Bedford Riverside North Development

St Paul's Church is a Church of England parish...
St Paul’s Church is a Church of England parish church located on St Paul’s Square in the town centre of Bedford, Bedfordshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do we want to develop the Riverside North site?

When I walk around the Riverside North area I see town hall offices taking up what could be a beautiful and useful space. A prime location in Bedford.

Close to the site is a row of old, rundown buildings. If renovated they could have a multitude of uses. I suppose I am saying the area is wasted as it is. So development and restoration seems like a good idea.

How will the development compliment the rest of the town, with particular reference the Town Centre?

I would like to know how the Riverside North Development fits into the bigger picture. Is this just something we are sticking in there, or is the development part of a bigger vision?

A walk around the town centre will reveal past, piecemeal projects, conceived in isolation and without any consideration of an overall vision.

The Castle Quay folly is a prime example. Without the efforts of the local business and creative community, Castle Quay would now be standing empty and desolate. It’s still on a life support system, but seems to have a chance of pulling through. Will the Rivereside North development support or kill the embryonic Castle Quay project?

We have to ask of Bedford Borough Council, “What’s the big picture for the town centre?”

We have the aspiration of a “Cafe Culture”, which some local councillors and officers tried to strangle at birth. Even now, no one at Bedford Borough seems to fully understand the concept of “the cafe culture”.

We have Castle Quay, the cultural quarter,  fighting for it’s life, and with a chance of surviving thanks to the efforts of those involved in the area.

We have Aspects Leisure “park”, a carbuncle on the periphery of the town centre, neither in, nor out.

We have the Harpur Centre. We have The Arcade. We have a cluster of retail premises on Silver Street. We have the High Street. And we have Lime Street, populated by independent traders and some sizable commercial businesses.

We have the market on St Paul’s Square, itself an attractive location.

We have the Embankment, the so called jewel in Bedford’s crown. The only problem is that Bedford has no crown, just a jewel.

Finally we have the bus station, a transport hub which for many people is their main access to the town centre, whether using public transport or car. The less said about that area the better.

So before we change anything else we need to think about “the vision”. What is the town centre for and how do bring all this together?

I would say it should meet the cultural, leisure, commercial, retail, residential and administrative needs of the community. Others may disagree. I make no claim on having all the answers.

We need to think about how these different needs fit together, and above all, we must not fall into the trap of dividing the town into segments.

We need to think about how we feed traffic into the town and how people move and flow through the town centre.

Do we have places of interest, places to pause, sit and enjoy. A variety of places to eat, that fit the cafe culture, and places that offer varied leisure and cultural opportunities?

I think Bedford Town Centre is a disjointed collection of small individual areas, with barriers to natural flow of people around the town and a distinct lack of leisure and cultural venues.

There has been no obvious vision for the town centre for a long period of time. That needs to change.

I will try to offer some ideas in my next blog.

Goodthings Post

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