I am delighted to introduce a copy of our latest newsletter in which you will read about the latest activities of Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation and the important work it does on behalf of the residents of Bishop’s Stortford.
May I also remind members that our work depends entirely on your financial support so I have taken this opportunity to attach a subscription form with a request that you renew your subscription if you have not already done so.
I hope you enjoy the newsletter and we look forward to your continued support.
Station Goods Yard
The developers of this site are a consortium known as Solum – a joint venture between the construction company, Keir and Network Rail who own the land. Their proposals for a development including a hotel, shops, new car parks and 680 flats rising up to 7 storeys attracted widespread criticism. Everybody agrees that the site provides a very poor entrance to the town and needs to be developed but the scale and density of the development are grossly excessive and the housing mix wrong. Computer generated impressions of the proposals had the appearance of Benidorm without the beach (or the sunshine) – quite inappropriate to the character of the town.
While the scheme also proposes a new link road through the site, whether it should be open to all traffic or public service vehicles and access only has not been resolved. In principle it ought to relieve the London Road and Hockerill of traffic and lead to improved air quality at the junction. But full use of the road (whatever that turns out to be) would only take place when Network Rail release the siding which they currently use for operational purposes, and nobody can say when, if at all, that will be. Until then, the only access to the site would be from the north as at present.
To make matters worse, site clearance began, and the vegetation at the southern end of the site was cleared a couple of months ago, in advance of any planning permission being granted.
Planning permission was in fact refused at a meeting held in Bishop’s Stortford on 17 May. Councillors on East Herts Council’s Development Management Committee unanimously rejected the scheme, in spite of a recommendation by planning officers that full permission should be given for the first phase and outline permission for the remaining phases. At the time of writing it remains to be seen whether Solum will appeal against the decision in which case it would be considered at a public inquiry chaired by an independent Inspector. It also remains to be seen what action will be taken to comply with the law, since the work already started does not have planning permission.
East Herts Council have now completed the District Plan and have sent it to the Planning Inspectorate. Although there was a final consultation period at the end of last year, as expected, the only changes were editorial, not ones of substance. This means that our greatest concern remains the proposed development of Green Belt land south of Whittington Way with 750 homes and other associated infrastructure. We believe that this should stay undeveloped and remain in the Green Belt, and during the consultation period we organised a petition which secured 2000 signatures to help demonstrate the strength of public feeling on the subject.
Planning Inspector has been appointed who will review the documents over the summer and chair an Examination In Public in the Autumn. We are confident that this issue, and indeed development on the Green Belt in the District more generally, will be one of the issues to be considered and will be presenting our case as forcefully as possible. Bishop’s Stortford is currently the main settlement in East Herts contributing significantly to the supply of new housing, and it is time for the rest of the District to do more.
Town Centre Study
Following the repurchase of the Old River Land site by East Herts Council, they decided to commission a review which covered not just options for the site but for the whole of the Bishop’s Stortford town centre, to provide a framework within which individual development opportunities could be assessed. That study, by Allies and Morrison, has now been completed and is in the process of being adopted by East Herts Council.
To take things forward the Council have now set up two working groups – the first on Old River Lane itself, chaired by the leader of the Council, and the second dealing with the rest of the town centre which has a wider membership, including our President, John Rhodes. Minutes of the meetings of both groups should be appearing on the Council’s website.
The first action, demolition of the former council offices and temporary replacement with additional parking has now begun, but there may be some interesting opportunities for other parts of the town centre, including the Goods Yard (see above) and the leisure centre which has recently been put up for sale.
Heritage Open Days
Heritage Open Days have been an annual event in this country for over 20 years and take place on a weekend in September. They involve opening to the public buildings and sites which would not normally be open. Alternatively, if the venue would normally be open then entry on these days would have to be free and perhaps some other attraction might be offered, such as a music performance, information material, or stewards to give talks or answer questions. The dates for 2017 will be 7-10 September. In previous years a number of settlements around us have taken part including Harlow, Saffron Walden, Hertford and Ware, and last year Bishop’s Stortford took part for the first time with the Civic Federation taking the lead in organising the event.
This year we shall be doing so again and will be focusing our attention on Saturday 9 September. At the time of writing St Michael’s, St Joseph’s and All Saints churches will be opened, and there will be guided tours of the castle mound. We are hoping to secure some additional attractions between now and then, and hope that all our readers will take this opportunity to learn a bit more about the town, perhaps combining it with one of the town trails (see below).
Neighbourhood Plan 2
The work on the Neighbourhood Plan for All Saints, South, Central, and part of Thorley is now complete; Rob Francis was the representative for BSCF on this team. BSCF also made some comments on the final draft and some key amendments were made to some policies, especially those relating to the proposed development of land off Whittington Way, where the strong opposition of the local community to any development was emphasised.
The plan is now with the ‘Examiner’, a professional planning expert (fortunately the same man who examined the first Neighbourhood Plan), who is checking it carefully, assessing any further comments made by third parties, and who will then prepare a report. EHDC will make any changes that he recommends and the plan then goes to a referendum; the Examiner will decide the scope of the referendum area.
Stortford on the Map
This project was initiated by the Civic Federation in an attempt to make a positive contribution to the heritage of the town. We have worked on this through a small team of representatives from Bishop’s Stortford History Society, Bishop’s Stortford Town Council and the Museum as well as the Civic Federation. The purpose was to develop and publish three new trails reflecting the history of our town.
Saturday 6th May saw the launch of these new town trails. A group of around 40 residents met at the Tourist Office and set off in three groups to walk Route 2, which took us down Devoils Lane, across Bridge Street to Water Lane and then through Castle Gardens to Hockerill and back. We then met at Bill’s Restaurant where tea, coffee and biscuits were served. The Mayor, Councillor Keith Warnell, officially launched the heritage trails and Rob Francis thanked the team for their hard work: Kim Hollylee, Ray Addley, Mike James and the designer, Sarah Burch.
Funding for the development and printing of the trails was kindly provided by East Herts District Council, Bishop’s Stortford Town Council, Bishop’s Stortford History Society and Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation. The next step will be to develop a trail especially for children.
A Heritage Lottery Fund Grant has been made to develop plans for the improvement of the Castle Gardens and Sworders Field. Our chairman, George Cutting has been a member of the team developing the plans. Full details can be found on the Bishop’s Stortford Town Council website by entering the words ‘Castle Park’ in the search box.