This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Civic Society. As you will see from the rest of this newsletter, there is as much for a Society such as ours to do today as there was 40 years ago. The pressures for development in and around the town are relentless and ours is the only organisation able to offer professional, non-partisan views on behalf of the town’s residents to those elected or appointed to take decisions about future development here.
However, the number of people able to serve on the Committee, on whose efforts we have relied to make an impact, is dwindling, and the membership of the Society, never large, has been static for several years.
The Committee have decided that to continue to operate as we have done in the recent past is no longer a sustainable option; and that the Society has the potential to create an even greater impact if it could be seen to be more truly representative of the town’s residents.
We have therefore been exploring with the town's Community and Residentss Associations whether the Civic Society might be transformed into an organisation which brings the Associations together as a Federation and thus enables them collectively to express views on matters which affect us all but which extend beyond the remit of any individual Association.
I am happy to say that they have responded with enthusiasm to this suggestion. The proposed new composition of the Committee in the enclosed notice for the AGM reflects the agreement of each Association listed to nominate a representative for election to the Committee and to nominate one of their number to be Vice-Chairman for the coming year. Of course not every resident has the benefit of a Community Association and they represent domestic residents rather than commercial undertakings. So we are not proposing any change in the arrangements for individual direct membership of the Society. I hope as many of you as possible will attend the AGM on 30 March and give your support to this proposal.
Finally, while we have been carrying the vacancy since the tragic death of Linda Bonich, Christine Greet and Angela Marshall have kindly agreed to act as joint secretaries to the Society, subject to ratification at the AGM. We are looking forward to their support.
Much of our effort over the last year has been concentrated on two Public Inquiries or 'Examinations in Public' as they are technically known. One concerns the local plan for East Herts and the other the regional plan for the whole of the Eastern Region of England. Together, they are likely to determine the framework for the development of the town and its surroundings for many years to come. One issue (on which we joined forces with CAUSE) featured in both plans – the possible development of the ASRs to the north and west of the town.
We have argued that these areas of open land should become Green Belt to protect them from future development. They have considerable landscape and recreational value and we do not believe that they can be sustainably developed, particularly because the town's transport infrastructure cannot support further peripheral development. The plans earmark them as sites for houses for airport workers even though these are not now needed.
We believe that plans should instead set a target for the maximum population which the town can support. We have suggested 40,000 compared with a current population of about 35,000. Any additional housing for the district above the total implied by the population target should be located elsewhere in East Herts.
The rest of our evidence concerned only the local plan.
Two local schools propose to meet the future demand for increased school places by relocating to a new campus on the southern edge of town. The chosen site is green belt land which should not be developed unless there are exceptional reasons. The new campus of 3000 students would have very poor public transport links and would be farthest away from that part of the town which has no secondary school at present. Residents of Thorley Park would be penned in twice a day by the 'school run'.
We argue that the needs of the town for more secondary school places would be best met by providing a new school on the site already earmarked for it on the Hadham Road.
We have made the case for a new mooring basin in the town at the Flour Mill site to add to the attractions of the River.
We have argued for the full pedestrianisation of Potter Street, between Church Street and Bridge Street. We believe that this would achieve the main benefits of eliminating through traffic and having a fully pedestrian area with minimum disruption to local residents and businesses.
The outcome of both plans is likely to be known later this year.
We have responded to both stages of the government's consultation on night flights. The government's idea of 'bearing down on night time disturbance' was to allow a 40% increase in the number of flights compared with now. We objected! The government’s decision is currently awaited.
As well as participating in the work of SSE we have made the Society’s objections known separately on further expansion of the Airport. We still await a detailed planning application from BAA.
We have influenced the detail of the design of the development of both the John Dyde site and the Jackson Square site. We would like to have a similar opportunity to discuss proposals for the development of the station goods yard, but so far the developers have not taken up our invitation.
No award was made this year but there are some promising candidates in the pipeline and we hope there will be an award in 2006.
We have attended the 2005 AGM of this umbrella group many of whose members face problems similar to Bishop’s Stortford. We recognise that collectively we are fighting for the future of the South East of England and that we can usefully share our experiences.
A full transportation study for the town has been carried out by consultants. It is reported to be ready for public consultation in April. We stand ready to respond.