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Transporting Bedford 2020

4 January 2022

LGF awarded: £15.5m
Total project costs: £18.6m
Delivery Partner: Bedford Borough Council
Project outputs: 10% increase in town centre footfall compared to 2019 data, eight junctions with physical capacity improvements and 3.9km of road improved by 2021
Project status: Expected completion March 2022.

Summary

The project seeks to reduce congestion and enable greater business productivity in the town by improving town centre traffic movement. The purpose of this scheme is to improve journey time reliability and inform traveller choices on the key corridor in and out of Bedford, between the A6/A421on the edge of town through Active Travel Management.

Transporting Bedford 2020 is the result of a merging of two Bedford Borough Council projects: the Bedford Town Regeneration Scheme and the Bedford Southern Gateway Project. £11m was allocated at LGF2 for the former and £4.5m was allocated at LGF3 for the latter.

The Bedford Town Regeneration Scheme centred on an additional river crossing; these funds were retained by the Department for Transport (DfT). Subsequently the scope of the scheme (which primarily focused on a new river crossing at Batts Ford bridge) was deemed unaffordable and alternative ways of delivering the same economic outcomes were sought. In 2016, Bedford Borough Council was successful in bidding for LGF3 funds, securing £4.5m for the Southern Gateway project which is technology and junction improvements along the Ampthill Road.

The combined package of scheme measures will:

  • Enhance the permeability of the core town centre, creating better connections between the retail quarter, the cultural quarter, and the Great River Ouse.
  • Enhance the management of traffic movements into and across the town to improve journey time reliability.
  • Provide travellers with real-time information about traffic and travel conditions to allow them to make informed decisions about travel behaviour.

The intention is to deliver a range of public realm, junction improvement and SMART traffic control and traffic signal technology on key routes and junctions and within the town centre between spring 2018 and 2022.

Background and Rationale 

Bedford Borough Council, after commissioning a transport study, identified that there were a number of peak period capacity constraints at a number of junctions, as well as considerable journey time variations on key corridors leading to the town centre. The Council also found that motorised vehicles dominated corridors leading into the town centre, as well as High Street and St Paul’s Square. It was determined that there were sub-optimal connections for walking and cycling around the town too.

The projects combine three primary themes:

  • A host of traditional highways improvements and key junctions to improve capacity.
  • Technology, looking at capability/capacity to manage traffic through technology elements, including a smart corridor.
  • Public realm works in the heart of Bedford.

Each of the three thematic elements are underway and in progress; the technology element is nearly complete with 85% already completed, whilst the pinch-point highways element and public realm elements are 60% and 50% completed respectively.

Impact

Benefits of the projects are anticipated to range from journey time improvements, network capacity improvements, economic and accessibility improvements, with many different facets to it. Benefits closely align with the objectives and are stated to include:

  • Improvement in journey times and journey time reliability.
  • Increase in transport operating capacity.
  • Reduction in town centre vehicle kilometres.
  • Reduction in accidents.
  • Improvements in the quality of the pedestrian environment.
  • Increase in rateable values.

No outputs and impacts can be measured until the programme of works is fully completed. Impacts are likely to be altered somewhat with changes to traffic behaviours due to Covid-19.

There are also a number of social and environmental benefits associated with the scheme including for example accessibility benefits.

Lessons Learned 

Overall, the project expressed that the process worked well: from the milestones progress approach to the drawing down of LGF payments; working with Fore Consulting and Hatch Regeneris was also considered to be easy; and the project couldn’t have wished for better support from SEMLEP.

A common issue for projects of this nature is a slight change of scope as new opportunities arise. Local Authorities will often bid for new projects that overlap with old ones, and which might alter the original scope of the scheme slightly. It can become difficult to differentiate between the very core of the LGF project as it started, and how it has evolved and grown over time – especially infrastructure projects expanding over wider geographical areas. This evolution and growth can bring more value into the scheme, but this requires more monitoring and the project still needs to be measured against its original business case, even if the scope has changed.

Previously, the project completed annual reviews of their progress against the Business Case, but there is little room to explain any evolution and what that means for the specifics and detail of the project. It is felt that this is inevitable in transport and highways projects, especially those at a Local Authority level.

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