Welcome to this Annual Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation (BSCF) Newsletter. Last year I wrote that 2018 had been a busy year, and 2019 was already proving to be the same. Little did we know how the rest of 2019 would turn out, or this first part of 2020!
First though, may I say thank you for your continued interest and support last year, and we very much hope that you are staying safe and well as Covid-19 continues to challenge in many ways. Indeed, it was Covid-19 that has caused us to postpone this year’s AGM, scheduled for 8 April.
This newsletter therefore also serves as an interim Annual Report, until such time as the public health situation allows us to hold our AGM, or we receive advice otherwise, e.g. from the Charity Commission.
Review of our activities since the last AGM shows BSCF commenting on or participating in over 25 local and county-level issues, and considering at least 10 more. These have ranged from simple and complex planning issues and applications, to local and county-wide transport – including sustainable transport, and re-joining the Shaping Stortford Steering Group.
Activity on BSCF’s Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/ CIVICFED/) has grown dramatically and membership too, which now exceeds 6,500. There have also been some serious administrative challenges at times, especially since early-2020, which we have addressed. We are also aware that our website (http://www.stortfordcf.org.uk) needs to be improved. Are there any IT wizards out there willing to help us please? If so, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So what follows is only part of what we’ve been up to on your behalf. Even so we hope you find it interesting and informative. We also hope it shows that BSCF has not lost sight of its overall objective of Bishop’s Stortford being a pleasant place to live, work and ‘recreate’.
Finally, if you’re not yet a member of BSCF may I ask you to consider joining using the attached form, ask you to please encourage others to join too, and wish you happy reading. With best wishes for 2020-21. Stay safe and well!Paul Dean
Town Planning and Development Control
Aim: To ensure that the town is a pleasant place in which to live and work, sustains a clean environment and is conducive to healthy economic activity, and that the historic features of Bishop’s Stortford are preserved.
Bishop’s Stortford South
In March 2019 East Herts Council approved full planning permission for 142 homes on the northern part of BSS and outline planning permission for 608 homes on the southern part. The conditions for BSS’s development were not finally agreed until December. Also, prior to that, Herts County Council (HCC) had given itself planning permission for The Bishop’s Stortford High School (TBSHS) to move to the southern part of BSS from its present location in London Road. Following some assurances by EHC about monitoring of traffic impacts and mitigation measures before each development phase and legal advice, Old Thorley and Twyford Residents’ Association (OTTRA) – a BSCF Member, decided on legal advice it would not be appropriate to challenge the planning decision via a judicial review.
Instead, OTTRA and BSCF have been exploring with the Herts Highways how the adverse impacts on the road network because of this development can be mitigated, if at all. Since then though, it has been found that these impacts have been shown to be far more severe than the projections presented to EHC, for the development of BSS, and which HCC relied on for its approval of the new site for TBSHS. Allied with its objection to development of TBSHS’s present site (see below) BSCF has therefore urged an independent review of BSS’s traffic impacts before any of the remaining outline permissions for the site are converted into full permissions. Otherwise there has been little work on BSS yet, apart from extensive archaeological surveys. These have found evidence of Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval settlements, and some interesting artefacts.
The Bishop’s Stortford High School (TBSHS)
HCC’s intention is that a large part of the funding for TBSHS’s move to BSS should come from redeveloping its existing site. This seems to have led to a planning application for 223 homes rather than the District Plan’s ‘around 150’, an increase of almost 50%. This will be achieved by building on the playing field – rather than keeping it for public recreational use, and Thorley Hill Primary School remaining 1 form entry, despite the increased demand for places because of the new homes on the site. At the Council’s request, BSCF was invited to attend what turned out to be the final EHC master-planning steering group meeting for the development. At the meeting BSCF joined with Herts Highways and others in asking for the scope of the transport assessment to be widened and made available to the group. However, before the updated assessment was made available the masterplan was submitted, recommended and approved by the Executive Committee and full Council and the outline planning application submitted.
Subsequently this assessment has shown that morning and evening peak traffic will bring the London Road corridor and Pig Lane to a virtual standstill -and makes clear that this is not only because of this development, but is a result of BSS and TBSHS’s move to BSS too. This assessment, prepared by a different transport consultant (see above) seems much more plausible than that for BSS. BSCF has objected to this planning application on all of these grounds and has requested a re-examination of the traffic impacts of all the developments to the south of the town. Additionally, and in part due to OTTRA’s and BSCF’s work, Herts Highways has taken the transport assessment’s conclusions so seriously that it has recommended refusal of this application, pending further studies and information. Herts Public Health Service has also requested a full health impact assessment (HIA) including the impact of traffic on air quality. It remains to be seen whether the relevant authorities will have the courage and common sense to conduct these assessments as we and others have requested.
