I am not against the Riverside North development, in fact I think it could be a positive step forward for the town centre. But Bedford Borough Council have to look beyond the development, and start to think now how they are going to make it work.
Reading the article in The Times & Citizen of 25th July 2012, it seems Mayor Dave Hodgson has a less than impressive list of reasons why it will be a success
“If you look at where it is, it is river fronted which makes it an ideal location”, Mayor Dave says. A river frontage does not automatically make it an ideal location. A river frontage is an asset, but it’s what happens on the frontage and the river itself that could make it an ideal location. Are there plans to have moorings on the frontage to encourage river traffic?
A river with boats is infinitely more interesting. If the plan is to maintain exclusive use of the river for the rowers, then the river frontage will offer little to the businesses located there.
Mayor Dave claims “The shops will benefit too because people will stay in the town centre for longer”. Another sweeping claim. What shops are going to be attracted to the area? And what evidence is there that these shops will benefit from people being in that area past say 7-30? Will the shops even be open at that time? It needs thinking through.
Mayor Dave says he, “want(s) to have something that brings people into town at night which means they come in and we don’t lose them, they want to stay all night.” A laudable aim. But what are they going to do if they stay all night? And more importantly, who are these people?
How is this night-time economy going to work? The businesses that operate there need to compliment each other in terms of what they offer and when they offer it. They need to know there customers will come to enjoy what’s on offer.
“We have a river which is gorgeous but we can’t do much because we are lucky enough to have so much history and buildings that are listed”. This just doesn’t make sense at all to me.
At the moment the river is a wasted asset, apart from every two years at the time of the river festival. Surely anyone who looks at the river during that two-day period can see what the river could bring to Bedford with a little more creativity and license for boat users.
Bedford has some great buildings but take a look at them. They are wasted. Using the fact that we have beautiful listed buildings as an excuse to do nothing really does show the flaws in this thinking.
Dave The Mayor claims that, “All of these things make Bedford a fantastic and great town but all these things also make it difficult to do things”. Bedford is not a fantastic town, some of the people are.
Especially the ones who are trying to bring life and vigor to the place, We Are Bedford, Creative Bedford, The Bedford Clanger, the music promotors and the small independent business in the town. What makes it difficult to do things in Bedford is the stodgy thinking that goes on behind the closed doors of the Borough Council Officers. Without doubt anyone, individual, group or small business, who tries to do something different in Bedford will have to first negotiate their way through the minefield of rules and regulations created by the officers of the Borough Council. And it starts at the very top. Bedford Borough Council make it difficult to do things. Who told the Kiosk in Russell Park they couldn’t open for the river festival?
It would be interesting to know who told Bedford Borough Council that they, “support more theatres than any other authority, and we already support four arts venues”. So come on tell us, who came up with little gem? And lets hear about the arts venues.
And, as Dave says elsewhere, ” I think competition is good”. So if it’s good for Aspects it’s good for everything else.
“We want to work with Coplan and anyone who is interested to see if there’s a willingness to take on smaller units,” says Dave. If that’s so then we need some details pretty soon because people are tied into leases and have to make plans. They need time.
I want to approach this development positively. I want it to work. What Bedford does not need is another Castle Quay. It needs a development that is not isolated, that fits into a long-term view of how Bedford can develop, and, importanly, rekindle a thriving town centre. If this development is on the river front then the river has to become part of the life of the development and be “developed”.
The key questions are:
- How is the river frontage going to contribute to the overal development? Are there any plans for boating facilities on the frontage?
- Who are the people who are going to be attracted into the revitalsied night time economy? Have we identified there needs?
- What are the businesses that will create this new night time economy? Have they been involved in discussions?
- What policies are Bedford Borough Council developing to support these business?
Over to you Dave.