Richard Cassidy Esq
East Herts Council
SG13 8EQ 25 May 2020
OLD RIVER LANE (ORL), BISHOP’S STORTFORD
- I first wrote to you about the proposals for this site on 13 January 2020 to ask what arrangements the Council had in mind to comply with the requirement in the District Plan to publish and consult on a Supplementary Planning Document for the ORL site. Your reply, dated 13 February, did not provide an adequate response and so I wrote again on 12 March, reiterating the reasons, in addition to complying with the policies in the District Plan, for undertaking this exercise. Shortly after that, the significance of the Covid-19 pandemic became apparent, leading to the shutting down of many areas of activity and requiring new ways of working, not least for you and your staff.
- I understand that, in the circumstances, it may have become more difficult for you to have arranged a reply to my letter – as yet I have received none. But when the country eventually emerges from the pandemic, it seems to us all the more important that a high priority should be given to publishing a Supplementary Planning Document for the ORL. With social distancing likely to remain a requirement for an unknown period into the future, many existing theatres, cinemas and entertainment venues face uncertain prospects, and many may not survive. Building new facilities of this kind in a town of our size which already has existing venues performing the same functions must surely require a re-examination and the wholehearted backing of local people before any commitment is made to develop new ones.
- Similarly, the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards on-line retailing and away from the need for a physical presence on the high street, while cafes and restaurants will also be finding meeting the requirements of social distancing a challenge. With the component parts (such as we have heard of them) of the ORL site being so uncertain, the need for a new multi-storey car park whose purpose is the release the ORL site for development, becomes equally questionable. Neither this, not the proposed arts complex are referred to at all in the District Plan. By contrast, a Supplementary Planning Document is the first requirement of Policy BISH8.
- It was therefore came as a surprise to read in the last issue of the Bishop’s Stortford Independent the Council Leader, Cllr Haysey, quoted as saying
‘We are proposing to press ahead with the works [on the multi-storey car park] and hope to agree on a date to close the [existing] car park soon.’
It would appear that the pandemic has presented no obstacle to the Council engaging contractors to start the work – but only to replying to letters highlighting the inadvisability of doing so.
- In the circumstances, I can see no reason why the Council cannot commit now to a firm timetable to publish and consult on a Supplementary Planning Document for the ORL site. If, on the other hand, the Council does not intend to comply with this requirement, perhaps you could make your intentions explicit, so that the Civic Federation can consider what other remedies might be available.
- Finally, since the Council has now engaged Cityheart Ltd to work up proposals for the site, I should be grateful if you could let me have a copy of the brief they have been commissioned to fulfil so that, in the absence of a Supplementary Planning Document to guide the developers, Civic Federation members might at least have some information about what the Council’s intentions are.
Reply from Development Management, East Herts Council