A business owner in Leighton Buzzard has made a passionate plea for pedestrianisation to continue in the town’s high street to help promote small shops.
But a new experimental traffic regulation order will allow vehicles as well as buses into the town centre again, five days a week, for up to 18 months or until a better solution is found for the area.
Only on the regular Tuesday and Saturday market days will the current ban on traffic continue for now.
Retailer Heni Cloake runs The Good Life Refill, a plastic free grocery shop on Leighton Buzzard high street.
“I’m concerned there’s this perception that retailers are against pedestrianisation,” she told a Central Bedfordshire Council traffic management meeting.
“I’m speaking as a business owner who believes pedestrianisation is essential for the financial success of my premises,” she explained.
“And I’m also here as a representative for my customers who care passionately about making their high street a healthier and safer space to be.
“I began as a market trader on the high street in August 2020. After it proved successful, I chose to open a permanent shop in June last year.
“The pedestrianised high street has helped my business to flourish and to be more visible and accessible. It’s enabled people to connect with it, as they take more time and feel less stressed.
“My experience is that pedestrianisation has encouraged people to really reconnect with their town and discover the locally owned businesses available to them.
“I really fear bringing back street parking will only benefit the big chain stores and actually harm the smaller businesses owned by locals, such as myself.
“The real way for the high street to thrive is to offer what online shopping can’t,” she said.
“That’s a vibrant healthy experience in the high street, a safer place for families, a known place for events and independent businesses, and a town with unique character.
“More cars on the street undermines all of this. The core value of my business is sustainability and the growth of it shows the people of this town really care about the environment.
“They want a high street which prioritises the community and independent business.”
A statement from Gennaro Borrelli, who chairs LB First and the Federation of Small Businesses special interest group, asked: “Has CBC (Central Bedfordshire Council) enough staff with the level of expertise to form a working group and consider the options? And will the town council and other stakeholders be part of it?
“We understand the importance of buses being able to bring people into the high street and welcome this.
“What can be done to make improvements on market days, so that it continues to run successfully in a pedestrianised area?
“Given CBC has just closed the second phase consultation as part of the government’s Bus Back Better strategy, will this be part of improving services and bus usage in the town?
“Also there are concerns about how the next six months of a new traffic order will work, given the chaos of the present one and how CBC have managed it, while options are considered for the future.
“It makes more sense for an overall strategy to consider the town centre as a whole, offering some free parking in all car parks while taking away the need to park in the high street.
“And also the development of the land on the south side of the High Street and how that would link in with any kind of pedestrianisation, such as allowing for a service road for deliveries to businesses.”