Welcome to this belated Annual Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation (BSCF) Newsletter. The early part of 2020 was quiet on the development front. This seems to be because, like us, the authorities did not realise we’d be locked down for so long. Since then, things have picked up to the extent that we’ve examined and commented on 24+ development and related items. Finding time to put this newsletter together has been a challenge!
May I first thank you for your continued interest and support for BSCF. I hope you have been safe and well as Covid-19 has continued to present many challenges.
Indeed, Covid-19 delayed our 14th AGM (2019-20) until April 2021, when it was eventually held online. It has also prompted us to propose a delay for our 15th AGM, which we hope to hold in person this autumn, with Steven Joseph, a Transport Policy consultant, as guest speaker.
Steven has significant expertise in the field of sustainable transport, which continues to be one of several ‘hot topics’ on our Facebook page. Please keep your eyes and ears open so we can welcome you to what promises to be an interesting discussion when it eventually happens.
I should also pay tribute to Brian Edwards who sadly died in January this year. Brian was instrumental in bringing all the town’s residents associations together to meet the Civic Society, leading to the creation of BSCF in its current form. He was then Vice-chair of BSCF for several years until ill-health meant he had to stand down. Even so, he continued to be a member and maintained an active interest in events.
It would be remiss not to recognise his long and significant service to BSCF and his interest in the well-being of the town and its citizens. Thank you Brian
May I also take this opportunity to remind you that once again it’s subscription time (see the attached form), so please send your subscription and encourage others to join us too please.
We’re always pleased to welcome new Committee Members, to ensure we have representative views from around the town. Typically we meet for a couple of hours every 4 -6 weeks, and in between exchange views, etc. by e-mail. Please consider joining us. The more of us there are, the greater our impact on the planning, education, and other authorities.
Finally, we hope you find what follows interesting and informative and shows that BSCF has not lost sight of its overall objective of working for the improvement of Bishop’s Stortford and its surroundings.
With best wishes for the remainder of 2021-22. Please 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.
Revision of Bishop’s Stortford’s Neighbourhood Plans
BSCF has been well represented in the revision of the town’s two Neighbourhood Plans (NP). Four Committee members volunteered to join the revising team: Colin Arnott (team leader for Transport), Alyson Bailey (team leader for Bishop’s Stortford South), Rob Francis (team leader for Climate Change) and Deborah Munro (town centre). The original NPs were completed in 2015 and 2017 respectively and adopted following extensive public consultation and a referendum on each of them. They, together with the District Plan, contain the policies against which all planning applications are assessed.
In view of the changes in the town since 2015 and 2017 Bishop’s Stortford Town Council decided to undertake limited revisions to bring both of them up to date and correspond. The principal changes proposed are:
- New sections on Climate Change and the Town Centre
- Extensive revisions to the sections on Green Infrastructure and Transport
- Lesser revisions to other sections of the plans including changes so that policies (except site-specific policies) are the same for the whole town
The revised NPs have been subject to the required consultation and amended according to comments received as deemed appropriate, including comments from BSCF. They are now with East Herts District Council (EHDC), which will review and submit them to an external Examiner for further consideration and to decide if a referendum is needed.
Bishop’s Stortford North (BSN) – BISH3
Keeping track of approved housing numbers on BSN has proved very difficult but we believe that at least 144 extra homes have already been approved with as many as 50 more pending. BSCF has asked the responsible Planning Officer for information on this, primarily to determine the effect on school places needed for these extra homes versus the places available. We have also objected to an application for approval of Reserved Matters on two land parcels close to the new secondary school, citing EHDC’s Conservation Officer’s concerns about housing density and the street layouts not being in line with the agreed Design Principles Document. We have also added our concerns about crime and policing on BSN to those of Hertfordshire Police and await news of a decision.
Land South of Hadham Road – BISH4
Outline planning permission for this development was granted on appeal in 2017 but work on the site only started early this year, and only on the eastern part. BSCF examined the Reserved Matters applications submitted to EHDC but decided not to comment on them. However, when the layout for the western part of the site was submitted for approval we decided to comment on the lengthy foot and cycle access between it and the Bishop’s Park Community Centre, in contradiction to elements of the town’s Neighbourhood Plan 1 Policy TP3 – Walkable Neighbourhoods. Instead we asked for more direct access, to help encourage walking and cycling and discourage car use. At the same time, we commented on the same situation on the eastern part of the site, regarding access to and from the town via Dane Park and Maze Green Road and the town’s outer cycling circle along Dane Park, copying in Herts County Council’s Rights of Way Officer. The application is yet to be decided.
