In March this year, the Civic Society and the active Community and Residents' Associations in Bishop’s Stortford took the decision to form a partnership to represent our views more effectively about the major changes affecting the town. Our new organisation, the Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation, has now been approved by the Charity Commission.
You will see from the items below that we have had a busy six months since then. Development pressures both in the town and surrounding areas are putting an unprecedented strain on our community. While some have the potential to improve the quality of our environment significantly, the schemes that have come forward so far have simply wasted the opportunity.
The BSCF draws on non-partisan, professional support from Committee and Association members to fight town cramming and argue the case for high quality improvements to our town. While the ultimate decisions rest with our elected authorities, we aim to ensure that decision makers hear the messages we want to give them and not just the ones they want to hear.
After many years with not much change in its fabric, Bishop's Stortford has now reached a turning point. With your continued support we hope to secure change for the better.
The BSCF has been campaigning against the height and bulk of the Jackson Square development since the developer Wilson Bowden's planning application was initially submitted. As a result we were successful in reducing the height of the building in Phase 1 by 3 metres to preserve the views of St Michael's church from Hockerill.
In August this year, the BSCF wrote to East Herts District Council robustly objecting to the detailed planning application proposal by Wilson Bowden for Phase 2. The main thrust of our objections was again centred on the height and bulk of the proposed detailed development which neither blended into the surrounding street scene nor enhanced the historic features of the town.
The BSCF is pleased to report that in September this year, the detailed planning application submitted by Wilson Bowden for the Phase 2 development was rejected by the East Herts Planning Committee by a substantial majority of the District Councillors. This decision was a major success for the residents of Bishop's Stortford and once again highlighted the strong influence that the BSCF can exercise on important issues which affect our town.
One of the biggest influences on our town is Stansted Airport – on our doorstep but outside the control of East Herts.
Stansted Airport has been trying to get permission to double its use by stealth. Its current planning permission includes a limit on passenger numbers of 25 million per annum and a limit on aircraft movements. The Airport has applied to Uttlesford Council to have the limit on passenger numbers abolished and the limit on aircraft movements increased. Airlines use only three quarters of the current limit on movements, so agreeing to this part of the application could allow over 40% more flights at the Airport. Removing the limit on passenger numbers would permit usage to double from the present level to 45 million even without a second runway.
We thought the impact on the surface transport system and the problems of off-street parking would be intolerable, as would the impact of noise and air pollution. We have objected strongly, and hope that Uttlesford will turn down the application – at the time of writing they are still thinking about it. If they do, it is likely to lead to a public inquiry which would at least allow the arguments to be properly tested, unlike Stansted’s last expansion application, which was agreed in private.
Earlier this year the Government concluded its 'consultation' exercise on limiting night flights at the airport. Unfortunately, it ignored the objections made last year by us and many others, and confirmed its original proposals. Because the existing quota at Stansted is not fully used, this could lead to an increase in night flights by as much as 40%.
The Government, however, did not get away with its wider aim of abolishing statutory limits on night flights. Thanks to objections in the House of Lords, they had to drop this proposal and night flights will still be subject to approval by Parliament.
The regional plan creates the development framework for the whole of Eastern England up to 2020. The draft plan highlighted the 'Areas of Special Restraint' between the town and the north western bypass as a strategic location for at least 2000 houses. We therefore (together with CAUSE) gave evidence against this at a public inquiry. The Inspectors have now reported. They have recommended removing this from the plan as a strategic location, which is good. But they still think that Bishop's Stortford can absorb at least 2000 more houses than those already planned. This in spite of evidence that the infrastructure – transport, water and sewerage – cannot support such development.
The Government is expected to consult on its conclusions later this year and so we may have to return to the argument then.
The Inspectors also rejected a 10,000-dwelling Harlow North proposal, a rejection which we welcome. The indirect effects of that development, particularly on transport, would have adversely affected our town even though it would be some distance away.
This plan sets out in detail what sort of development can take place across the whole of East Herts. For Bishop's Stortford, the plan included the possibility of building on the ASRs and the relocation of two secondary schools to a green belt site south of the town. We gave evidence at a public inquiry objecting to both of these and to the method of distributing East Herts' housing allocation, which gave Bishop’s Stortford an unsustainably large share of the total.
The Inspector's conclusions are still awaited. They will be particularly important as they will determine what can happen up to 2011. There will be no scope for appeal against them, either by the Council or by us.
This provides an unwelcome example of how town cramming could change the face of the town. The road consists mainly of detached and semi detached houses on good sized plots. A developer has proposed replacing four of these with 19 terraced houses in three rows. This has been turned down by East Herts Distict Council but has gone to appeal. We have lodged an objection. If this is allowed, the rest of the road could go the same way, increasing the local population by four or five times, and bringing traffic on one of our busiest roads to a standstill.
The East Herts District Council (EHDC) and the County's Highways Department collaborated in studying the congestion problems of Bishop’s Stortford and its surrounding feeder roads. External consultants were employed and the former Civic Society gave evidence to them. Two reports were produced, but both lacked incisiveness and took for granted, rather than analyzed, the impact of EHDC policies – in particular, building on the Areas of Special Restraint and relocating two secondary schools to a Green Belt site in Whittington Way. The consultants' draft final report raised questions about the first proposal because of the very long waiting times that would be required to get into the town’s entry roads and the need for an additional junction on the bypass. Their recommendations of cycle paths and park and ride gave no indication of how much extra congestion such development would generate or by how much their proposed solutions would reduce it.
Relocation of two schools to create a 3000-pupil campus in Whittington Way would create twice-daily congestion on a far greater scale than the two schools cause separately at the moment. The report identifies this, but the solution – that pupils cycle to school – is unrealistic and could clash with their next recommendation, the wholesale pedestrianisation of the town from Newtown Road to The Chantry. We do not believe that the town could absorb this massive change in one go; we have proposed a set of incremental changes to test the proposal in action, especially the consultants' suggestion that Newtown Road and Bell's Hill take significantly more traffic than they do at present.
In June this year, the BSCF wrote to the Planning Inspectorate to register objections to the request by Van Hage to build a new garden centre at Pig Lane, Bishop's Stortford. The main points listed in our objections were as follows:
At the time of writing this newsletter, no decision has yet been received from the Planning Inspectorate.
Note: we have since learnt that these plans have been rejected: Van Hage Garden Centre Plans Defeated.