In 2021 the council secured significant funding to open up part of the River Lea and add new green space in the middle of the town centre. The project started on site in March 2022, and is a key part of the rejuvenation of the area, which will reveal the river on the corner of Bute Street and Silver Street. The site most recently was a surface car park, which was originally homes to Victorian pubs and industry, such as hat making.

The project is part the town’s 2040 vision and key move as part of the 2021 town centre masterplan, which includes providing more open spaces for people living in the town centre, making it more child friendly and improving wellbeing. It also supports the council’s carbon neutral objectives as opening the river and providing more planting helps green the environment and improve air quality. It can help towards economic recovery from Covid-19 as the scheme contributes to a thriving town centre with the right mix of office, retail, residential and leisure space.

The new park will feature a stepped terrace down to the river, lots of new planting and trees, which will improve the look of one of the town’s busiest pedestrian streets between the Mall and main transport interchange. It will result in additional improvements to those that have already taken place in adjoining areas such as the Hat District.

The park design and project management has been led internally by Luton Council’s Project Design and Delivery Team, whilst working with key external consultants. The successful Contractor delivering the works is Ryebridge Construction Ltd.

Wider future aspirations include a second phase of the Open Lea project, which will create many more openings through the town centre creating new waterside space and a green corridor to help with transforming the area. This second phase is to be developed in partnership with the Environment Agency to help significantly reduce the risk of surface water flooding, but will also help improve air quality and sustainable drainage. Alongside this, a series of other green corridors will be extended into the town centre and a major tree planting initiative introduced to support significant greening across the centre.

The project first phase of works is receiving up to £958,201 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund (now Department for Levelling Up, Homes & Communities). Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.