A meeting to discuss the future of Leighton Buzzard town centre heard how it faces a constant threat from large retail developments and centres.
The gathering was staged at Bossard Hall on September 24 and was attended by 40 local businesses as well as town and Central Beds ward councillors.
The meeting, organised by local members of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), was held to find out ways in which business and local councils can work together to ensure that the town centre of Leighton Buzzard, benefits from the current and planned housing growth in the town.
The event was hosted by local businessman Gennaro Borrelli, who is chair of FSB’s Special Interest Group and speaking at the event were South West Beds MP, Andrew Selous, Michael Weedon, who is FSB’s national policy lead on retail affairs and Sam Caldbeck, place programme manager for Central Bedfordshire Council.
Deputy Mayor of Leighton Linslade, Councillor Farzana Kharawala chaired a panel question and answer session, which raised many issues including the lack of access and to the town centre by public transport, parking as well as the problem of anti-social behaviour which could deter town centre shoppers.
Mr Borrelli said: “Leighton Buzzard is a prosperous market town. It is the largest town by population in Central Bedfordshire but because it is right on the edge of the unitary authority’s geography, we worry that it gets forgotten in terms of strategic planning and funding.
“It has a thriving town centre and a great many independent retailers and other traders but there is the constant threat from large retail developments which will drive retail and other consumer traffic away from the centre.
“There is also the draw of larger retail centres such as Milton Keynes and Aylesbury within easy reach of the town.”
Mr Selous said: “It was excellent that so many people from the town attended this event. It shows that there is a real interest in keeping our town vibrant.
“I am very pleased that FSB is spearheading a movement to keep the local councils alive to the concerns of local businesses and is helping to ensure that everything is done to make our town successful.
“The last thing any of us need is Leighton Linslade to become merely a dormitory for other larger centres. I certainly learned a lot from this meeting which I shall use in my future engagement with local and central government in these matters.”
Mr Weedon said: “We know that town centres are going to have to change, they are going to have to become destinations, rather than just places where people buy the things they need every day.
“There is however a vital role that town centres play in terms of providing local jobs and being a focus for the community. In terms of the national picture, Leighton Buzzard isn’t doing too badly, it still has its fair share of great, independent businesses and it is very lucky that has so far, kept its network of bank branches, the lack of which is a big problem for other town centres up and down the country.
“Keeping footfall high is a problem for our town centres but one of the keys to this, is everybody working together. Business Improvement Districts can be one way to provide the impetus to provide extra resources to ensure continued use.”
Other projects that FSB’s local group intend to take forward are a campaign to coordinate special offers Small Business Saturday (December 7, 2019) and promote these to local residents and to offer business support and training for local retailers. If you would like to know more about the work of the FSB locally go to www.fsb.org.uk/regions/East-of-England