Town centre controversy – ‘You must have misheard retail had been axed’

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

Livid locals who were in uproar over the apparent abandonment of a retail scheme to transform Leighton town centre have been told they must have “misinterpreted” Central Beds Council’s intentions.

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

Central Beds Councillor Nigel Young

Central Beds Councillor Nigel Young

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 a meeting of the Leighton Buzzard partnership committee, members left convinced the emphasis had shifted 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 changed the focus to building housing, a hotel and offices.

But in an interview this week Councillor Nigel Young, 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. We intend to bring forward a market-led scheme. We are not proposing a commercial development and we are not proposing no shops.”

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

He said: “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.

“Putting who said what to one side, it shows the realy strong opinion and passion in this town and people are very clear what is needed here.

“I can only hope it’s going to make everyone relook at what’s happening here, re-evaluate and realise what is needed – a retail-led mixed 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.

He said: “To suggest that wasn’t said or implied is not true and an outrage. It was said. You can manipulate words, but we all heard it.”

Leighton’s MP, Andrew Selous, said he took comfort from Councillor Young’s comittment to the original development brief.

He said: “I am reassured that Central Bedfordshire Council have reaffirmed that nothing has changed from the masterplan and that CBC continue to describe the scheme as ‘an aspirational retail led mixed use quarter, aimed at building on the town’s strong and vibrant market town heritage’. Like many people in the town, I am frustrated at how long it has taken to bring this project to fruition. I also don’t want to see jobs lost from the town.”

Our original story can be found here...