Leighton Buzzard and Linslade

Questions and answers

Why have we commissioned a retail/leisure report in the Leighton-Linslade?

We want to meet the needs and aspirations of Leighton Buzzard through enabling a sustainable extension to the high street. We take an evidenced-based approach to our place projects and the information we have shows the market has changed since the 2012 development brief was adopted. With this in mind and with the community’s desire for more retail, we decided to hire GVA to carry out a thorough assessment of Leighton Buzzard and the opportunity at Land South of High Street. Part of the specification was to contact retailers and gauge interest.

How can we be sure it's a truly independent study?

GVA is an independent consultant.

Why have we not published the full report?

The report was always to inform our development plans for Land South of High Street. We provided a summary as there is information that is commercially sensitive and confidential. We will be publishing the full report with this information removed.

Why have our plans changed since 2012?

The fundamental elements of our original development brief remain the same in that Land South of High Street will create a sustainable mixed-use extension to the high street. The only element that has changed is the retail market, which formed a major part of the plan to secure the commercial side of the mixed-use agenda (shops and restaurants). Without a major retail anchor, such as a food store, the ability to attract other retailers diminishes. Therefore, we have to identify and plan other ways to create a successful mixed-use scheme.

Why has it taken so long to get to this point when Land South of High Street is crying out for development?

Land South of High Street is a complex site as it comprises of multiple land owners, is an irregular shape and is located behind the heart of the High Street. The development process is also complicated and has basic requirements, such as land, finance and planning permission to enable a development to progress to getting diggers in the ground. We have been proactive and acquired land to enable this development, which took time. We have been engaging with the market since 2015 and following this recent study, we are in a strong position to take the Land South of High Street further to delivery. It should also be known that there is still work to do in terms of acquiring or utilising land to enable a truly mixed-use scheme with the access and circuit around the high street that this development needs. Otherwise, a residential scheme would be the only option.

How many retailers were contacted about Land South of High Street?

In the most recent study, GVA contacted 18 retailers some of which had been contacted us in the past.

What kind of retailers were contacted?

Types of retailer contacted
Retail type
Number contacted
Interested in Land South?

Why did they have no interest in Land South of High Street?

There were many reasons, which vary by each retailer. The key themes are that:

  1. Land South of High Street does not offer the size or location for the standard large retail unit that retailers are seeking in these types of towns at the moment
  2. Some retailers already have stores in nearby areas, such as Milton Keynes and Dunstable
  3. Leighton Buzzard is not a regional centre, like Milton Keynes

If there was such a lack of interest in clothes shops in the town centre, why has an M&Co just opened?

The lack of interest from retailers is in Land South of High Street and not the town centre as a whole. Premises along the High Street might be favourable to some fashion retailers, particularly in areas with high footfall, like Waterbourne Walk, close to the Market Cross and Costa.

Can we offer incentives to entice retailers to come to Land South of High Street?

The main incentive will be the exciting plans that emerge for an innovative mixed-use development that has a strong anchor and the necessary routes from the High Street. We can offer incentives, such as ground rent breaks for the first six months, which would make for a soft landing for stores when they open up. However, we have to balance what offers best value to the taxpayers and the town centre economy. Some retailers are looking for substantial subsidies to set up, which do not offer longer term value to the local economy.

If major retailers are not interested in Land South of High Street how can the report claim that Leighton-Linslade is performing well?

Leighton Buzzard town centre is performing well with low vacancy rates, a range of existing retailers and a good share of the market for its population size. The town centre is well-connected, has areas of high pedestrian footfall and suitable retail premises. Land South of High Street is essentially a ‘backland’ area that we aim to bring to life with active streetscapes from and around the High Street. The retail market is very sensitive to location and local economic factors. As a result a longer term view is difficult and problematic for them to predict. Under existing conditions, major retailers do not see Land South as offering them the environment to be able to trade and make money.

If major retailers are not interested in Land South of High Street, but are still interested in Leighton Buzzard, why can't they be accommodated elsewhere in the town?

That is certainly what we are doing. We have a business support website, Be Central Bedfordshire (link opens in new window), which provides functions for businesses to find suitable premises and get business support. We keep an eye on vacancy rates in our towns and intervene where practically possible.

How can Leighton Buzzard compete with challenges from Milton Keynes?

Leighton-Linslade is in a strong position to meet the challenges from Milton Keynes. For a start, it has historical assets, a canal and an intriguing street pattern with a range of shops. It therefore, has the ingredients to forge a special place identity; something different to Milton Keynes, which will draw people to experience.

Why are we promoting out of town retail parks such as Grovebury Road?

We are not promoting out of town retail parks. We take a town centre first approach to new retail in Central Bedfordshire. GVA's Market Intelligence Report showed that major retailers are looking for safe and viable locations for new stores. This is currently being provided by city centres and out of town locations. We are simply providing information on facts.

Can we make it less attractive for retailers to go to out of town shopping centres, so they have to come to the town centre?

Ultimately, retailers follow market trends and if an area presents a viable prospect for making money then retailers will go there. It is a matter of making Leighton Buzzard Town Centre more appealing for retailers. We are working in partnership with town councils, shop owners and the community in making positive changes to our town centres. Together with our development plans, growth agenda and our planning framework, retailers will be encouraged to look at our town centres first.

Why can't we adopt a town centre first policy?

We do take a town centre first approach. Any new retail development that is outside of the town centre needs to prove that new retail cannot be provided in town.

Why are leisure providers more interested than retailers in Land South of High Street?

The role of traditional town centres, like Leighton Buzzard is changing more toward a broad customer experience that draws people to use them. Culture and leisure are playing a major part of the lifestyle choices that are being developed and promoted in towns to make them future proof. As a result, leisure providers in the commercial sector are looking to expand in areas of high demand and niches in the market. Leighton Buzzard has the cultural experience and retail offer that appeals to leisure providers. However, like traditional retail, there are requirements for leisure providers to come to Leighton Buzzard. These include access to the High Street and an attraction that will draw people to the area. Without a retail anchor at Land South of High Street, the alternatives will be in the form of entertainment, culture, tourism and hospitality.

How would this type of development benefit the town?

The Land South of High Street development would benefit the town by encouraging local residents to visit and shop, rather than going elsewhere. It will strengthen the existing retail economy by creating new amenities and it will also evolve the town centre to meet future challenges, thus making it a place fit for the future.

What will we do with this report and when will we explain what we plan to do with Land South of High Street?

We are carefully considering the feedback in the report. In early 2017, we will publish a delivery plan on how we will take the Land South of High Street forward for development.

Will the public have a say in what happens or will we just do what we want, regardless?

The community will play a key role in how this development will shape Leighton-Linslade. We will issue plans early in 2017 for community feedback.

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