Many people will know that the most controversial aspect of the Bishop’s Stortford South development of land released from the Green Belt for housing and schools was last year’s planning application by Wrenbridge for development of the large, 3.5 hectare, area of ‘Employment Land’ at the south-east corner of the site. The 500 public objectors who wrote to East Herts Council – and many more who signed a petition raised by local residents – therefore welcomed Wrenbridge’s withdrawal of the application for nearly 20,000 m2 of what appeared to be large distribution and storage sheds when it seemed likely to be refused. The main objection was to the large number of HGV and other lighter commercial vehicles these ‘logistics’ operations will generate and the expectation that they would rat-run through the centre and south-east of the town to get to M11 Junction 8 and through Sawbridgeworth to the new Junction 7A instead of making the 6-mile trip round the by-pass. There was also concern about the noise, air quality and visual impact on the adjoining new housing, care home and existing Thorley Street communities. It was simply the wrong place for such a development.

Moreover, it was not what was promised when Bishop’s Stortford South was planned and released from the Green Belt. The allocation made in the District Plan – and assessed when the Outline (‘in principle’) consent was granted in 2019 – was for a Business Park of mainly office buildings expected to generate nearly 1000 new jobs needed in the area, parking and public transport would be provided and HGV and other commercial traffic would be minimal. However, in a careless wording which the local planning authority will still have to explain if this development goes ahead, the Outline consent actually granted was for any mix of employment uses including a Business Park but also industrial and distribution uses – or a Car Showroom for good measure!

Having bought the site with the benefit of this broad definition of employment use, Wrenbridge are now back with an amended application submitted in March following an extensive and well organised public consultation campaign. The design and layout of the buildings has been improved and some of the units have been made more suitable for small businesses in what is now described as an advanced manufacturing and service estate. However, with the growth of internet shopping and home deliveries, logistics site values are higher than for housing and hard to find so, not surprisingly, Wrenbridge have again included distribution uses in their application whilst omitting the Business Park office uses originally planned.

A revised assessment now shows that the traffic impact of a modern industrial estate will be significantly greater than a Business Park. Although total vehicle movements are less than originally estimated – mainly in the peak commuting hours – the number of HGV movements trebles to 208 movements per day and 68 of these will be in the evening or night-time. Moreover, if most of the development is used for distribution operations, HGV movements will be significantly higher still – and the previous application suggested 40% of these would be between 11pm and 7am. At the moment Wrenbridge is presenting a Business Park as a ‘worst case’ because total vehicle movements (mostly cars in the peak hours) are higher – even though they are no longer applying for that use. Yet the community’s main concern is with HGV and other commercial vehicles throughout the day and night and BSCF believes that use as a Distribution Centre should be assessed as the worst case – a use that is still being applied for.

Even if the use is as a modern industrial estate, the assessment also confirms residents’ concerns that HGV’s and other traffic are more likely to use routes other than the lengthy by-pass to reach the M11 junctions. The analysis shows that, although a proportion of the trips to and from the site use St James’s Way west, most movements will be via St James’s Way east.  55% of these then turn north through Thorley Street and 45% south to Sawbridgeworth. Again, the proportion of these which is HGVs would be significantly higher if the main use is as a Distribution Centre.

Finally, the justification for removing the site from the Green Belt was the limited availability of large sites which were critical to achieving the job growth required by the District Plan. The land at Bishop’s Stortford South is the second largest employment site in the District Plan and was allocated specifically to accommodate a 21,000m2 Business Park generating 900-1000 mainly office jobs. Wrenbridge acknowledges that its use as an Industrial estate – now reduced to 16,770m2 of single storey ‘sheds’ – is expected to generate only 251-466 jobs. That’s 20% less space generating 50 -75% fewer jobs – a significant underutilisation of the District Plan allocation.

For all these reasons BSCF will still urge the East Herts Council, as the local planning authority and Herts CC as the Highways Authority to recommend refusal of the revised application.

Colin Arnott

28-04-22

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