A Biggleswade business group has hit out at what it says is a lack of support for the town.
The Biggleswade Chamber of Trade has written a strongly worded letter to Central Bedfordshire Council citing several issues it believes are holding back success in the town.
l Changes to Century House
l Changes to the road layout and bus stops in Market Place and Hitchin Street
l Plans for Back Street
l Signage in High Street
l A planned traffic island.
The letter, by secretary Graham Jones, written after the Chamber’s annual meeting, states: “Our members discussed a number of issues which have been causing traders in the town some considerable concern.”
Members say trading in the town is being suppressed because of a lack of affordable car parking.
“It is essential that urgent action is taken to secure a car park close to Biggleswade town centre,” they said. “Without such a facility Biggleswade will continue to find it difficult to attract long-term tenants for shops and commercial premises in and around the town centre. In turn this will affect commercial propery values, further reducing investment and increasing the likelihood of property owners seeking to maximise their investment by turning commercial property into residential.”
The Chamber believes a site on Bonds Lane is the best area for a new car park.
The letter said: “Members are concerned that Central Bedfordshire Council has been able to find funds to support parking in smaller towns elsewhere in the area whilst failing to address the long standing issues in Biggleswade.”
The group also calls the proposed development of Century House “ill advised” saying it will have a negative impact on the town.
They say plans to build on the current exit road will be an intrusion into the market place which is a conservation area, and will restrict future use of the area for events.
“The proposed use as a library is misconceived and provides no discernible benefit over the current building in Chestnut Avenue,” they say.
The letter states there are already too many empty commercial buildings around Market Square and there are more pressing priorities for investment in Biggleswade.
The Chamber also believes the planned changes to the road layout are “hastily conceived to accomodate the changes proposed to Century House”.
They say there will be increased congestion and increased traffic problems in Station Road and onto the High Street roundabout.
They write: “The proposed bus stops will remove valuable car parking space from Biggleswade town cetnre, reduce pavement width in busy areas and intrude onto the frontal areas of shops. They will also add to the traffic problem in the High Street as buses pull over and rejoin traffic.
“The changes of direction of Hitchin Street is welcomed and long overdue, but for maximum effectiveness, traffic should be directed to parking spaces via Bonds Lane and by turning right and cross the Market Square (from Century House towards Iceland) and not out past The Crown and along the High Street.”
They go on to say the proposed contraflow cycle lane in Back Street is “misconceived and frankly dangerous and changes to signage to send traffic along High Street to St Andrews Street to go to Shefford, Langford and Henlow will create more traffic on an already overloaded High Street.
“The proposed sign 21 again moves traffic for Langford/Shefford down the High Street. Traffic from the Aldi and station car parks should be directed to use Saffron Road,” they state.
Members also suggested that the moving of the doctor’s surgery from Saffron Road to the Potton Road hospital site would free up a site which could be used as a transport interchange.
“This would reduce the need for bus movements on the Market Square whilst being readily accessible to shops,” they said.
“Removing the buses from the Market Square will similarly remove the current problemof diesel emissions, improving air quality on the Market Square.
“The site could also house the library and services from the London Road sites. It would dovetail much easier for car parking to be created in that area.”
The chamber also suggested closing the current bus exit route from the Market Square would allow markets to be located entirely in the pedestrianised area, avoiding the need to close Market Place road on a Saturday and making 35 parking places available.
In a statement from Central Bedfordshire Council a spokesman said: “At the request of Biggleswade Town Council, Central Bedfordshire Council is currently reviewing how parking is managed in Biggleswade town centre.
“The council does not own or manage any off-street car parks in the area. But we will work with those who do
in order to improve parking management and available spaces, including with the town council and local retailers.
“This review will be completed towards the end of this year, and may include recommendations that change how car parking is provided.
“This follows initiatives earlier this year to encourage commuters to park at the station, which in turn means more on-street spaces for residents, shoppers and visitors.
“Century House is a council-owned building that we recognise is being underutilised given its prominent location within the Market Square.
“The premises could help to improve the town centre and encourage more shoppers into the Market Square, so supporting local businesses.
“We are keen on developing viable proposals with the local community and existing occupants that will deliver broader benefits for the town centre.
“At the current time the council is not considering options for Century House, but will begin to look at this in the near future; when options are available these will be shared with the local community for their views.
“The council has previously looked at improving connections between bus and rail services.
“For instance, we have considered better bus waiting facilities at the station, and also the bus routes within the town centre.
“These options were presented to the Biggleswade Joint Committee.
“ Work continues on these proposals, which will be open to public consultation at the appropriate time.
“As a council we regularly consider proposals for improving the roads in Biggleswade.
“Changes are often requested by the town council, residents and businesses.
“Any future suggestions will be consulted on in the usual way and considered by the council’s traffic management committee. Residents, businesses and any others with an interest are encouraged to participate in this process.
“All our current consultations can be found at www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/consultations.
“We are unaware of any proposals to relocate the Saffron Road Health Clinic.
“The council works very closely with local GPs, Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the wider NHS providers to ensure there are enough healthcare facilities within the town.
“For instance, the council has been working with the Ivel Valley Medical Practice to develop new GP facilities at the council-owned Acorn Centre. Both the council and the CCG are committed to developing an Integrated Health and Care Hub in Biggleswade so that local people can have access to more joined-up health and care services closer to home. We are currently engaged in exploring a number of options, including the use of the hospital site for the hub.”