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 please renew your subscription if you have not already done so.
I hope you enjoy the newsletter and we look forward to your continued support.
We are very sorry to announce the death of Bill George, who was a BSCF committee member for many years and who acted as Auditor for the annual accounts. We will miss Bill’s commitment to Bishop’s Stortford, his attention to detail and his sense of humour.
The Draft District Plan, once adopted, will profoundly change the character of Bishop’s Stortford. In its current state it proposes an increase of over 4500 dwellings – in effect a 25% increase in the population. The so-called objectively assessed housing need applies to the District as a whole and provides no justification for allocating this level of growth to our town – for example, 6 times as many new homes as Hertford, the next largest town in the district.
Much of the growth has already been committed by previous District Plans, but we have argued vigorously against the removal of land south of Whittington Way from the Green Belt which, if developed, would contribute nearly 1000 towards the total. We organised a petition on this which raised 2000 signatures in the space of couple of weeks. Our President presented our case at the Examination in Public which took place last autumn. And we have repeated our objections in response to the main modifications proposed to the Plan. We also disputed one of the proposed modifications which suggested that the housing numbers for each site should be a floor rather than the ceiling on the amount of development to be permitted.
The Inspector has now reported and has left the housing allocation for Bishop’s Stortford unchanged that the land south of Whittington Way will be removed from the Green Belt. She has however decided that the number for each site should be qualified by the word ‘around’ rather than her previous suggestion of ‘at least’.
Neighbourhood Plans cannot override District Plans but, once adopted, form part of the planning policies with which development should comply. Civic Federation members played an active role in preparing the second Neighbourhood Plan for the town which covers the southern part of Bishop’s Stortford and part of Thorley – the latter on a conditional basis only if the land south of Whittington Way were to be developed. Following review by an independent examiner the Plan was approved in a referendum and has now been adopted.
Station Goods Yard
Our objections to Solum’s original proposals for the site, which we likened to Benidorm without the beach, helped to persuade East Herts Council’s Development Management Committee to refuse planning permission, against the advice of officers. Solum engaged new architects and produced a revised scheme that is visually much more acceptable, though we still feel that too much development will be crammed on to the site. However, because Solum had appealed against the refusal of permission for their original scheme, the Council were left with little choice but to approve this one, rather than risk having the original scheme foisted on us through a successful appeal.
One aspect of the scheme has been fudged. We have argued that the new road through the goods yard should be open to all traffic so as to relieve congestion at Hockerill. Herts Highways argued that it should be a ‘sustainable’ corridor, open only for access and to public service vehicles and cycles. The constraints of the site mean that initially access will have to be limited in this way but the opportunity to convert it into a through road for all traffic will be available in future.
Herts and Essex School Expansion
We were pleased that plans to expand the Herts and Essex School to six Forms of Entry on a permanent basis demonstrated their clear commitment to staying on their present site. However, a consequence is that the school gymnasium is being replaced by a new sports hall and all weather pitch on their Beldams Lane playing field with new playing fields being created on agricultural land on the other side of the road.
We fear that problems will arise, with both increased school use and from community use outside of school hours which plans to be a seven day a week operation throughout the year, causing considerable disturbance to neighbouring residents. The County Council, acting as both applicant and planning authority in this case, did not appear to be alert to the potential problems, and it remains to be seen how effective they will be in enforcing their own planning conditions.
Stortford on the Map
Civic Federation treasurer, Rob Francis, has led the production of three town trails – leaflets which suggest walks around the town highlighting places of interest. They were developed in partnership with the Town Council, District Council and History Society with the Civic Federation acting as banker and contributing £500 towards the cost of production. They are now available in the tourist office. Work is now progressing on a riverside walk and a children’s trail.
Heritage Open Days
This is a national initiative, now sponsored by the National Trust, to open free of charge to members of the public sites that would normally not be open or for which an entry fee would be payable. The events take place over the first weekend in September. The Civic Federation has led the participation of Bishop’s Stortford for the last two years and in 2017 several local churches were open while the museum led tours of the castle mound. In 2018 we shall be organising the event again which this year will feature on 8 September a tour of 7 Bishop’s Stortford churches, again led by museum staff. Details will be made available on the website www.heritageopendays.org.uk when it goes live in July.
A successful bid was made by our local authorities for Lottery funding to work up a scheme to rejuvenate Castle Park and Sworders Field. The Civic Federation has played an active role on the steering group working up the detailed plans which will form the bid for the implementation funding. If successful, work should start on site next year.
Northgate End Multi-Storey Car Park
East Herts Council’s plan to build a six floor multi-storey car park north of Link Road at Northgate End is intended to free up the Old River Lane site, including Charrington’s House, for development. The Council’s proposals for a new arts centre on the site have received a great deal of publicity. However, these are purely aspirational, subject to feasibility studies, and may never materialise. The car park application, on the other hand, is for full planning permission, and once built, would be permanent, whatever happens to the rest of Old River Lane.
Viewed as a free standing application we believed that it is severely flawed as well as a wholly inappropriate intrusion into the conservation area. We therefore commissioned a professional review of the transport assessment which concluded amongst other things that
- The number of additional parking spaces had been exaggerated and the need for them not demonstrated
- Traffic counts had been undertaken after Bishop’s Stortford College had broken up for the summer, leading to results which were not representative
- Predicted traffic volumes had not been uplifted to take account of known future developments including the rest of Old River Lane
- Entry and exit into car park and Waitrose car park was likely to lead to severe congestion problems of traffic backing up as we have seen with Aldi.
On this occasion Herts Highways agreed with us and recommended refusal on traffic congestion and pedestrian safety grounds. Waitrose also objected to the detrimental effect on their parking facilities.
The scheme has now been revised to leave the entrance to the Waitrose car park unaltered in Old River Lane. This would mean that a major public interest benefit of the redevelopment of the site – turning Old River Lane into a pedestrianised boulevard – could no longer be achieved. Traffic congestion problems would be reduced but not eliminated, and pedestrian safety would continue to be compromised.
We believe that the sensible approach would be for East Herts Council to withdraw this application and table it only as part of a planning application covering the whole of the Old River Lane site if they still regard relocation of the car park as essential to its redevelopment. An informed judgment could then be made about the overall transport impact and whether the public interest benefits were sufficient to outweigh the undoubted harm which this application by itself would cause.
Civic Federation Aims and Objectives
Our statement of Aims and Policies has not been changed since the Civic Federation was set up in 2006 and some of them are now out of date. Once the new District Plan has been adopted the committee will be looking at these again to shape them into purposes reflecting the town which Bishop’s Stortford will become. If you have any suggestions or would like to contribute to the exercise please contact one of the committee members.