Planning Application Link: 3/17/2588/OUT: Hybrid application for 586 residential units.

Kevin Steptoe Esq
Head of Planning and Building Control
East Herts Council
Pegs Lane
SG13 8EQ

7 December 2017

Your ref: 3/17/2588/OUT

1. I am writing on behalf of the Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation to give our views on the revised development proposals for this site.

2. We are pleased that the developers, Solum, have listened to the widely expressed dislike of its previous proposals by the town’s residents, culminating in the refusal of planning permission for that scheme. We note however, that, in parallel with the new planning application, Solum have appealed against the refusal of planning permission for the previous scheme, which makes us wonder how much discretion the planning authority will have in practice to seek any further changes to the current proposals. It would improve our confidence in the process if the appeal were to be withdrawn.

3. Nevertheless, there is much in the new scheme which we welcome. The new architects have interpreted their brief to produce designs and a palette of materials which is much more sympathetic to the surrounding environment. We particularly like the approach to concealing residential parking and providing green space over it for the enjoyment of the residents of the surrounding apartments; and the creation of an all purpose link road through the heart of the development rather than between the development and the riverside.

4. However, while the overall amount of green space appears to be an improvement compared with the previous application, too much of it seems to be for the private enjoyment of residents rather than for the benefit of the general public, with only the area next to the White Bridge being an addition to the public realm. Policy GY1 in the neighbourhood plan requires

‘Continuous public access to an active river frontage with features such as cafes, recreational areas and moorings to encourage engagement with the river.’

Whilst there could be room to do this at the southern end of the site, the plans appear to devote this area on both sides of the new road to residential accommodation with private gardens.

5. While the residential element has been reduced by 100 apartments, we suspect that the addition of a care home and an office block to the scheme means that the overall amount of development has remained unchanged or has perhaps increased. The amount of residential accommodation proposed for the site has changed in various iterations of the District Plan from 200 to 400 to 600 dwellings in the latest version. This suggests that the developer has been telling the local planning authority what it will find acceptable rather than the local planning authority determining the amount of development the site can support.

6. This leads on to our main concern about the new proposals – while the maximum height has been reduced to six storeys, it seems to us that too many of the buildings are still too high, and that too much development is being crammed on to the site. Although the architects are rightly critical of the quality of the designs for the developments at Jackson Square and Tanners Wharf, the buildings in this application appear to be of a similar height and scale. We were given to understand that a three dimensional model of the scheme was to be created to inform the public consultation and would like to know when and where it will be available to view.

7. We have previously (in our letter of 30 April 2016) expressed concerns about whether sufficient school places will be available nearby to support the demand generated by development of this site. Even with the reduced number of apartments now proposed, those concerns remain.

8.Turning to transport, the approach of the consultants appears to be that since Herts Highways raised no objections to the previous proposals, the new scheme, with 100 fewer apartments must be alright. That seems to us to be an oversimplification.

9. The bus station proposals are essentially unchanged, with the stands being divided between 4 in the current location and 2 on the new road outside the station. As we pointed out in our letter of 30 April 2016, the consultants studiously avoided carrying out their bus counts on the busiest day of the week – market day – when occupation of the bus station is considerably higher. Moreover, an entirely new service is to be introduced to serve Bishop’s Stortford North. It seems to us that it would be short sighted to replace the bus station with capacity which may not be sufficient to meet present demand and makes no provision for growth.

10. The operation of the drop off and pick up points at the station, including short stay parking for pick ups and taxis is also unclear. In particular, there appears to be no facility for such vehicles to turn round and return in the direction from which they arrive, in contrast to the current arrangement.

11. The scheme now includes provision of an office block on the site of the existing Station Road ramp into the station forecourt. Looking at the positives, this will create a safer crossing for pedestrians over the railway to the eastern side of town which has a JMI school, three secondary schools and the Herts and Essex Hospital. It is heavily used by pedestrians as a result and so removing the current conflict with vehicle movements is highly desirable.

12. On the negative side, however, it also removes the only step free access route between the station and the eastern side of town. The eastern entrance to the station itself is not step free, and the remaining arm of the Station Road ramp has no footpath. This is a serious shortcoming which needs to be addressed. In the longer term, if Dane Street becomes two way, then access from this arm of the ramp will need to be reconsidered, since traffic turning left into Dane Street needs to use both lanes to execute the manoeuvre at present.

13. The office block itself, in spite of its location, will also generate road traffic and a requirement for parking. It is not clear from the application how these needs will be met.

14. These issues are all no doubt ones which are capable of solution, but it does suggest that some further work should be done to model the traffic flows which this scheme will both alter and generate.

15. I hope you find these comments helpful. I am copying this letter to James Parker, CEO of Bishop’s Stortford Town Council.

Yours sincerely