'Victorian street pattern' to return to Luton town centre as part of masterplan

A return to a Victorian street pattern and opening up sections of the River Lea are ambitions of Luton's town centre masterplan, a meeting heard.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 10:56 am

Improving accessibility and ensuring the town centre has the right range of activities are key aims, according to the borough council's project design and delivery manager Toby Maloy.

He presented "a complete overview" of the document and what the next steps are to a full council meeting,

"This outlines how our town centre will develop over the next 20 to 30 years," he explained.

Opening up the River Lea could create a 'linear of green and blue' in the town centre

"It's about economic growth, about skills for the future, about having quality and affordable housing, about how we achieve our carbon neutrality and it's about creating a child friendly town.

"The Victorians decided to culvert it and build lots of hat factories over the top of it, but we do have a river which runs through the middle of our town centre.

"There are many opportunities where it can be opened up to create a linear park of green and blue through the central area."

There were more than 1,400 responses to an online consultation, which provided really good feedback, he said.

"Four in every five agreed with the issues we outlined. Not everyone uses the town centre, it can feel unsafe.

"Our historic buildings are sometimes falling into disrepair. The arrival points into town are unclear and car use is too high.

"But some suggested it was a problem of traffic flow, while others said it does feel safe and disagreed with our assessment.

"It's not all negative as it also recognised our diversity and multi-cultural society, our history, our location and the young age of our population.

"These are all things which make Luton unique to sell it for development into the future.

"People want to be proud about our heritage," he added. "They want a brighter more sustainable environment.

"They want a cleaner, better and inviting social space, accessible to everyone and for it to reflect all the communities which live in Luton.

"It's the focal point for community and commercial life in the town. It also seeks to re-stitch the town centre. Not everything in the past has been good.

"The Mall in the 1960s might have been creative and innovative thinking at the time, but it has made the town centre hard to move across - particularly on foot.

"So unstitching back to a more Victorian street pattern is something the masterplan looks to achieve.

"Another things done in the 1960s which wasn't great for people moving round the centre was the ring road, which made it hard for communities living nearby to effectively move in.

"It's been heavily retail-led for quite a long period of time," warned Mr Maloy. "We know about the changes in shopping habits and the more online presence.

"We need to rebalance that retail space with something more appropriate. We look to develop a more mixed use area around our railway station and anticipate the football stadium at Power Court."