'Stop the steep decline of Bedford town centre' - firm in plea to mayor as River Island prepares to close

A firm of chartered surveyors has reached out to the mayor over the state of Bedford town centre.

By Clare Turner
Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 4:50 pm

Ratcliffes - which manages the River Island store in Silver Street on behalf of the landlords - has taken the step of writing to Dave Hodgson over what it sees as an "anachronistic policy" by Bedford Borough Council.

As River Island prepares to close it doors next month after 36 years in the town, the chartered surveyors - based in Mayfair - has made the move after an unsuccessful bid to change the store's use from retail to food and drink (A3).

And it's now urging the mayor to encourage the council to change it's "rigid adherence" to planning policy before it lodges an appeal.

The closed M&S store in Bedford (Google Maps)

In the leaked letter, which was also sent to Bedford Today, Anthony Ratcliffe said: "The rapid extent of Bedford's retail decline over the last decade with the exit of many top class retailers - most notably including Marks & Spencer and British Home Stores - must be of serious concern to the council and we presume you would be supportive of any measures to arrest and hopefully reverse the decline.

"To some degree, these vacancies over the last decade have been mitigated by a vibrant and expanding A3 sector of coffee shops and restaurants taking up available retail premises.

"Similarly, A3 coffee shops and restaurants generate high footfall and importantly also increase shoppers' 'dwell time' in the town centres."

But he said "the council's planning officers are maintaining an anachronistic attitude in their rigid adherence" to the different classes of planning use - which he claims, although not unique to Bedford, is part of the problem.

He added: "We respectfully submit that the steep extent of the town's retails decline requires an urgent reassessment of it."

And Mr Ratcliffe came up with a whole raft of changes to help Bedford.

These include:

*Free two-hour parking in shoppers' car parks

*Demanding urgent central government action to address retail business rates

*Support introduction of doctors, dentists, solicitors and accountants in the town centre

Mayor Dave Hodgson said: “Town centres and High Streets are suffering across the country for a variety of reasons. We are working at a local level to champion Bedford’s businesses, support our town centre and our diverse vibrant high street.

"From free parking to a multi-million pound investment in the High Street, and more successful funding bids set to regenerate our town centre we are very much looking towards the future.

"With partners including Bedford BID, Explore Bedford and others we will keep working with local businesses to encourage people to visit, shop local and use their town centre.”