Anger is growing at delays with the South Side development in Leighton Buzzard town centre, as Central Beds Council show no sign of pushing the plans forward.
In 2012, the 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.
Sites were purchased last year, but questions were raised after a Freedom Of Information request suggested two parcels of land needed for the scheme had yet to be bought.
Colin Ashby has been a retailer in Leighton Buzzard for 38 years and has just spent 400 hours compiling two reports in favour of the south side development, which he has forwarded to all CBC councillors.
He said: “I can see the benefits to the town of gaining more shops that it needs.
“We have an imbalance and a very distinct lack of mainstream clothing stores.
“The ones we have are good but to attract more people in, especially people who live here, we need modern units that the chain retailers will be happy to occupy. Mr Longhurst [CBC head of regeneration] thinks they won’t come. I disagree wholeheartedly.”
In his report, Mr Ashby states that CBC’s own 2012 retail report estimated around £100m of disposable income went from Leighton-Linslade each year to Milton Keynes, a figure that he alleges was disputed by both Jason Longhurst, head of regeneration at CBC, and Cllr James Jamieson, council leader.
Mr Ashby pointed out the success of the Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds, a town roughly comparable with Leighton Buzzard that had suffered similar competition from bigger towns like Ipswich and Cambridge, before the Arc was built in 2009.
He and another Leighton Buzzard retailer, Tom Shattock, have now set up a campaign website at www.yourtownyourfuture.co.uk.
Jason Longhurst, director of regeneration at CBC, insisted the council were still committed to the south side development despite the lack of progress.
In a statement to the LBO, he said: “One of our ongoing priorities is to stimulate the regeneration of our market towns, so we remain firmly committed to bringing forward the development on Land South of High Street, to complement a vibrant town centre in Leighton Buzzard.
“We own the land needed to do this, as set out in the plans presented to the town council in April, so we neither require nor intend to purchase any further parcels of land.
“The proposed and substantial Land South of High Street redevelopment remains consistent with our proposals as set out in the site development framework and we continue to proactively engage with the development and retail sectors to bring this forward.
“While this remains reliant on the wider recovery of the UK development market, we have already invested substantially in this site and when commercial developments are in position to bring this forward, we will make this public.”