‘If we don’t act now we won’t have a town centre to revitalise’. Biggleswade councillors spell out action needed to save jaded town centre

Madeline Russell

Madeline Russell - Credit: Archant

“If we don’t act now, we soon won’t have a town centre to revitalise.”

That is the stark view Councillor Madeline Russell spelled out in a report to a Biggleswade town council committee meeting on Tuesday.

Mrs Russell drafted the report of the steps that need to be taken to revitalise Biggleswade after attending a national conference in London called Next Steps for Revitalising High Streets.

After the event she wrote: “Time is of the essence. Some businesses are on the edge and there has been a series of planning applications over recent months to turn commercial premises into residential.”

In a series of action points for change she said building a car park for at least 200 spaces is key, as is improving the physical environment of the town centre and expanding the space available for events in Market Square. She said focus needs to be on serving the town and its hinterland villages with flexible opening hours and relevant offers.

Customer service is key to encouraging repeat business and services such as banks, restaurants and beauty salons alongside retail.

Mrs Russell proposes a series of solutions, including businesses making sure they are promoting themselves on social media and encouraging click-and-collect services for those who order online.

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Small retailers must develop their websites so they are not being left behind in the digital age, she added. Pop-up shops can do much to help start up businesses, and shop space should be offered free of charge and at reduced rates for start-ups.

Other solutions could include asking large businesses such as Marks and Spencer and JD Wetherspoon to mentor smaller retailers and to set up a Business Improvement District across the whole town.

A teenage market could help bring 13 to 21-year-olds back into the town to help prevent the continuing shrinkage of markets.

Mrs Russell said the town does not have ‘the basics’ of sufficient parking and a welcoming, cleaner, safer, greener environment and needs to improve this to make regeneration possible.

She says the town has ‘a jaded air’ and on and off-street parking is insufficient and time limits on spaces do not allow proper access to shops and services.

She said the town council is continually lobbying Central Beds council to make improvements to the market square which it owns and to focus on building new car parks.

She says the town council is not encouraged by planning applications for flats with limited parking such as that at Bonds Lane/Station Road which will be decided on December 7 and hopes to regulate car parking at its existing town centre car parks to ensure theer is space for people using town centre services.

She added: “We should be aiming for a town centre full of vitality and valuable businesses where people go for leisure as well as retail and services. We need to engender a sense of pride in the town. The perception of the place is key. There needs to be a sense of enjoyment and leisure and engagement with the community. Staged events are very important because they encourage a different kind of visitor to the town centre.”

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