Bishop’s Stortford South (BSS) – BISH5
BSCF has continued to be closely involved in monitoring the implementation of development at Bishop’s Stortford South – now known as St James’ Park. Development of the first phase of 142 houses alongside Whittington Way, the new Spine Road, roundabouts, and other services is underway and Countryside, the main developer, has set up a Community Liaison Group (CLG) to consult on progress and report on plans for future phases. BSCF has joined the CLG and will focus on future development plans and wider town transport and environmental impacts. We will also support OTTRA – the area’s Residents’ Association, Thorley Parish Council, and other interest groups as they focus mainly on local issues.
The key strategic issue is the Reserved Matters applications for development of the remainder of the site, which received Outline planning consent in December 2019. Countryside has already sold sites to, or partnered with, other developers who will benefit from that consent but were not party to the master planning approach originally adopted. These include Reserved Matters applications to develop the 4ha ‘Employment Zone’ and a Care Home in the site’s SE corner and a similar application from Bellway Homes to build 219 houses immediately west of Thorley Street.
BSCF supports developing a Care Home but has objected to its height, which exceeds one of the Development Plan’s policies. The greatest planning challenge though is Wrenbridge Land’s application for the Employment Area. It plans to replace the Business Park proposed in Countryside’s June 2018 Masterplan Framework – which, it was said, would provide a large number of skilled and highly skilled jobs in high value businesses – with a 200,000 sq ft warehousing and logistics facility. This will generate hundreds of HGV truck and van movements 24/7, with severe traffic, noise and air quality impacts on homes and road networks in and around Stortford and Sawbridgeworth. BSCF prepared a detailed objection showing how the Reserved Matters application does not comply with the Outline consent and is unsustainable, and has made this available to inform and support objections by other groups and individuals. Mid-August there were 450+ objections on EHDC’s planning website and none in support.
The Bishop’s Stortford High School (TBSHS) – BISH6
In January 2020, TBSHS submitted an Outline Application to redevelop its existing site in London Road for 223 houses after it moves to its new site at BSS. Prior to the application BSCF had been invited to participate in the final Masterplan group meeting set up by EHDC and the developers. BSCF expressed serious concern about potential traffic impacts – especially in the London Road corridor – and that the proposals were a significant increase from ‘around 150 houses’ in the District Plan, as well as the lack of consultative master planning. Working with HCC Highways BSCF was able to require additional traffic surveys and modelling before and after the application was submitted. In the lengthy period before it went to EHDC’s Development Management Committee (DMC), BSCF maintained its objection on the grounds of overdevelopment – now ‘up to’ 223 houses, and that the updated and realistic assumptions about the cumulative traffic impact of the redevelopment, with BSS, showed the impact would be catastrophic at peak hours, with London Road junctions at 100% to 250% of their capacity.
BSCF presented the community’s objections at the DMC’s Nov 2020 meeting, but despite our best efforts the application was approved subject to a S106 agreement which HCC Highways recommended should include funding for further unspecified mitigation measures in London Road. Nine months later the S106 is still being negotiated and the formal planning Consent Notice is still to be issued. This has enabled around 100 further objections to be submitted to potential tree-felling around the boundary of the site with the ‘Spinney’ woodland west of the site – apparently to maximise the space for the ‘up to 223 houses’. We have supported these further objections and will continue to monitor the Agreement.
The Goods Yard – BISH7
It has become increasingly clear that this development will not be completed according to the planning permission granted in 2018. Premier Inn has decided not to proceed with a hotel next to the former bus station and, so far, no replacement has been found. (The developer says it is still looking for one). Installation of a replacement rail siding also appears to be preventing implementation of at least part of the final phase, which was to include a multi-storey car park. Again, the developer is confident one can still be built. Finally, as we pointed out at the time and have since reminded EHDC, the present ramp from Station Road to the station forecourt provides the only step free access between the town’s eastern side and the transport interchange and town centre. It now also looks like it will be an important part of a planned Stansted Airport – Rye House cycle route; while Covid-19 must question the need for the office block that was planned for that part of the site and could block the ramp.
BSCF has been pursuing EHDC on the overall scheme and whether, because of the extent of the changes, a fresh or revised planning application will be needed. We are pleased that EHDC now says it does expect a fresh application, which will allow further public comment. No timetable has been set though and so far the developer seems to be trying to avoid this.
Old River Lane – BISH8
As reported in our last newsletter, efforts to halt or defer construction of the multi-storey car park at Northgate End were finally unsuccessful and construction is now well under way. Even in its incomplete state, the adverse impact on the town’s Conservation Area seems likely to fulfil our worst expectations.
The car park is, of course, not a free-standing development, even though EHDC has treated it as one. Rather, it was intended to enable release of the neighbouring Old River Lane (ORL) site for a new Arts Centre, on which residents were not consulted, and housing. The Arts Centre as originally envisaged – to include an auditorium for theatre and concerts – has now been ditched, EHDC saying that changed local government expenditure rules make it unviable, though its business case has never been published.
