He said: “There needs to be an intergrated transport hub, with a better way to get from the train station to town. Better transport will bring in new business.”

He said Bedford needs to boost employment, get council suppliers to pay the living wage and organise apprenticeships for young people.

He hoped to make use of the town’s cutural and historical aspects to boost visitor numbers and see empty properties turned back into homes.

Next up was Adrian Haynes who said, if elected, he would push for more public involvement in council decision making. He said: “There are a lot of closed meetings, what is being kept a secret?”

Bedford mayoral hustings.

Bedford mayoral hustings.

He pledged to support Bedford Hospital, and questioned the moving of criminal cases from Bedford Magistrates’ Court to Luton.

Mr Haynes said while building a new river crossing “is great”, there needs to be more spent on the Midland Road area. He said: “The council should take a walk down there, especially at night.”

He concluded any future development should not take place on the green belt, but on brownfield sites.

Current mayor Dave Hodgson invited the audience to judge him on his record. He said: “Since I came to office, the council spends £81million less per year. But we’ve still got all our libraries, children’s centres and weekly bin collections.”

Highlighting the five-year freeze in council tax, Mr Hodgson went on to outline spending on redevelopment and infrastructure and the council’s commitment to care home and leisure investment.

“We’ve turned adult social care around,” he added. “About 40 per cent of our spend is on adult social care and it will continue to be a priority if I stay on as mayor.”

Independent candidate Steve Lowe promised to have open democracy should he become mayor, with residents becoming more involved in decision making.

He said: “In the past 40 years, it appears there’s been an ugly building competition among local authorities. In Bedford the vast majority of people who were consulted were ignored.

“We want new buildings to be sympathetic with what Bedford looks like. If we make the town attractive enough, we will attract businesses.”

He added: “I will open up the Queen’s Park area if elected, and knock down Borough Hall to develop something sympathetic to town.”

He promised to promote the town’s history and leisure facilities to attract visitors, along with schemes such as cheaper parking, a park-and-ride system and improvements to the night-time economy.

He also plans to tackle education, which he described as being “a mess”. He added: “I will set up a task force to look at the two-tier and three-tier systems and slipping standards.”

Conservative candidate Jas Parmar addressed the room saying: “We want to reinvigorate Bedford and put it on the map. We’ve got a lovely riverbank, we should use it to pull people into town.”

He plans to introduce free parking during the week and weekend, while cutting council tax. He said: “I want to see we’ve made the best use of public money. We should start with ourselves and cut the mayor’s and councillors’ allowances, which should save £200,000 a year. It’s a privilege to be the mayor, or a councillor, not a job.”

He promised no cuts would be made to frontline services as the council could tap into its reserves.

With the planned building of Bats Ford Bridge, Mr Parmar stated the town’s traffic system would be reviewed, which should increase business investment.

Also attending was Ben Foley, from the Green Party, who is standing in the General Election in Bedford and Kempston. While he explained the party was yet to announce its mayoral candidate, he did offer the Green persepective on the issues affecting the borough.

He said: “Bedford is a great vibrant and multicultural society with excellent cultural facilities.

“The Green Party will look to transform Bedford into a transport hub and connect the train and bus stations. And for people living in the countryside its difficult to get into town, we need to do more to improve public transport.”