Bedford’s vision for 2050 – at the centre of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc but needs a push in the right direction!

On Monday, Planning Director, Richard Murdock, attended the Built Environment Networking’s annual Oxford to Cambridge Arc conference.

Panel discussions throughout the day considered how best to raise the profile of the Arc to its communities; sharing the vision of what the Arc is seeking to achieve with its local people – who to date have not been consulted. With talk focused around growth, green infrastructure, creating a better environment, not only for new people moving to the area but for local people, for our existing residents, it has the potential to be a more palatable message than the 1 million homes cited previously. 

It felt like a really positive event despite the current climate. The Spending Review earlier in 2020 signalled that the Arc is starting to come onto the wider government agenda and that momentum is building, with an investment pledge of £4m. The LEPS and the diverse mix of universities of the region (collaborating as the Arc Universities Group) are really driving the agenda, banging the drum for sustainable growth, investment and a ‘green recovery’.

It was recognised that we need to create a brand and identity for the plans for the Arc region. The younger generation who need be galvanised to retain great talent and skills in the area. In this way the digitisation of the planning process is also very important. Consultations in local parish halls are simply no longer going to cut it, when we have 3D visualisations, augmented reality and web-based tools to work with.

East West Rail was championed as a catalyst for growth, specifically in the towns and cities it will serve. Next year the preferred route between Bedford and Cambridge will be consulted on. With Bedford central – and lucky – enough to be one of the hubs on the planned rail link, this only serves to highlight the importance of addressing our declining town centre. 

As a town we must have a vision for what the Bedford of the future will look like. Just as Milton Keynes has their 2050 plan, surely we can secure the same high profile public vision for Bedford – especially as one of the only towns in the region with an elected mayor –  and take advantage of the huge amount of investment set to come to the region…..we cannot let this pass us by untapped. And we shouldn’t wait to just hang on the coattails of Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes as they seek to capitalise on this.

Covid has accelerated the massive change of our High Streets and town centres as more and more shopping moves online. Instead of focusing development around the use of the car, rather we need to focus on links with transport hubs and sustainable modes of transport.

Just as the Arc Leaders are selling the vision of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc to the world, can we  do the same for Bedford….and if not the world, can we simply engender some support, excitement of our borough leaders , and lets be honest, a little bit of love…. for what development of this region could do for Bedford, a town which is so well positioned to capitalise on the success of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc! 

Contact: Richard Murdock

‘Bedford: at the heart’ illustration: Urban Graphics