Other developments and development issues
Station Goods Yard: One year on we still await East Herts Council’s advice about step free access to the station from the east of the town, and whether the present improved access will be made permanent. Following Network Rail’s complete replacement of the siding used for track maintenance plant we shall also ask whether the final phase of the development (including a second car park) will ever be built.
East of Manor Links: We participated in the development master planning via one of our members, and are pleased by the developer’s response to the site’s character and the planned house types. We are concerned though that the 61 houses applied for is 20% more than in the District Plan, reflecting a number of the town’s other developments. We have therefore objected to this, and the precedent it sets, even though developers say they need this to meet the Council’s requirement for 40% affordable housing. (Currently the homes that have been built, approved and applied for in Bishop’s Stortford since the start of the District Plan process will result in at least 600 more homes than in the District Plan.)
Masonic Hall: This building, on Hadham Road, is the former chapel and last surviving part of the former Bishop’s Stortford Grammar School. The Conservation Area Management Plan identifies it as a significant heritage asset. We therefore objected to plans to demolish and replace it with housing, arguing it should be retained and converted to residential use. We are therefore pleased the planning authority agreed and refused permission for demolition.
South of Hadham Road: Though we don’t usually comment on reserved matters where outline planning permission has been granted we have objected in this case, because: a) the transport assessment was conducted in 2014, and only looked at the impacts at the access to Hadham Road, and not on the town more widely, with Bishop’s Stortford North (BSN), b) delay will allow preparation of a Masterplan as required by the current District Plan, c) delay would allow the schools and other community facilities to be built on BSN, and d) the Covid-19 pandemic makes it inappropriate to start another major development at this time.
Infill and encroachments into green spaces and Green Belt: Concerned about this, BSCF has objected to speculative applications on green spaces on Thorley Park – near Sainsbury’s and Winchester Close, Day’s Stonemasons’ application to move to a Green Belt site on Thorley Street and an infill development in Spellbrook, just south of the Hilton Suzuki garage. We are also watching and considering possible actions if and when applications are made to develop plots being sold on the east side of Rye Street, just north of Grange Paddocks. In the case of Thorley Park’s green spaces we have urged the Town Council and/or East Herts Council to take ownership of them, following their apparent purchase by speculative developers following the collapse of Carillion, the previous landowner.
East Herts Council: We have examined and commented on the review of the Statement of Community Involvement which explains how the Council will involve the community in plan-making and consideration of planning applications. We have also looked at but have not commented formally on five other consultations. However, we have commented on the composition of the Development Management Committee, in particular the low representation from Bishop’s Stortford and Sawbridgeworth and the large number from Hertford. The Council’s response is that this is determined by which members are available and willing to take on this demanding role.
Herts County Council: We have examined HCC’s Intalink Bus Strategy and its revised Rail Strategy but have not commented formally. We have expressed our concern about insufficient secondary school places and planning in Bishop’s Stortford and Sawbridgeworth though, particularly in view of the ‘extra’ housing Bishop’s Stortford’s. and in parts of neighbouring Essex, and the schools being able to choose their own admissions criteria. We continue to watch this closely, and its implications for everyone, including relevant developments, traffic, etc.
Health services: We remain concerned about the ability of doctors’ surgeries in the town to cope with the planned population increase over the next ten years, especially as the premises of the two main surgeries are in a poor repair. We are also concerned about the implications of concentrating services at the Herts & Essex Hospital at Haymeads, for example, for those who find it more convenient for them to be in the town centre, and the wider transport and traffic implications too. We have commented on this in the past and will continue to monitor the situation.
London-Stansted-Cambridge Consortium (LSCC): Following LSCC’s Director’s talk at our 2019 AGM, we attended LSCC’s Annual Conference. We learned a lot about what is going on elsewhere in the corridor and beyond, and possible opportunities and implications for Bishop’s Stortford. Despite the scale of all of these our local authorities’ attention to them and constructive engagement with all that is going on still seems very muted.
