Building a better Bedford

It may be behind schedule, but there’s no denying the impact that the Riverside North development has had on the town centre. At Clanger HQ, we have long been able to see beyond the bridge and appreciate the bigger picture for Bedford – particularly the significance of such an investment in the town – and the proposals for the regeneration of the Harpur Centre, plus Days Department Store in the former BHS unit are another step in the right direction.

But don’t just take our word for it; we’ve asked some experts for their views on the regeneration.

Town planner (and Bedford resident) Clare Buddle had this to say about the improvements: “The new town centre destination at Riverside North,  combined with the regeneration of the Harpur Centre, will not only benefit those already living in Bedford, but will also attract others from further afield.  This increased footfall will bring greater spending into the town,  subsequently attract further investment and spin offs for our great existing culture and leisure offer.”

The renovation of the Harpur Centre coincides with its 40th anniversary celebrations this year.  The retail landscape has changed dramatically over the last four decades, with town centres becoming a combination of shopping, eating and leisure destinations, competing with out-of-town centres. Bedford’s unique selling points are varied, including the River Great Ouse, its cultural heritage and its unique independent retailers. The new developments undoubtedly add to this mix, attracting new visitors, encouraging locals to return to the town centre and also attracting new businesses.

Said property lawyer and local resident, Catherine Williams: “Whether you are a bit unsure about the new bridge or the style of the architecture, Riverside North still feels like a watershed moment for me. The blend of old and new looks really effective.  Since we moved to Bedford four years ago, more and more of the eyesores we moaned about are being renovated and thriving businesses are taking their place. Bedford is on the up.”

We spoke to James Burchell, on behalf of Tellon Capital Asset Managers for the Harpur Centre’s owners: “The potential for Bedford and The Harpur Centre is excellent. This is a fantastic town and we are delighted to have invested here. Our team have carefully considered how both the exterior and the interior can be brought into the 21st century. Bringing the shop fronts forward to meet the canopy and improving the entrances on Horne Lane and Midland Road will create a smarter Harpur Centre and provide a better shopping experience.

The conversations we held with local residents and regular shoppers ‎last week [at the launch of the plans] were very encouraging. There is a clear desire to see the centre modernised and we are keen to deliver on that. We look forward to restoring the Harpur Centre’s position at the heart of Bedford over the coming years.”

Ian Wilson, Associate Director at Harpur Centre architects, Corstorphine & Wright said:
“As part of our proposed designs we aim to create a new dynamic frontage to the centre whilst reconnecting to the historic facade. The 40th anniversary is a great opportunity to reinvigorate this unique destination in the town centre.”
Further good news came this week as Equorium Property (part of the EWM group) submitted a planning application relating to the former BHS building on Midland Road.

Days Department Store in Camarthen, Wales

Vacant since the collapse of Sir Phillip Green’s chain of department stores, the large unit will become a Days Department Store and will trade over two floors.  EWM is one of the fastest growing retail groups in the country, with 980 stores across the UK. Last November it announced an ambitious expansion plan to open 200 new stores over 18 months.  The Bedford store would most likely include EWM brands inlcuding Peacocks, Austin Reed, Pondon Home Stores, Jane Norman and Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

We are looking forward to watching the changing urban landscape over the next few years as the town centre is invigorated with new investment, higher footfall and an improvement in the public realm.  We’ll soon forget our despair at the loss of the Spiral (RIP) and embrace the new era. A lift!


Editor of The Bedford Clanger, organiser behind BedPop, an events manager and a freelance copywriter

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