To receive a verbal update from Mr S Mooring of Central Bedfordshire Council, including information on progress in respect to Town Centre economic support and High Street Funding and Ms S Childerhouse regarding licensing arrangements and other support for high street traders.
By invitation, Mr S Mooring, Head of Place Delivery at Central Bedfordshire Council, attended the meeting to give an update in respect of the High Street Improvement Scheme and land south of the High Street. Mr Mooring reported that the drop-in session held at the White House on the 12 February 2020 was well attended and proved a useful exercise and gave an insight into understanding key issues within the town. A report would be circulated to committee members.
The consultation regarding day care facilities had been paused because of COVID-19 and as the provision of a care home was linked to development of land south of the High Street, it was anticipated that the date would move from early 2022 to late 2022.
A question was raised as to what interest had been shown in the land south of the High Street. It was confirmed interest had been shown by a hotel chain, for housing and office facilities but none of these interests had progressed. It was recognised that the COVID-19 pandemic had had a further adverse impact on the retail sector, with an additional increase in the already existing trend towards internet shopping. It was suggested the land could be used as a multi-functional community hub with a balance between commercial business and community use. The social needs and issues within the town should be addressed when building on this land with a robust business case to move it forward to fruition.
The Committee agreed that as the town was increasing in population more facilities were needed for young people to combat boredom and anti-social behaviour. Other suggestions included a hireable studio facility and community facilities suitable for evening classes such as pottery or photography. A suggestion was made for Central Bedfordshire Officers and Councillors to view multi-use facilities in other towns, to gain information and ideas on what could be built here.
It was suggested that a holistic view needed to be taken of the whole centre, reviewing existing facilities such as the Library/Theatre as well as considering whether vacant town centre premises could be repurposed for community uses. A suggestion was made regarding whether Central Bedfordshire Council could undertake an “audit of need”. Mr Mooring would talk to colleagues in the Leisure team on this.
It was recognised that development on land south of the High Street would need to be commercially viable. The question was asked regarding Central Bedfordshire Council capacity to pull together a vision for the whole site and whether external consultants or developers could assist with this exercise.
Ms S Childerhouse also spoke to inform members of licensing arrangements and other support offered to high street traders during the pandemic. Guidance could be provided on COVID-19 regulations, but businesses had to provide details of what they required before advice could be given. An on-line form was now available where details could be completed, and photographs or plans given of what a business wanted. For example, if chairs and tables were required outside a café a photograph could be submitted with the on-line form showing exactly how this would look.
Ms Childerhouse invited feedback and suggestions where the gaps in information and help for retailers were. A suggestion was made for Gennaro Borelli, LB First and Bob Chandler, LB Connect to circulate this information to their contacts to ascertain what advice would be helpful and then pass this on to Ms Childerhouse. It was felt that the change in use of the High Street had been accelerated by the pandemic and any ideas or help to combat vacant units would be welcomed.
Central Bedfordshire officers were thanked for attending the meeting to share information with the committee.
RESOLVED to note the information.