Understanding the site and community needs
Market demand summary
To ensure our approach is realistic and deliverable, the Council carried out work to understand what the current market demand for the land might be and if some potential uses are unviable and therefore unrealistic.
The outcome of this work has shown that, at this current time, the most likely demand for the land is residential led mixed-use.
Residential use would increase footfall and support the economy in the town centre.
A community or cultural facility could form part of a mixed-use scheme, provided it is financially viable in its own right.
The market study showed there is least likely to be demand for large scale offices or large scale retail.
Our research indicates a mixed-use scheme may support a small amount of office space but unless a large organisation requires a new headquarters, it is unlikely that large scale office will be deliverable.
While a small amount of additional retail as part of a mixed-use site could be viable, over-providing retail is more likely to lead to empty units and undermine the success of the High Street.
Community facilities study
Benchmarking has been carried out against areas of similar scale or location to understand the current provision of community facilities in the town centre.
Picture 2: Community facilities within a 10-min drive from the town centre
While there are various spaces and venues available in Leighton Buzzard, they are generally small and located outside the town centre. Comparison with benchmark town centres, showed that:
- Leighton Buzzard is performing relatively well if the total number of halls, civic spaces, places of worship and schools that providing spaces for community activities are considered. However, there are specific types of spaces that are currently missing from the town centre
- There are insufficient spaces for arts and culture as the Council’s Library Theatre is the only performance space with a relatively limited capacity (170 seats)
- There is no facility to display Leighton Buzzard’s history. The only facility related to heritage is Leighton Buzzard Railway
- There are no studio or gallery spaces for the artists and places for rehearsals are limited
- There are limited spaces that can host 100+ people. Brooklands Club can host up to 200 people but it is not open during the day. The Recreation Rooms can host up to 120 and Astral Community Centre can host up to 100 people
- There are several leisure facilities and schools that offer spaces for community meetings and activities. Although, community groups are not always aware of what is available
- There’s scope to maximise the use of available facilities such as schools and places of worship outside their core function
The full report from this study is available here - Appendix A: Leighton Buzzard Engagement Report.
Community engagement feedback
Picture 3: Engagement which has taken place to inform our proposal
The team undertook 1-2-1 discussions with officers and the Town Council and organised two online workshops and a digital survey (113 responses and 8 email responses) with community groups and venues about the existing provision of community facilities which also identified any additional requirements. The survey responses showed that:
- 68% of the respondents believe that a multi-purpose community space is missing from Leighton Buzzard
- 47.5% think that there’s a need for an exhibition space to display Leighton Buzzard’s history
- 36.8% say that a performance space is missing from the town centre
- 78.5% consider their venues affordable
- 66% say that the facility they use is in a good condition
- Users report a lack of coordination in managing community venues
- There is peak demand during weekday evenings and weekday daytime. Consideration should be given to providing additional capacity in the peak period to accommodate the full scope of demand.
The full analysis of the survey results and workshops is available here - Appendix A: Leighton Buzzard Engagement Report and Appendix B: Leighton Buzzard community facilities survey results.
Parking study summary
In November 2022, the Council commissioned an independent study to understand how well used the five public off-street car parks in Leighton Buzzard are. The study included a look at ticket sales and a one-week survey using an Automated Number Plate Recognition camera (ANPR). While the ANPR survey was just a one-week snapshot, it took place during a busy period (immediately pre-Christmas). The demand recorded also compared well against the demand recorded over a similar period in the ticket sales data review. As such, it makes a robust basis for this appraisal.
There are 600 public car park spaces across the five town centre car parks.
Duncombe Drive car park provides 139 paid for car parking bays. 65 are for the general public, 3 are disabled bays, 29 are for permit holders and 42 bays are for market traders. Market days are primarily Tuesday and Saturday and the market trader bays are reserved for them on those days. The public can park in the market trader bays when they are not reserved.
The key findings from the parking study are:
- Usage of all car parks in Leighton Buzzard has been increasing since the pandemic but has not returned to pre-pandemic levels
- Duncombe Drive is the busiest car park and West Street the least busy
- Market days are the busiest days for parking (Tuesdays and Saturdays)
- Duncombe Drive has the highest turnover of spaces with most purchasing tickets for just 1 or 2 hours at a time but not staying for the full duration
- Across all car parks there is a degree of underused capacity. The ANPR survey showed circa 20% of all car parking spaces are available even in the busy December period.
The chart below shows the current car parking capacity, the current demand and that a 20% reduction in spaces (circa 100 spaces) could be accommodated
The full parking study report is available here - Appendix C: Leighton Buzzard Car Park Study.