Ideas for redevelopment of Leighton Buzzard South Side land include retail, housing, performance area, car park and much more

Town council group is hoping to work with Central Beds Council and influence the future of the area.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 9:12 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 9:14 pm

A shopping list of potential uses for Leighton Buzzard's South Side land includes retail, housing, a policing hub, performance area, relocation of the town council offices, a multi-storey car park, plus much more beside.

A dedicated group of councillors is currently working hard to explore how the site south of Leighton Buzzard High Street could be best developed for the community.

Members of the South Side Task and Finish Group met recently via Microsoft Teams, which included a discussion of a paper produced by Cllr Steve Owen concerning potential ideas for the area.

Photo: Jane Russell

The group was set up through the Leighton-Linslade Town Council and Central Bedfordshire Council Partnership Committee around six months ago, with members including Leighton-Linslade Councillors: Clive Palmer, Sheona Hemmings, Brian Spurr, Steve Owen, and Deputy Mayor Tony Morris, as well as Central Beds and Town Councillor Victoria Harvey.

Talking about their latest meeting, Cllr Clive Palmer told the LBO: "It went quite well and there was a good exchange of views, particularly from members of the public about the need for a community facility.

"There has been quite a huge campaign to raise awareness about the possibility of some form of arts and cultural heritage centre.

"It [South Side] is a vital site in terms of two aspects: we want to see it enhance the vitality of the town centre, and the vibrancy of the town centre, and relating to that, there needs to be something in that context which will benefit residents as a whole."

He added: "I have to make it clear that the Task and Finish Group is a group to investigate, research, and make recommendations. It is not a decision making body in itself, nor does it have financial capacity."

Cllr Owen's paper presents ideas about what could potentially be included in the whole redevelopment of the site: including a ball park of 40% housing - as residential will be a key driver for developers wanting to make things happen.

A further 16% of the land could be for retail with smaller specialist shops introduced. Other ideas include hospitality - hotel, coffee-shop(s), café(s), pub(s)/bar(s); a performance space with accompanying facilities; meeting rooms; a museum and tourism office; a policing hub; re-located town council offices; a relocated TacTic Centre; daytime meeting spaces for older people; start-up business units, the Leighton Buzzard Health Hub; a permanent vaccination centre; a local college outpost; children's play (indoor/outdoor); an indoor market; a permanent crafts-oriented market; restaurants; car parking - probably a multi-storey (500 spaces); a conference centre; or a heritage display, for example, a narrow-gauge engine with sand cars on rails or a replica Vickers Vimy plane.

Meanwhile, the paper also explores the main requirements for an arts and heritage centre, including visible running costs and space allocation.

The group's goal is to develop these discussions into a draft paper that will "identify local community needs and aspirations" for South Side, and lead to public consultation so that "the document gains a wide measure of public support".

Cllr Owen's paper states: "The aim will be to move as quickly as possible to develop a document that can exert an influence over the planning process and the infrastructure discussions that accompany it. This is because the T & F Group recognise that the ball is already rolling insofar as there is a current application (from Mayfair 500) for development of part of the site."

Cllr Owen told the LBO: "Several councillors have been pressing for some kind of plan for this long neglected, strategic arc of land. Certainly, the task is to work with Central Bedfordshire Council to try and persuade CBC to come forward with a strategic plan for redevelopment.

"We have been tasked with coming up with what the town needs as far as the community is concerned. But CBC will have a view about that table [of ideas]."

Cllr Owen noted that other councillors may add to or remove items from his paper in the future, with Cllr Palmer describing it as a "travelling document".

The paper also states that the town council may need to be "tenacious" in "pressing for adequate non-residential space allocations".

It is understood that the Task and Finish Group is now waiting for an Options Appraisal from CBC contractors, which will make recommendations to CBC about what should be established on the land.

"But will it recommend what they think is best for the community or what is best for CBC?" questioned Cllr Owen.