As the new incoming chairman of the Federation, I am pleased to send out my first message in this newsletter to all our members. The Federation has now completed its first year and to mark this occasion held its first Annual General Meeting on 29 March at the Rhodes Centre.
Since our last newsletter, the Federation has been involved in a number of ongoing activities. The most significant of these was our participation at the two public inquiries: Jackson Square Phase 2 and the proposed garden centre at Pig Lane. Further details of these are outlined below.
The forthcoming year looks like it will also be as challenging as last year, with major events taking place including the public inquiry meeting to expand Stansted Airport and the search for new schools location. Also, I am sure that we will be involved in the Goods Yard development when it happens.
The Federation is also looking forward to playing an active role alongside key stakeholders of the Town in the future development strategy panel announced last year by Councillor Jackson, the leader of East Herts District Council. However, details of how and when the framework will be implemented and function have not yet been published. Moving on to routine matters, annual renewal notices are being sent out along with this newsletter and it would be most helpful if members would please renew subscriptions as soon as possible.
In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Don Coleman, Andy Mills and Christine Creet who have all left the committee. Their valuable contribution to the Federation has been much appreciated. I would also like to thank the Officers and Committee members for their continuing support and I look forward to working with them to meet the challenges of the forthcoming year. In addition, I would like to congratulate Michael Hurford in his new role as President of the Federation.
In 2005 much of our effort was concentrated on giving evidence at the EiPs (Examinations in Public) of two Plans – the East of England Regional Plan and the East Herts Local Plan. Together they will determine the nature, location and form of development for the area over the next five to ten years. Towards the end of 2006 we heard the results of our efforts.
The draft Regional Plan had identified the Bishop's Stortford ASRs (Areas of Special Restraint) as a strategic location for at least 2000 houses and Harlow North as a new settlement of at least 10,000 houses. The Inspectors who conducted the EiP recommended removal of both of these from the Plan. However, the government takes the final decision, and their proposals went out for a consultation exercise which finished on 9 March. They have made no reference to Bishop's Stortford which we welcome, but they have proposed putting Harlow North back into the Plan.
We have objected to this on the grounds that East Herts is being forced to accept far too much extra housing anyway. The Plan provides for none of the infrastructure – roads, railways, water and sewerage – needed to support such development and so going ahead with it is bound to spill over and have an adverse effect on Bishop's Stortford. At the time of writing the government’s final decision is awaited.
The Inspector who conducted the EiP into the Local Plan which lasts until 2011 also published her conclusions last year. Our main concerns were:
On housing distribution, we did not manage to secure a change. On the ASRs they remain designated as "Areas of Special Restraint" and the Plan did not envisage proposals for their development before 2011, so the position remains as before. In the case of the schools relocation, the Inspector ruled that the Whittington Way site should continue to be designated as Green Belt, but she did leave open the possibility of a planning application by the schools which unfortunately they seem determined to exploit.
We shall continue to press for the alternative of using the Council owned site in Hadham Road as the best way of meeting the shortfall in school places.
Last year a consultants’ report was published proposing a transport strategy for the town. While it includes some sensible measures, we feel that it did not describe in enough detail how much worse traffic congestion was going to get and how much relief the strategy would provide. In particular it glossed over the adverse impacts of developing the ASRs and the relocation of schools to Whittington Way.
We also felt that pedestrianising the whole of North and South Streets at once was too ambitious and that a much more limited scheme should be trialled to see what problems arose and how they could be dealt with. Although the East Herts District Council (EHDC) have adopted the strategy virtually unchanged, they have given no indication yet of how they plan to implement it.
The most visible change to affect the town has been the redevelopment of Jackson Square. Phase 1 turned out to be every bit as intrusive and unsuitable as we had feared, and we were therefore delighted the EHDC refused the application for Phase 2 which would have meant more of the same. The developers appealed and we gave evidence at a Public Inquiry held on 22 March.
Regrettably, the Inspector overturned EHDC objection to Phase 2 on the grounds that the Council had not provided any tangible reasons for changing its position from the acceptance of Phase 1, to the rejection of Phase 2. Furthermore, the Inspector criticised the Council for failing to clearly state its requirement to the developer at the start of the outline approval stage for Phase 1. It is disappointing that the concerns raised against Phase 2 by EHDC were not registered much earlier in the Phase 1 development programme.
We have also made representations on other plans, including the proposed garden centre in Pig Lane, various town cramming proposals in Stansted Road, the redevelopment of Oxford House and the closure of the Kitwood Unit at the Herts and Essex Hospital. We are pleased that EHDC have refused planning permission for the proposed redevelopment of Oxford House. We are still in correspondence about the Kitwood unit.
We are also pleased that the Planning Inspector has dismissed the proposed Pig Lane Garden Centre appeal. This is a great victory for local democracy against big business who were trying to thrust a garden centre on to the people of Bishop's Stortford, even though there was no need for one. The Inspector concluded that there was no overriding need for a garden centre in this particular location that outweighs the damage to the Green Belt.
This decision by the Inspector has sent out a clear message that the sanctuary of the Green Belt around Bishop's Stortford must be protected and must not be scarified. But the biggest development proposal for the coming year is likely to be the plan to redevelop the Goods Yard site which, from the recent public exhibition, leaves a lot of room for improvement.
We have supported Uttlesford District Council in their refusal of BAA’s (British Airports Authority) application to increase the number of flights and remove the upper limit on passengers using the single runway at Stansted Airport. The Public Inquiry into BAA’s appeal against the refusal starts on 30 May, and we shall be giving evidence to support our continued objection to their plans. We would urge all members who share our concerns to register their wish to speak at the Public Inquiry.
The Currey Award for 2006 for the development which most enhanced the appearance of our town went to the Ferguson Building at Bishop’s Stortford College, with a special commendation to the Rhodes Centre. As always, suggestions for candidates for this year would be welcome and should be sent, by the end of June 2007, to our Hon secretary, Angela Marshall.