Will Leighton get an early Christmas present with retail scheme update?

Land South of High Street, Leighton Buzzard
Land South of High Street, Leighton Buzzard

Leighton Buzzard will be hoping for an early Christmas present when council and business representatives receive an update on the long-awaited South Side development tonight (Thursday).

Central Beds Council officer Jason Longhurst is scheduled to give the town council’s partnership committee a progress report on the scheme – and members will be hoping for less controversy than when the matter was discussed back in June.

Livid locals were in uproar over the apparent abandonment of the retail scheme to transform Leighton town centre

The LBO reported how Leighton-Linslade’s bemused mayor, independent traders’ group and other campaigners were furious after two Central Beds Council officers apparently revealed at the meeting alternative plans for developing the South Side of the High Street.

But they were later told they must have “misinterpreted” Central Beds Council’s intentions.

In 2012, Central Beds Council unveiled its Land South of High Street development brief - a new retail district that would be built over the area of Park Street and Cattle Market, with delivery anticipated for 2016.

But following the meeting of the Leighton Buzzard partnership committee, members left convinced the emphasis had changed from the initial scheme which included 30-plus retail units, anchored by a major store and a cinema.

They were furious that Central Beds seemed to have shifted the focus to building housing, a hotel and offices.

But in a subsequent interview, Councillor Nigel Young, CBC Executive Member for Regeneration, who was at the meeting, said: “I am really unhappy that what we said when we visited the partnership committee seems to have been misinterpreted. They have got completely the wrong end of the stick. We must have miscommunicated because clearly people heard something that we did not say.

“I want to reassure people that the proposals for South of High Street have not changed. This is a retail-led scheme.”

Gennaro Borrelli, chairman of independent traders’ group LB First, admitted he had come out of the partnership committee fuming and insisted he had not misheard CBC officers saying the retail aspect of the scheme would now become housing, offices and a hotel.

He said at the time: “The room was full of people. I’m not the only one who heard what I heard. Jason Longhurst (CBC officer) said since he’d been with the council he’d never mentioned us having shops on this development.”

Mayor Steve Cotter, who chaired the partnership meeting where the CBC officers broke the news, also insisted he hadn’t misheard what had been said. He said he had been shocked that officers had stated the land had never been promised as retail and that the emphasis was now on commercial - including a hotel.

Looking ahead to tonight’s meeting, Mr Borrelli said: “From our perspective the question is are we going to get an early Christmas present from CBC? In other words is Jason Longhurst going to tell us that the South Side of the High Street is going to get under way and it will be a retail development?

“This development has so much potential to give the town a boost firstly by giving residents what they’ve been asking for which is more choice and variety of shops and secondly by helping the market and town centre shops by anchoring the footfall with less need to go out of town to shop.”

The meeting starts at 7.30pm at the White House. The public is welcome to attend.