The Bedford and Kempston MP writes his monthly column for the Times & Citizen and BedfordToday
We are frustrated by the lack of progress with the town centre, but I hope now feeling quite positive about the Castle Quarter redevelopment.
Personally I prefer an incremental approach to improving our town centre, which reflects the unique characteristics and diversity of our town. The current Riverside North redevelopment should be held to the same exacting standards of permanence and suitability that guided the Victorian development of the Embankment and Bedford Park.
Bedford BID, the initiative to promote improvements in our town centre, had a troubled start but there are signs now that it is getting its act together. Under the chairmanship of Kevin Kavanagh, BID has won recognition for Bedford as a national “Portas Pilot” town centre and is winning back the trust and support of the local shops and businesses upon which our town centre’s vitality depends.
BID is doing this by offering practical support: helping businesses reduce their utility bills; helping firms to challenge rateable values – rates set just before the artificial “boom” turned to an only too real bust; and to look at ways to provide advice so local businesses can improve their competitiveness.
If our local businesses and shops are stronger, there will be more local jobs, fewer empty storefronts and more confidence to create great new ideas. BID is starting to deliver, but there is more that we could do to create a distinctive, positive reputation for our town centre.
Here is an idea. Let’s build Bedford’s reputation as a town of exceptional customer service. A town where the shops, restaurants, council services, banks, etc, all strive to achieve a standard of service that is unmatched in any other town. This idea needs work, but the role of town centres is broadening beyond shopping toward being a great place for people to spend time. It is this change that will determine the success or not of all these efforts.