Universal UK Project: 'Overwhelming' support for Bedford theme park plan say company bosses

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Decision anticipated by the end of the year

Plans for a Universal Studios theme park resort in Bedford have been met with “overwhelming” support.

And Page Thompson, president of new ventures at Universal Destinations & Experiences, said it was the “most positive” reception it has ever received for one of its projects.

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Speaking to Bedford Today at a public engagement event yesterday (Tuesday) he said: “The feedback has been overwhelmingly supportive. We had 920 people at Kimberley College and hundreds more have come to Bedford. Overwhelmingly, people have been really hopeful that we're going to come to Bedford.

Universal Studios has bought land at Kempston Hardwick (Picture: Pixabay)Universal Studios has bought land at Kempston Hardwick (Picture: Pixabay)
Universal Studios has bought land at Kempston Hardwick (Picture: Pixabay)

"We really appreciate the warm welcome we've got from the Bedford community. It's probably the most positive reception we've ever got for one of our projects anywhere.”

He added: “Since we first met with the previous mayor the whole town has been really supportive of our project and excited and that's very important for us. We want to build our projects in communities that want us here. And that makes us even more excited.”

But how likely are the plans to come to fruition?

Mayor Tom Wootton believes it’s “60/40, probably more”, adding: “It's all up to the Government and how much money they want to put in.”

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L: John McReynolds, SVP of External Affairs from Universal Destinations and Experiences and R: Page Thompson, President, of New Ventures Universal Parks & ResortsL: John McReynolds, SVP of External Affairs from Universal Destinations and Experiences and R: Page Thompson, President, of New Ventures Universal Parks & Resorts
L: John McReynolds, SVP of External Affairs from Universal Destinations and Experiences and R: Page Thompson, President, of New Ventures Universal Parks & Resorts

But Universal Destinations & Experiences took pains to stress that a final decision had not yet been made.

Page Thompson said: “We hope to make a decision by the end of the year. We have a lot of due diligence we have to do over the next few months to figure out infrastructure and the various issues so that's what we'll be working out.”

And he encouraged people to have their say about the plans.

"We need to prepare a proposal for the Government and we want to incorporate all your feedback in that report,” he said.

The location of the proposed project. Picture: Universal Destinations & ExperiencesThe location of the proposed project. Picture: Universal Destinations & Experiences
The location of the proposed project. Picture: Universal Destinations & Experiences

The feedback survey is open until Friday, May 3 – and you can have your say online here and view the information pack here.

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Back in December, we revealed the rumours that Universal had set its sights on Bedford – with the company confirming the news an hour later.

The project covers around 700 acres – including around 476 acres Universal Destinations & Experiences bought last year, along with a smaller parcel of land which it has an option to buy. This parcel of land would allow a direct link with the A421, as well as other transport routes that could be improved.

These could include:

> A four-platform Wixams railway station

> A new station on the East West Rail line close to the resort

> Slip roads from the A421 to accommodate around 85 per cent of the site's road traffic

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> An upgraded Manor Road, to tie in with new railway bridge being delivered by Network Rail to replace the Manor Road level crossing

> Improvements and upgrades to the Active Travel Network

As well as the theme park rides, there would also be a ‘city walk' area. People wouldn't need a ticket to get into this area, which would include themed restaurants and entertainment.

The site, just south of Bedford, is already allocated for development through the proposed Local Plan.

Mr Thompson added: “We think building a beautiful, lush, landscaped theme park resort is a really good use of that land.”

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John McReynolds, SVP of External Affairs from Universal Destinations and Experiences said: “People ask why Bedford. Why not Bedford, right? It's a hidden gem, it's one of the most connected towns in the country and people don't know it. You have amazing connectivity to an airport with Luton Airport. To the rail system. To London and Europe, and over 50 per cent of the country can get to our site in two hours.”

If plans get the go ahead, it’s expected construction would last five to six years.

Bedford councillors have also expressed their optimism over the theme park project.

The mayor said: “Bedford has always been the 'nearly' place. I was adamant if I was going to be mayor it wasn't going to be the nearly place, it was going to be the place where things happen. They tell me it's about 90 per cent in favour. It's not 90 per cent, it's about 99 per cent.

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Cllr Henry Vann, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Bedford Borough Council said: "Residents I talk to are really excited about this project and it is great that Universal have come here so soon to listen to residents and seek their views. It has been fantastic to see so many people coming along to both public events. Bedford borough is the right place for Universal with outstanding existing and future connections on the cards. These conversations with Universal started more than a year ago under the previous Mayor Dave Hodgson and it is wonderful to see that hard work come to fruition - attracting such a major potential investment into Bedford borough - and I would like to pay tribute to everyone involved."

Former mayor of Bedford borough, Dave Hodgson, added: “To move to public engagement from my first meeting with Universal over 18 months ago is a welcome next step on the road to the project coming to fruition; if it goes ahead - and I very much hope it will - it will be an outstanding opportunity for Bedford borough's residents and will help create thousands of jobs in Bedford borough.”

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