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High Street Renaissance

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The Past

Bedford High Street post card late 1800sHigh Street Bedford has been the primary north - south route through Bedford for at least 1200 years.  100  years ago it was a thriving and bustling street with attractive and prestigious shops, hostelries, inns and businesses.  However, over the past 50 years the High Street has declined.  Contributing factors to this decline is the growth of the car, with approximately 15,000 vehicles per day travelling south along High Street, and pedestrian shopping precincts, offices, and the bus station moving the centre of gravity of the town centre westwards.  


If you would like to know more about the history of High Street please view the  High Street Heritage Gazetteer (November 2008) (22.2Mb ), which traces the history of properties in High Street and includes a number of historic photographs.


The Present

View of High Street looking northIn the Council’s Town Centre Area Action Plan  (2006 – 2021) (2.36Mb) High Street is identified as a ‘Key Area for Change’.  This was then reinforced by the Inspector appointed to examine the Action Plan who said when approving the Plan, "I would urge the Council to move quickly in drawing up a strategy for the High Street".  This was reinforced by the Town Centre Exhibition April 2008 when the public highlighted the revitalisation of the High Street as the top priority.  The subsequent independent  Vision and Development Strategy (January 2009) for High Street reinforced the need for urgent action in 5 essential areas.  This confirmed that the key priority for High Street is the need to address, and improve, the built fabric and townscape quality of the street in order to preserve its history and heritage.     


Building on this Vision for High Street, the Council adopted in July 2010 the Supplementary Planning High Street Strategy coverDocument (SPD), A Strategy for Bedford High Street, focusing on three main objectives: Restoring the Existing Fabric; Uses and Activity; and Access and Movement.  This strengthens the planning framework to ensure all modifications and improvements achieve the successful regeneration of High Street.



In 2009 English Heritage undertook a survey of Conservation Areas across England.  The Bedford Conservation Area was deemed to be ‘At Risk’ for a number of reasons including the poor condition of shopfronts in the historic core, primarily High Street, and the impact of traffic on the character of High Street.   This means that English Heritage is expressing concern at the condition of the Conservation Area.  To meet this challenge a Partnership Board for High Street was formed in the summer of 2009.  Members of the Partnership include the Borough Council, Bedford College, Bedford BID, Beds & Luton Chamber of Commerce, Bedford Licensees Association, Bedfordshire Architectural Heritage Trust, Bedford Architectural, Archaeological and Local History Society and local business. 


With the approval of the Bedford High Street Partnership Board work continued on the application for funding to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Townscape Heritage Initiative programme - the programme helps communities regenerate conservation areas displaying particular social and economic need. It encourages partnerships to carry out repairs and other works to a number of historic properties within those areas, and improve the quality of life for all those who live, work or visit there.  


For further information on the Bedford High Street THI please visit our Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) page and the THI Updates page for progress to date. 


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