This has left EHDC struggling to find an alternative to justify what would otherwise be an unnecessary multi-storey car park. Its decision this time, on which residents have yet to be properly consulted, is to replace the auditorium element with a five-screen cinema, gallery and public square. Given the town already has a multi-screen cinema, plus film showings at South Mill Arts Centre, the ORL venture seems likely to be a white elephant or, at most, jeopardise the business prospects of each of these.
According to the District Plan, master planning of the site is meant to be guided by a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on which the public would be consulted. However, master planning is well under way, even though the guiding SPD did not appear last autumn (the timetable previously agreed by EHDC) and no new timetable for its publication has been released. Also, while BSCF has been promised a seat at the table for preparing the SPD, it has yet to receive any invitation. If the invitation’s only purpose is to provide retrospective legitimacy to a development whose main ingredients have already been decided without proper public involvement it is likely that BSCF would not want to be part of it.
East of Manor Links – BISH9
BSCF participated in the three master planning meetings for this development. We voiced concerns about the extra number of homes to be built – 62 vs ‘around 50’ – and supported residents in the bungalows of Manor Links on measures to limit the heights of the bungalows backing onto them to one storey only. We had no success on the former but were successful on the latter, though how effective this will be in the long-term is uncertain. This is because of the new permitted development rights and building heights the Government has granted homeowners.
Transport and Parking
Aim: To enable the growth planned for Bishop’s Stortford and its surroundings to be accommodated by the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive strategy for transportation and parking.
Consultations: Hertfordshire Eastern Area Growth and Transport Plan
In November 2020 HCC Highways issued its long-awaited Herts Eastern Area Growth and Transport Plan for consultation. BSCF teamed up with the Bishop’s Stortford Climate Group to comment on what should have been a clear strategy and investment plan to deal with growing traffic and parking challenges of housing and population growth in the area from Harlow to Bishop’s Stortford and Uttlesford to the north and east. Our main concern is that the Plan makes no new analysis of the traffic impact of the new developments in the area. This includes failing to use HCC’s traffic modelling for the current District Plan, nor any of the transport assessments for developments and applications in Bishop’s Stortford, Sawbridgeworth and Gilston since then. Instead, it comprises a long list of minor projects identified by sifting through and prioritising projects from existing plans and studies. For Bishop’s Stortford, 90% of the projects are taken from the Transport Options Study prepared during 2017 which was never subject to public consultation or adopted by any of the relevant councils.
Also, the prioritisation is based on HCC’s new “Transport User Hierarchy” which prioritises measures to support pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport over motor vehicles. Whilst, with the Climate Group, we strongly support measures to reduce travel demand and promote sustainable travel, this approach has resulted in virtually no highway improvement or traffic management projects to mitigate vehicle congestion, overcapacity, or parking problems. We believe that such measures can calm traffic and create opportunities for walking, cycling and improved bus services. We have reviewed all the project packages for Bishop’s Stortford and have recommended that the objectives, sources, and methods of the Plan should be revised and that HCC should not approve it in its present form.
Aim: To support the continued prosperity of the town centre for trade and commerce and support initiatives which enhance its attraction as a retail and leisure destination
Jackson Square – Redevelopment to accommodate TK-Maxx and loss of Bridge Street entrance
BSCF was pleased to be consulted by the developer prior to it submitting a planning application. As a result, while we understood the retailers’ concerns about store security if the existing Bridge St entrance were retained, we strongly objected to the plan to remove it completely rather than keep or relocate it. We cited a number of reasons including connectivity with the north and east of the town, the planned ORL development, the library, and the Town Park, as well as access for the infirm and disabled, people with young children, etc., for whom the alternative routes are not safe. These include narrow pavements and the slope on Bridge St and vehicles in Jackson Square car park. We also stressed that keeping the entrance was a key part of the 2017 Town Centre Planning Framework. We were supported by many comments on our Facebook page but sadly the developer chose to ignore them. We have therefore objected to this part of the development and await EHDC’s decision with some concern.
Shaping Stortford Steering Group (SSSG)
SSSG’s meetings have continued online, but once every two months rather than monthly. Minutes of the meetings can be found at EHDC’s website (https://www.eastherts.gov.uk/about-east-herts-0/improvement-projects-east-herts/shaping-stortford). BSCF has continued to be part of a working group to develop projects to support sustainable travel routes from the north, east and west to the town centre and cycle parking around the town. The latter has included marking existing parking in the town centre and new parking points in Windhill and North Street. The project from the north via Grange Paddocks is nearing readiness for procurement. Three others – one to the east and two to the west – have undergone feasibility studies and review to reduce costs to more affordable levels and tenders are being floated for detailed design. BSCF has also been part of the group to make South Street to Market Street more pedestrian-friendly by reducing vehicle access, probably on a timed basis. The town’s businesses continue to fully support this while Herts Highways’ Covid-19 social distancing measures have indicated what measures might work best and how they will impact the town centre and Newtown area residents. Another group is working on 20mph zones around schools and residential areas.
