Slum housing in Luton town centre is 'holding back revamp' says council
A blueprint to revamp Luton town centre faces two major challenges - a decrease in quality shops and a massive increase in slum housing - a meeting heard.
John Street is an example of everything which has gone wrong, the borough council's overview and scrutiny board was told.
"If you create a demographic of people who live in the town centre they're poor and under privileged, with no money to spend," said Liberal Democrat Wigmore councillor Peter Chapman.
"It affects the whole ambience of the area. In Luton it's particularly severe."
The draft town centre master plan was presented to the board ahead of being considered by the local authority's executive and full council.
"We've worked on it for 20 months," said LBC corporate director Nicola Monk.
"There have been two formal public consultations and 1,700 online responses.
"The priorities are around economic diversity, and ensuring that the town centre is affordable and inviting, authentic and characterful, sustainable and accessible, and green and healthy.
"It picks up the debate around something looking clean, nice, tidy - which is what we want for the area."
Other possibilities are introducing a range of different activities, she explained.
The board was previously told on the eve of the pandemic that the town centre needed to be a priority, while a bigger piece of work around reimagining the town centre was already underway.
"The two major issues in the town centre causing the problem are the decrease in any quality retail offering and the massive increase in slum accommodation, such as converted office blocks," warned councillor Chapman.
"Other local authorities have encouraged small shops to come in almost subsidised and take up units. The challenge is how we get to that vision.
"I really hope the football club project comes off because it could bring thousands into the town centre on a regular basis."
Liberal Democrat Stopsley councillor David Wynn said: "Overall the work being done is excellent, although the faith of my local residents in it happening is pretty low.
"The report is very encouraging if it all goes ahead."
Ms Monk replied: "This is a long-term vision for the town centre setting out a 20- to 30-year plan.
"It's not going to happen overnight. There are green shoots coming through which will stimulate some of this development.
"There will be some investment in the railway station in the fullness of time around access to the platforms.
"We've seen the Hat District develop. We've put a bid into the government's levelling up fund essentially to regenerate Bute Street car park into a better gateway for the town centre with a mixed use development.
"This will include residential, commercial and some community Arts space," she added.
"We've got the Power Court development which will be back into the planning cycle soon, which could stimulate that area of the town.
"There's also the work within the plan which links through to George Street and to the University of Bedfordshire, and potential future plans for the eastern end of The Mall to be developed.
"It's so we have a reimagined town centre which isn't just dominated by retail, but is mixed use with leisure, a good residential offer, as well as other opportunities and some shops."
The board agreed to recommend to the executive and full council to formally adopt the town centre master plan.