Dunstable Town Council is celebrating positive news for the New Year as statistics show a ten-year low in the number of vacant business units.
The town that businesswoman Mary Portas likened to a “graveyard” in 2009 has made a strong comeback over the past decade as vacancy figures for the town centre area, and high street, are at 10.27% and 10% respectively, while the percentage of vacant units at The Quadrant shopping centre is 11.67 per cent.
The statistics, recorded in October 2019, have delighted the council, which has also praised Central Bedfordshire Council, The Quadrant and the Grove Theatre for their positive work and impact.
Despite her strong criticism, Mary was back in 2014 to offer help to Dunstable businesses, while the town recently welcomed the announcement that CBC has signed up to £6.2m from the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF), to help “further the regeneration and re-vitalisation” of Dunstable town centre.
David Ashlee, Town Clerk and Chief Executive at Dunstable Town Council, said: “We were obviously very pleased about it.
“When I started with the council in 2007, I think it was anything up to 25 per cent so in a climate where retail in the high street has been in constant decline, we have been able to turn round 21% to 25% down to a low of about 10%.
“We have committed to spending money in the town centre from 2007 to now; for example, we have expanded the ranger scheme and launched Dunstable In Bloom.”
In September 2019, Dunstable was crowned the overall winner of the Large Town section, proudly securing itself a place in the prestigious Britain in Bloom competition.
Anglia in Bloom chairman George Dawson noted that entrants in the competition had seen “more visitors to the area”, while Mr Ashlee told the Gazette that the council was also delighted that both Priory and Grove House Gardens were awarded a Green Flag in 2018.
He added: “We [the town council] have also expanded and developed our events programme, including, for example, Proms in the Park in Priory Gardens and music events in Grove House Gardens. We have also developed our Saturday markets with the number of stall holders going up exponentially, and our Christmas events such as the lights switch-on and torchlight procession will bring new people into town.
Mr Ashlee also praised the additional work that The Quadrant had undertaken to improve its signage, lighting and street furniture, as well as Grove Theatre, which he said is developing its programme and “bringing more people into the centre”.
Meanwhile, planning permission is being sought by the White Lion Retail Park to allow unrestricted retail sales from Units 9 and 10.
Units 9 and 10 currently fall within the 2012 Section 106 definition of ‘Goods Restricted Units’, which limits the sale of items to a restricted range of bulky goods.
However, Mr Ashlee would not see it as a threat “so long as it’s not harmful” to the town centre.
Finally, he wished to give a special credit to CBC.
Cllr Kevin Collins, executive member for Planning and Regeneration at CBC, said: “We’ve been working closely with the town council, ward councillors and residents to renew and regenerate Dunstable town centre and it’s marvellous news that it’s firmly on the right track.
“We’ve invested in the town’s future and have a number of live projects at the planning stage that will continue the upwards trajectory.
“The new £20m Dunstable Centre, the refurbished toilets at Ashton Square, the presence of the Grove Theatre and the first phase of the High Street improvement scheme are changing the town centre for the better.
“But we are continuing a co-ordinated programme of projects which will bring more homes into the town centre by redeveloping the old library site at Vernon Place, land behind Go Bowling and the magistrates’ court and ambulance station sites. And we are not finished in the High Street by a long chalk.
“And we’re doing so largely with money the council has secured from government and other agencies.”