Bedford in lockdown; have we missed an opportunity?

Across the country, and indeed the world, life has changed for millions of people. These changes have been forced upon us, driven by a silent killer that has no respect for colour or creed. There have been many articles written, many news items broadcast, about whether these changes will remain a part of our everyday lives.

Working from home, taking more exercise, cycling on empty streets. The list goes on. We have been able to connect with nature, to listen to birdsong, to breathe fresh air, to be spared the blight of vehicle noise from our overused roads.

A swan taking flight with an empty road on the embankment.

For some, a crisis is both an opportunity and a threat. For those with initiative and curiosity, the lockdown has presented us with a chance to do things differently. We have seen some brilliantly novel ideas, from ordinary people, put into action to help get us through lockdown.

So is initiative the preserve of private citizens? Of course not. In some cities, roads have been permanently closed to traffic, to cater for the rise in people who have taken to the streets in their thousands to exercise. Right across the UK, local authorities have been using the lockdown to improve the lives of its citizens. Initiatives have included such simple ideas as placing large flower pots across roads to prevent access. This has brought with it improved safety for pedestrians, it has reduced road noise, and it has brought with it greatly improved air quality.

So what changes have taken place in Bedford? What decisions have been taken to use this defining period in many people’s lives for the better? The answer is nothing. The Borough Council has not even held a public (virtual) meeting since 23rd March. Bedford has not closed any roads, even when vehicle usage has dropped so dramatically. And by failing to seize the initiative, Bedford has missed the opportunity for us to imagine a different, much improved environment.

For example, why has the Embankment remained a thoroughfare for drivers? Why couldn’t we have ‘joined’ together Russell Park and the Embankment, without the interruption of traffic. Imagine how that would have been. This type of initiative could have been repeated across the Borough. Life could have changed for the better.

We are administered by the Borough Council, but we are certainly not led by it. So many ideas could have been put into action, but not in Bedford.

By Ade Clewlow MBE

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