What next for Leighton Buzzard High Street as petitions have opposing views on pedestrianisation?
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A plea to the local authority for Leighton Buzzard High Street to be permanently pedestrianised is to be made at a meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, December 7).
A petition is due to be presented to Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive with a series of requests linked to the process. It has been submitted by Tom Littlehales, who is part of Leighton Linslade Living Streets and Leighton Buzzcycles.
However, there appears to be divided opinion in town on the best way forward as a separate petition created in September by shopkeepers has asked for pedestrianisation to be aborted.
Pressure has been mounting in the town to have the area completely pedestrianised or else reinstated, following a trial to lure back shoppers after pandemic lockdowns. Now it seems prompter action is being demanded to come up with a clear solution to benefit the town and its businesses, while making it safer to shop.
The latest move for pedestrianisation from Mr Littlehales also asks CBC to invest in “more benches, trees and other greenery”.
And it highlights the need for “cycle parking, a continuous surface across the street, as well as good provision for deliveries and disabled parking”. The petition also refers to investigating bringing bus services closer to the High Street, without letting them drive down it.
Local Liberal Democrats have voiced fears “shoppers, parkers, the disabled, High Street businesses, emergency services, and bus operators” could be left without a proper say in what happens.
The customary procedure is for the relevant executive member to respond to a petition, in this case Conservative Arlesey councillor Ian Dalgarno who holds the community services portfolio. It was revealed in September that CBC is due to review the current experimental traffic regulation order (ETRO) in the town centre and make recommendations for the future of the High Street from next March.
Liberal Democrat Linslade councillor Peter Snelling had asked for an update on the potential pedestrianisation during open questions at a full council meeting. He wondered what consultation was planned, who can contribute and what the planned timetable was.
In councillor Dalgarno’s absence from that meeting, Conservative council leader Richard Wenham reassured councillor Snelling that “no decisions have been made”. He said councillor Dalgarno would provide him with a more detailed written reply.
Councillor Snelling enquired why “this consultation isn’t already in place, so that by March next year a decision has been made, rather than wait until after that date”.
Councillor Wenham replied: “Clearly the more views we receive from residents and other stakeholders the more helpful that will be for forming the outcome going forward.”
The shopkeepers’ earlier petition had urged CBC to either “have the high street reinstated or completely pedestrianise it but offer free parking for shoppers for up to one hour”.
Residents were invited to visit The Secret Courtyard, Little Ducklings, Lauren’s Cafe, Dees Cards, and Dillamores to sign the document, which was recently submitted to Central Bedfordshire Council with a significant number of signatures.
The petition argued that CBC’s proposals to raise its car parking charges would mean that they would be higher than those in Central Milton Keynes shopping centre, driving people away from town.
They also claimed that people were put off from visiting even now, as the minimum card/mobile payment to park is currently £3.50, the high street spaces are no longer available, and that elderly residents used to rely on the high street bus stops. One man claimed: “It’s like a ghost town on some days and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”
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