Transport and Parking
Multi-Storey Car Park (MSCP)
We have argued for many years that there needs to be a whole-town strategy for the management of car parking, including on-street parking, and the management and pricing of council and independent off-street car parks. The proposed MSCP is unfortunately all too typical of the piecemeal initiatives that have blighted the town for so many years. In our view it does little more than replace surface-level spaces in the town centre and is on the wrong side of Link Road. Also, while its purpose is to release Old River Lane for development, it has been treated as though it is a separate project.
Sadly the judicial review against the second grant of planning permission, led by a Yew Tree Place resident, with BSCF support, was unsuccessful, and possible prohibitive costs of an appeal means this course of legal remedy is now exhausted. However, even though the District Plan requires the Council to publish and consult on a Supplementary Planning Document for Old River Lane before planning permission can be granted it has yet to do these. We have therefore asked that no work on the MSCP starts until these have been done. So far we have only had an evasive response, so are continuing to press on this. In addition to other considerations, the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath should surely lead to re-evaluation of these plans before any irreversible development takes place.
Shaping Stortford Steering Group (SSSG)
BSCF resigned from SSSG in May 2018 because the Old River Lane development was not part of the group’s remit, and otherwise it seemed to be doing little of value. Despite these concerns the Committee decided BSCF should re-join in mid-2019, to be better informed on the transport options study commissioned in 2017 but still not published, town centre developments other than ORL, and other matters, and to contribute to them. Before re-joining though, we took a major look at the Group’s Terms of Reference (ToR) and pointed out several we considered irrelevant, especially as SSSG appears to have no executive powers. Since then the ToR have been reviewed and made more realistic. They are yet to be signed off though.
The transport options study was finally published late 2019. Since then working groups have been looking at parts of the study SSSG is able to make inputs to. They comprise, a) options for part (or timed) pedestrianisation of South Street, b) sustainable travel support – focusing on better cycling between the town centre and outlying areas, c) safer traffic around schools. BSCF is participating in (a) and (b). We are also supporting studies for better pedestrian access on the Station Road bridge over the Stort, and East Herts Council’s application for Bishop’s Stortford to receive Sustainable Transport Town funding from HCC. More about SSSG and meeting minutes are at https://www.eastherts.gov.uk/about-east-herts-0/shaping-stortford.
Aim: To minimise the adverse environmental and social impacts of the Airport and its operations on the town and surrounding area.
Following the change in political control of Uttlesford District Council (UDC) last May we are pleased that it refused the Airport’s application raise the limit on passenger numbers from the current ceiling of 35 million to 43 million passengers per annum. Since then there has been a landmark High Court ruling that the Government was at fault in not taking proper account of the climate change implications of a third runway at Heathrow. The Government has since indicated that it will not challenge this judgment, though Heathrow Airport will. Stansted Airport has until the end of July to decide whether to appeal against UDC’s refusal. We are supporting Stop Stansted Expansion’s efforts to persuade it not to appeal.
The Currey Award
Aim: To recognise high standards of design of buildings, landscape and the environment.
The word ‘development’ carries with it an implicit sense that whatever is developed will lead to improvement. Sadly this has not been the case for some time in Bishop’s Stortford and for the third year running, the Committee has not felt there have been enough examples of commendable development to justify holding a competition or make an award.
Open Spaces and Recreation
Heritage Open Days
For the last four years BSCF, working with the town’s Museum, has co-ordinated Bishop’s Stortford’s input to this national National Trust-sponsored event. It takes place the first two weekends of September and involves opening free of charge, or with some additional feature such as a guided tour, places that would either not be open, would charge for entry or (as for some of our churches) would otherwise leave visitors to their own devices.
2019’s events were a lecture about the castle’s history, and bell ringing tours in St Michael’s church. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic. it is not yet clear whether Heritage Open Days will take place. Attractions are therefore still to be identified and organised.
Tree Planting: Just before the outbreak of Covid-19 BSCF was looking at options for increasing tree planting around the town with possible partners. In the short-term we were looking at ways to encourage personal/household initiatives.
BSCF Constitution: Following approval of some small changes to our Constitution at our last AGM the Charity Commission objected, largely because they omitted reference to ‘the public good’. Revisions acceptable to both the Committee and the Commission have now been agreed. They will be presented for member’s consideration at the next AGM. The new proposed Constitution will be sent out before.