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Riverside North Update

December 6, 2012 7:50 PM

Dave Hodgson with Town Bridge behindI have just come from a meeting of the Council's Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which had invited me to talk about the Riverside North development and answer the Committee's questions on the scheme.

It was a really good discussion with the Committee's Members, who comprise Councillors of all parties and none and represent communities across the urban and rural parts of the borough, raising a range of issues and giving me the chance to set out the vision for the scheme. That vision is to enhance Bedford as an attractive destination, opening up the riverside to the town and enabling people to enjoy their town centre, while attracting many thousands more into Bedford, generating investment and employment.

Tonight's meeting came on the night after my Cabinet approved the bringing down of the Town Hall and establishing a major new riverside public square as a central feature of the development.

The Bedfordshire on Sunday recently gave me the opportunity to set out my views on where we are with the development, and to respond to a number of points raised through the paper. If you didn't see it, I have pasted a copy below:

The Riverside North development will include a state-of-the-art cinema, riverside restaurants and new public open space by the river linking it with the town. It will also deliver a huge economic boost for Bedford. However, before expanding on the overwhelming benefits it will bring, I want to make clear that the development will not look like the images released by the developers Coplan prior to the last round of consultation.

This has been a genuine consultation to enable residents to help shape this key development for our town, and Coplan are updating their plans to reflect the views and suggestions made. Everyone has their own views on architectural styles and designs - I have mine like everybody else - and I believe that it must be as attractive as possible to draw people in and to enhance the riverside. I am also focused on ensuring that it delivers the huge benefits of regeneration for our town centre that I have always laid out as the vision for the site, and which received a positive response through the consultation.

Town centres across the country are withering and, in some cases, dying. Ours has been more robust thanks in large part to our great independent retailers, but one lesson we have to learn is that town centres must be attractive destinations to spend time in. Riverside North reintroduces town centre cinema to Bedford, with a state-of-the-art seven screen facility which will draw over 300,000 people a year to come into town, enjoy themselves and use the shops and services on offer here.

A range of high quality restaurants will allow people to round off their riverside wander or evening at the cinema with a meal or a drink. These features will mean that Bedford has something more to draw families into the town centre in the evening and breathe new life into the night time economy. Families with children, couples, older people and indeed everyone will be able to enjoy the cinema and restaurants and the new riverside environment. With the demolition of the Town Hall the town centre will be opened up to the river, making the most of one of our greatest assets with open space and new river views.

Over the decades I have lived in Bedford I have seen many false dawns and faded dreams for our town centre, but this vision for a fantastic riverside environment featuring new shops and cafes, the cinema, hotel and restaurants and attractive open public spaces will become a reality. All political parties were involved in appointing the developers and approving the development agreement. This was important as some have sought to use our town centre as a political football in the past and held it back while other towns moved ahead. Now we have an opportunity for a riverside regeneration scheme which will not only bring 200 new jobs and up to 500,000 visitors for our businesses, but will quite simply make our town centre a more attractive, prosperous and enjoyable destination for everyone.

Dave Hodgson

Mayor of Bedford Borough