Council and BID vow to support Bedford's high street as River Island leaves town

Angry shoppers have taken to Facebook to vent their frustration as River Island becomes the latest retailer to leave Bedford town centre.

The fashion store confirmed it is due to close the Bedford store on Silver Street.

Sophia Forrester set up the Save River Island Bedford Facebook page and people have been sharing their thoughts on the news of the closure.

Bedford Borough Council and Bedford Business Improvement District (BID) - which represents businesses in the town centre, and helps to attract new customers and investment to Bedford - have denied that the latest store closure is a cause for concern for the town centre and have vowed to work together to support the existing shops and bring new ones in.

River Island. Photo from Google Maps

Sophie said: "It is my favourite shop and i thought is this the right thing to do for the store, there is not that many women's fashion shops in Bedford, competition is not that big so to me I'm not sure if it's the right decision.

"I set up the page because I'm gutted, the shop has been there 30 years and before that it was Chelsea Girl, it is such a shame for the town.

"There have been a lot of comments on Facebook from people who feel the same way as me.

"River Island do have store in Biggleswade, Rushden Lakes and Milton Keynes so maybe they felt the footfall was not as high here in Bedford but it is a shame, I still always shopped here, despite the other shops.

"A lot of people do shop online now but the social side of shopping in your town centre or on the High Street is what I love and I think it is a shame.

"Bedfordians need to be more positive about their town and support local businesses, shop in the stores we have here, go to the independent shops, cafes and restaurants, that is what Bedford should be about.

"It is a massive blow for the town but I do think Bedford will bring more in, it is a town of independent shops. We need to appreciate what we have in Bedford and not moan about what we do not have, we should support our town."

One person commented on the page: "We will have no shops left in Bedford."

There are also empty units on Silver Street and Midland Road, from the closure of BHS, Topshop and M&S.

One person commented said: "I walked into Bedford last week and it was almost like it was closed for business as a lot of those units are all still empty.

"Understandably BHS and Thomas Cook have completely closed but Top Shop and M&S still have shops open across the country, as does River Island."

Another person posted on the Facebook group: "This is so sad to hear. I was gutted when I first heard a few months back that there closing.. On a daily basis I do walk around our town and I'm noticing one by one shops are closing, we need to support more so we can put a stop to this."

Bedford Borough Council is working with community partners and businesses to look for new ways to support the town centre.

A council spokesperson said: "Alongside the council’s free parking offer, the council continues to work with Bedford BID, Explore Bedford and other community partners and businesses to look for new, innovative ways to support our town centre and the array of fantastic independent and other shops we have.

"We have recently undertaken a town centre consultation and received a very positive response.

"We are currently reading through all the comments and aim to share an updated plan in the new year.

“We are looking to every possible lever we legally have as a council to support the high streets of the Borough and this includes bidding for and winning national support, where we have been successful for High Street Heritage Action Zone funding and selected as one of the towns for the Towns Fund.

"We will also be redeveloping the High Street and St Paul’s; reducing traffic and creating more space for shoppers.”

Christina Rowe, a Director of the Bedford BID, said: "The number of new business openings and relocations in Bedford town centre are up and include a number of independents specifically at The Edwardian Arcade and St Peter’s Street. The ‘old’ M&S unit will soon be accommodating a new tenant and we await further news regarding the ‘old’ BHS unit and Days.

"Thomas Cook (Hayes) Bedford is still trading. Recent conversions to residential is an important element of the mixed use helping to develop the captive audience particularly at weekends and recent analysis demonstrates that over 10% of the new businesses are relocations/up sizing which shows that businesses want to stay in town.

"The BedfordBID provides networking, training and mentoring programmes to help nurture start-ups and ongoing business development together with multimedia advertising platforms promoting what is positive and unique about the town through the successful Love Bedford brand.

"Tactical initiatives such as the Love Bedford gift voucher scheme has generated over £1m back into town centre businesses with other initiatives focusing on providing a clean and safe welcome.

"Shoppers’ behaviours are changing and with events such as the Christmas Fair and the grand Christmas lights switch-on and fireworks display this weekend, this is a further testament to our aim of offering compelling reasons to come into the town centre to support both the day and evening economy businesses.

"The BedfordBID is also committed to working with stakeholders to attract further investment in the town."

River Island was approached for comment but did not want to make one at this time.