|Richard Cassidy Esq
East Herts Council
|10 January 2021
Dear Mr Cassidy
BISHOP’S STORTFORD TOWN CENTRE DEVELOPMENTS
1. I am writing on behalf of the Civic Federation to ask if you can update us on a number of issues affecting development in the centre of Bishop’s Stortford. I have been prompted to do so for a number of reasons.
- The Old River Lane (ORL) development is supposed to be guided by a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD). The Local Development Scheme adopted by the Council in July 2020 indicated that this SPD would be the subject of public consultation in November and December 2020. The Council’s Head of Planning and Building Control, Ms Saunders, assured me in a letter dated 28 May 2020 that the Civic Federation would be engaged early on in the process via a steering group which would be set up specifically to discuss the emerging SPD for the site. To date, we have heard nothing further from the Council.
- The January 2021 issue of the Bishop’s Stortford Flyer reported (in Cllr Goldspink’s column) that the Council has come to the conclusion that a 500 seat theatre for the ORL site is not viable. The report was confirmed in the latest edition of the Bishop’s Stortford Independent which also says that the future of the site is to be discussed at a private meeting of the full Council on Wednesday. It might also be expected that the Council will reach the conclusion that, with new films increasingly being streamed on digital platforms such as Netflix, the town will be lucky to retain its existing cinema, and would be unable to support a second one. The acceleration in the development of on-line retailing and the demise of several well known retail chains would surely also make the provision of more retail space in the town centre redundant.
- The 30 December issue of the Bishop’s Stortford Independent reported that the Council’s Executive have supported Bishop’s Stortford’s bid to become a Sustainable Travel Town. The report notes that this would require a change in the Council’s parking and spatial planning policies, including the abolition of free parking provision in the town centre and no net gain in on and off street parking spaces. We assume this refers to parking spaces available for use by the general public, since housing development in Bishop’s Stortford will lead to a huge increase in private personal parking provision.
2. Taking these points together, it is clear that the development brief for the ORL site has become largely irrelevant and that a different approach is needed to the enhancement of the town centre. In particular, whatever development takes place ought to be capable of absorbing all the parking requirements, including those generated by the development itself, on site. Bearing in mind the need for no net increase in parking spaces if Bishop’s Stortford is to become a Sustainable Travel Town, this would make the multi storey car park on the wrong side of Link Road redundant – just as one of the members of the Development Control Committee foresaw when it was granted planning permission. Although construction has now started, it would surely prudent to pause the work, or cancel the project outright before further damage is done to that part of the conservation area. The only rationale for the car park was to release the ORL site for development, and its provision should no longer be needed to allow a suitable development to take place.
3. What that development should be may emerge from the forthcoming private meeting of the Council. But we think that this would be an appropriate moment on which to consult the residents of the town about what they would like to see on the site, rather than presenting us with new scheme as a fait accompli which may turn out to have no more public support than the previous development proposals. Or indeed it may be more sensible to leave the site undeveloped until the future for towns such as ours has become clearer.
4. But in any event, no further work should take place on the multi storey car park. Our reason for pressing this point is emphasised by the development of the station goods yard at the other end of the town centre. If the full scheme which was granted planning permission is implemented, this too will lead to a significant increase in parking provision for the general public, which, for a Sustainable Travel Town, implies a net reduction in parking provision elsewhere in the town centre.
5. We have been trying now for more than a year to find out from the Council’s Planning Department whether the full scheme is intended to be implemented. Our questions have included
- Whether the pedestrian ramp to the station forecourt which provides the only step free access from the eastern side of town is to be a permanent arrangement. The planning permission granted envisages an office block on this part of the site.
- Whether the final phase of the scheme which includes a second public car park will ever be implemented. Network Rail have recently relaid the siding it uses to stable track maintenance vehicles.
- When the first multi-storey car park, completed some time ago, is expected to open.
And since my last correspondence with the Planning Department
- Whether the hotel included in the first phase of the scheme will ever be built. Premier Inns no longer appear on the site hoardings and earlier this year announced 4500 redundancies. While construction is taking place beside it, the site earmarked for the hotel is simply a hole in the ground.
6. I am sorry to say that so far I have been unable to obtain a substantive reply to these questions from the Planning Department. Their most recent suggestion, that I should contact a named representative of Solum to find out the answers, elicited no reply at all from that representative.
7. In conclusion therefore, it is clear that the future of the town centre and parking provision within it needs a complete rethink. While innumerable studies have been carried out, there seems to be no overall guiding vision, but simply a set of piecemeal exercises, of which the Link Road multi storey car park is simply the most egregious example.
8. In view of the imminent discussion of the subject by the full Council, I would be most grateful if you could arrange to have this letter circulated to all Councillors before that meeting takes place.
9. I look forward to hearing from you after the meeting.