IN FULL: Plans to open up River Lea in Luton town centre described as 'a massive improvement'
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The borough council intends to open up the River Lea and landscape the surrounding area at the corner of Silver Street and Bute Street.
Its development control committee backed a change of use for the half acre site, which includes demolishing the former Silver Street car park.
The banks on either side of the river would be terraced, according to a report sent to councillors.
“The access road on the south side of the river would be laid in a concrete slab similar to that in St. George’s Square,” said the report.
“It’s evident the site was formerly developed, with basement walls of the former hat factories appearing to form the banks to the culvert.”
Planning team leader Clive Inwards told the committee: “The site can no longer be used for public car parking given the poor structural integrity of the culvert.”
The council’s conservation consultant said the proposal to de-culvert the river and create this new open space will help revitalise the conservation area and town centre, added the report.
“It would more closely return the site in the Plaiters Lea conservation area to its pre-industrial character.”
Highways development manager John Maple said currently the capital programme is on hold in this area.
“There was a view to take out the buses from Silver Street at one point, but that’s not on the horizon.
“Paving over Bute Street is a large capital scheme. We’re not sure there are any funds to do that.”
Labour Dallow councillor Abbas Hussain asked whether the recently approved taxi rank would be relocated.
Mr Maple replied: “I think the taxi rank isn’t the greatest thing we’ve ever done to be quite honest.
“There is a linear parking bay proposed. The new arrangement will be much better.”
Labour Farley councillor Dave Taylor, who chairs the committee, said: “I think it’s important we consult with the Hackney Carriage trade, as well.
“Since it’s been there, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a taxi parked there waiting for customers.”
Labour Round Green councillor Mark Rivers said: “I think this will be great for the town centre.
“We know with the amount of people who tell us they want to see the river opened up.”
Councillor Taylor agreed, saying: “It’s been described in the past as a cr*p part of the town centre, and this is an environmental improvement.”
Liberal Democrat Barnfield councillor David Franks said: “This is going to be a massive improvement to a particularly ugly part of the town centre.
“I can’t resist the temptation to give you an example of the way the borough council applies logic.
“The area right next to the culvert was deemed unsafe for it to continue to be used for disabled parking.
“That area was removed and it was considered perfectly safe to use as a taxi rank.
“But that’s all gone away now and we should be supporting this wholeheartedly.”
Councillors unanimously approved the scheme, subject to any response from the Environment Agency which will be considered using delegated powers.