Over the next few months local residents will be asked for their views on the future of Leighton Buzzard High Street.
Early in the pandemic, restrictions were implemented to take all traffic, including public transport, out of the High Street and make it pedestrian only. Other changes included the widening of the footpath along Hockliffe Street, and making Lake Street one-way.
There have been mixed reactions to these changes – with public opinion split between those wanting to see the High Street remain pedestrian only, and those who want to see a return to pre-pandemic arrangements.
This is a complex issue, with many different – and often conflicting – priorities.
Clearly the advantage of keeping the High Street as pedestrian only makes for a nicer environment for shoppers. The market is able to spread out, and pedestrians are able to move around without the worry of buses and other vehicles moving around.
It was envisaged that local cafes and restaurants would benefit from the additional space that would be created, but so far we have not seen a continental-style ‘café culture’ appear in the town centre.
The negative impact of the pedestrianisation of the High Street has been on public transport and short term – and in particular disabled – parking.
Buses have been re-routed, with some serving Lake Street and others only stopping on West Street. And the short-term parking in the town centre has been lost, which has impacted the older members of the community and those with mobility issues.
And concerns have been raised by some members of the business community about the impact on their businesses, although this has not been quantified.
Taxis have been relocated to the bottom of the High Street and have therefore not been significantly disadvantaged by the changes.
So what are the options? Nothing is either ‘on’ or ‘off’ the table, although some possible constraints have been mooted.
I understand it would be difficult if not impossible for the buses to run on different routes on different days: I would love to see the town centre remain as pedestrian only on one or both market days, but apparently the bus companies could not accommodate this.
We need to take a holistic view of not only the town centre itself, but the impact of any permanent changes on surrounding roads – Church Square and Bridge Street, Lake Street and Hockliffe Street.
Speaking personally, one possible option could be to operate the buses from Church Square, but this would further reduce the availability of town centre parking, and would clearly impact on Leighton Middle School and Pulfords School, plus the housing off Church Square. And we need to consider the impact any changes in Church Square might have on the War Memorial and Remembrance Day commemorations. Or could we utilise the land south of the High Street as a transport hub?
The consultation is due to be undertaken over the coming months, and I would urge as many of you as possible to take part. This is not a decision that the Council can take unilaterally. We need to properly understand the views of local residents, and ensure that our town centre can continue to thrive as a modern 21st Century High Street.
There have been comments on some local social media about the money Leighton Linslade Town Council invests in the twice-weekly market.
Yes, LLTC did spend £110K last year to ensure the town centre has a thriving market. But this is something we should be proud of. The market is an important part of our community and draws people into the town centre. This benefits not only the market traders but other town centre shops and services too.
LLTC has a responsibility to keep the market running through good times and bad. Without this support, we would not have a market.
The logic applied by the detractors of our market is that it should be self-funding. But if we extend this logic to other public services (for that is what our market is), should the NHS be self-funding with no financial support from public funds? Should unprofitable schools be closed? Should we be charging a toll for using roads – and close those that don’t turn over a tidy profit?
Of course not.
And the market is the same. It does cost the town council money to provide this service to the town, but it is an investment in our town centre and something we should be proud of, not apologising for.
Leighton Buzzard and Linslade welcomes visitors from neighbouring towns and villages – the vast majority of whom come here and enjoy the town’s excellent facilities – which includes the market, multiple Green Flag-winning parks, independent shops and a wide range of places to eat and drink.