Campaigners who are stepping up their campaign for the redevelopment of Leighton Buzzard town centre have accused the town council of “trying to crush democracy”.
The campaign group – which includes former book shop owner Colin Ashby and Victoria Harvey of South Beds Friends of the Earth – is furious after being told this week they couldn’t hire a market stall to promote their cause.
The campaigners had wanted to book the stall for Saturday, March 21 so they could erect a banner and gathered signatures for a petition urging Central Beds Council to press ahead with the Land South of High Street development.
But they were left frustrated after being told that the town council didn’t allow political lobbying on stalls. Last month UKIP was rejected a stall on the same grounds.
Ms Harvey said: “The town council has stopped allowing stalls on community issues such as Valley Farm housing or campaigning for the south side of the High Street! Mary Portas called for the High Street to be the centre of the community!
“They are denying the community a voice. This is an attempt to crush democracy and free debate of community issues.”
“This is about community issues which are nothing to do with party politics and it’s really difficult to do it without a market stall because you can hang a banner on that and get your message across.”
Ms Harvey pointed out she had previously been associated with stalls which had compaigned about the retail park,stopping Tesco’s expansion, and renewable energy.
Of their campaign, Mr Ashby added: “The South Side has been debated for at least 20 years as a development area for the town centre.
“It was earmarked for high density housing for many years but the expansion of the town and its population has seen a change and now the call is for more retail, leisure and other facilities in the 283,000 square foot development area.
“Central Beds Council has made great progress in the last three years and South Side is now a development brief which is a major step forward, but we need to make it move faster as a town we are falling behind others in the country.
“Other towns are redeveloping their town centres into the new model for towns as a place to shop, eat and drink and socialise in safe, comfortable surroundings.
“Towns smaller than Leighton-Linslade have schemes with High Street names, a cluster of up-market eateries and in most a multi-screen cinema moving into new premises to complement and upgrade their town’s current facilities.
“This is the way forward and is gaining momentum with more schemes being planned most, if not all, led by councils. Town centres are on the way back.”
Despite the lack of a base, the campaign group is still planning to collect signatures, but will most likely be in the Waterborne Walk area of town.
A town council spokesman said they were prepared to allow stalls for community and charity use.
He added there had been a recent review of the use of market stalls and said of the town centre development campaigners’ request: “We are acting in the best interests of the market and we don’t want politicial lobbying in any way, shape or form.”
A spokesman for Central Beds Council said: “Clearly the residents Leighton Buzzard feel very passionately about the redevelopment of the Land South of High Street - a position shared by Central Bedfordshire Council.
“The council also recognises that such projects are of key importance to the local economy, and while we would like to ensure completion as soon as possible, we must ensure that this is managed in the most efficient, sustainable and effective way.
“However, the timetable for redevelopment is dependent on broader market conditions, so the council is not able to impose or set a deadline for completion at this point.
“We are, of course, liaising with prospective development partners and retail occupiers with the aim of moving forward this much anticipated redevelopment scheme, with the aim of maintaining the offer of Leighton Buzzard as a key market town in Central Bedfordshire.”