There have been updates on the Northgate End multi-storey car park and Old River Lane – only for information as SSSG is not part of the Delivery Group, and reports about the Goods Yard development, most recently with a representative of the developer. The Sustainable Travel Town bid was unsuccessful, based on parking ‘rules’. However it seems these are being reviewed and another bid may be possible in the future. The Herts Eastern Area Growth and Transport Plan has also been presented to us.
Aim: To minimise the adverse environmental and social impacts of the Airport and its operations on the town and surrounding area.
For four years the airport has been trying to increase its limit on passenger throughput from 35 to 43 million passengers per year. This would lead to increases in passenger numbers and flight movements of around 50% compared with the 2019 pre-pandemic volume. Uttlesford District Council (UDC) eventually decided to refuse permission for the increase, and the Airport appealed in July 2020. A public inquiry was held January – March 2021. Because of the pandemic it was conducted entirely online.
BSCF provided technical input to Stop Stansted Expansion’s (SSE’s) case on rail access and planning issues, but due to the limitations of an online inquiry, these witnesses, along with several other SSE witnesses, could not present their evidence in person or be cross-examined. UDC’s defence of its decision was poor, and the Planning Inspectorate upheld the Airport’s appeal, awarding costs against UDC. Nevertheless, UDC has applied to the High Court to have both the decision and the costs award overturned, and if granted leave to do so, SSE will also appear as an interested party. The basis of UDC’s case is that the Inspectorate gave insufficient weight to the climate change issue – in fact it was given no weight at all. If the case proceeds it is likely to be in the autumn.
The Currey Award
Aim: To recognise high standards of design of buildings, landscape, and the environment.
After a gap of three years we are pleased that BSCF intends to make an award this year. The shortlist is:1. St Mary’s School – refurbishment of Windhill properties
2. St Joseph’s School – replacement school building
3. No 11 Windhill – refurbishment
4. Bushel House Windhill – refurbishment
5. Waterside Stortford – Information boards and signage
6. Avanti JMI School at St Michael’s Hurst
7. The Residence, Wickham Hall
Open Spaces and Recreation
Aim: To retain and enhance all existing open amenity spaces in the town for the well-being of the residents and visitors to the town.
Small green spaces on Thorley Park
Supporting community views and EHDC, BSCF has consistently objected to private landowners’ attempts to develop several small green spaces near Sainsbury’s on Thorley Park. To date, and in all but one case, we have been successful. We intend to continue our support, aware of the precedent that would be set if any of them were granted planning permission.
Changes to BSCF’s Constitution
Following the 13th AGM, we sent the changes we wanted to BSCF’s Purpose in the Constitution to the Charity Commission but it would not accept the opening paragraph. The main reason was the paragraph did not include: ‘… for the public benefit …’. This has now been added and was approved at our last (14th) AGM. It has now been submitted to the Charity Commission for final approval.
Masonic Hall, Hadham Road
This building, on the north side of Hadham Road next to Springfield Court, is the only remaining part of the former Bishop’s Stortford Grammar School. It is mentioned in the town’s 2014 Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan. In late 2019, we objected to the application to demolish it and replace it with apartments and EHDC’s DMC agreed with us. The owner appealed EHDC’s decision, but in April 2021 the Planning Inspector rejected the appeal and agreed with us and other objectors.
BSCF Facebook Group
BSCF has had a lively Facebook group for 11 years now. It was started to raise awareness of the first development proposals for the Bishop’s Stortford South site in 2010 and continues to be very active on a wide range of issues. It now has over 8,000 members and is still growing rapidly.
The dedicated Admin team works hard to prevent ‘trolling’ and unpleasant conduct from taking hold, as can happen in large public groups. We have a robust set of group rules, designed to demonstrate the conduct we expect from members, and we have not hesitated to remove those whose behaviour is in conflict with our rules. Our aim has always been for the group to be a safe space for anyone to share their views without fear of ridicule or recrimination.
Recent hot topics have been proposals for a TK Maxx store in Jackson Square and the planned closure of the Bridge St entrance, ongoing plans for Old River Lane, the sale of plots of land potentially on floodplain at the Meads, planning applications for a logistics facility at BSS and a Lidl store at Stansted Road and, most recently, the destruction of mature trees and ancient hedgerows on the many development sites throughout the town.
BSCF also uses the page to raise awareness of issues and inform group members what action it is taking on various matters. This is proving a very useful way to inform them of its actions and receive feedback and ideas in return.