Newsletter - Spring 2009

Message from Richard Hannah, BSCF Chairman

The Civic Federation is now in its third year and to mark the occasion the AGM will be held at the Charis Centre on the 26th of March 2009. Since our last newsletter, the Civic Federation has been actively involved on a number of major issues that potentially could have a far reaching impact on the town.

The most significant of these has been our participation in the Stop Stansted Airport Expansion Public Inquiry. A considerable amount of effort was input into this enquiry by the Civic Federation. However, despite the best efforts of Stop Stansted Expansion and the Civic Federation, the proposal was granted by the Government in October 2008.

During the year the Civic Federation, strongly supported by the town's residents' associations and local communities, vigorously campaigned against the proposed joint move by the Boys High and the Herts and Essex Girls Schools to Whittington Way. This campaign comprised a number of awareness days, petitions and letters to the District Council. I am pleased to report that the strength of opposition to this ill conceived scheme resulted in the withdrawal of the outline planning application by the schools.

The Civic Federation would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Campaign to Protect Rural England for all their support and contribution in this successful campaign.

The Civic Federation has also opposed a number of other unsuitable housing development planning applications, including the recent outline planning application to build additional houses on the Haymeads estate. This application was rejected by East Herts District Council's Development Committee at their meeting in February 2009.

During the course of the year there have been some changes to the committee membership. Sylvia MacDonald, who represented Old Thorley and Twyford, has resigned and her position on the committee has now been taken by Carol Hayward Peel. In addition, a new Residents' Association has been formed for the Haymeads Estate and represented by Jill Wade on the committee. Also, I am very pleased to report that the Hockerill Residents' Association has been resurrected and is once again an active member of the Civic Federation.

Full details of the Civic Federation's activities throughout the year are described in more detail later in this newsletter.

The committee will be recommending to the AGM that the current fees are not increased. Renewal notices will be sent out with this newsletter and it would be most helpful if members would please renew their subscriptions as soon as possible.

Finally, in order to meet the challenges to our town in the forthcoming year, it will be particularly important that the Civic Federation Residents' Association members continue to play an active role, to ensure that all the qualities we most value about the town are protected.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee and all our members for their support throughout the year and I look forward to seeing you all at the AGM.

Richard Hannah

The Future of Bishop's Stortford

Both the Town and District Councils have committees examining the future of the town; the Town Council have concentrated on a questionnaire asking respondents what they like and dislike about the town; the District Council has created a Vision Committee examining what Stortford should look like in 20 years' time.

The Civic Federation committee has members on both these groups and it is clear that the first step must be to establish, as far as is possible, the size of the town in 20 years' time. Unless this is agreed, it is impossible to define the general infrastructure that would be needed at each incremental step in the town's population.

Our population is now about 36,000 and there are commitments to developers that would bring it to about 40,000. The first question must be, then, whether it would be sustainable to increase the population above this level without destroying those advantages most valued by our residents. We believe that this is best answered by an independent organisation, to avoid any suspicion that we are unloading development onto other parts of East Hertfordshire.

We intend, therefore, to ask the District Council to get the firm that prepared the recent Transport Study to model the effects of, for example, congestion, pollution and loss of access to the countryside if the ASRs were developed and the massive increase in housing proposed for Stansted, Takely and the Eco-town at Elsenham was completed.

The Civic Federation's objectives are clear; to ensure that Bishop's Stortford is a pleasant place in which to live and work, that its historic features are preserved, that traffic congestion is minimised and that existing open spaces and good access to the surrounding countryside are maintained.

All our members should be clear that all indications show that the District Council, no doubt under pressure from the government and the Eastern Region Agency, seem determined to expand the town to a population of about 50,000 without, as far as we know, any intelligent analysis of whether this would destroy all those aspects of our town that we find so beneficial.

Michael Hurford

Councils are not Always to Blame  Top 

Some planning applications demonstrate that the designer or architect has been sensitive enough to have actually thought the project through and taken into account the surrounding built environment, the traffic implications and the impact on the town. Other applications show that the developer has absolutely no interest in the local architecture, the locality or potential traffic problems but is purely interested in a quick profit.

Whilst the Town Council can, more or less, make any comment it likes, the District Council can only grant or refuse a planning application within the constraints of planning law and the current Local Plan. In many cases, it is constrained by planning rules from central government.

The District Council also has a problem in that the applicant can go to appeal and may receive planning permission and the Council may have costs awarded against them, if it is deemed that it has been unreasonable in the refusal. In spite of the fact that an application may adversely affect a great number of people, objectors cannot go to appeal.

So, the next time you see an application granted that seems to go against all common sense, consider the reasons for granting permission before blaming the District Council's Development Control Committee, which takes the final decision, or the Town Council's Planning Committee which can only advise and inform.

But they still don't always get it right. Look at the Jackson Square flats and the Atkins and Cripps (Tanners Wharf) site  Map .

The 2008 Currey Award  Top   Link 

The Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation Currey Award presentation was held at the Ferguson Lecture Theatre, Bishop's Stortford College in November 2008. The award seeks to recognise high quality development which will have a lasting and positive impact on the town.

The candidates nominated for the 2008 award are listed below:

In the autumn, a selection panel led by Gill Champion, a town planner by profession, and assisted by Liz Martin, a local surveyor, John Barfoot, a town councillor, and Dene Caton, a representative from Waitrose, visited the nominated sites. However, due to the large number of entries and varieties of designs, the panel discovered that the selection process to choose a winner was extremely difficult.

How do you compare a small housing development with a bridge; or a large school building with a local restaurant; a new build in a contemporary style with a refurbishment of a building over 150 years old?

However, after considerable discussion, a consensus was reached by the panel and it was decided that the Currey award for 2008 should go to William Searing Close, for the inventive use of such a constrained site, the high quality of materials used and the extraordinary attention to detail.

Special acknowledgement was also given to the Goods Yard Footbridge for the beautiful structure and the enjoyment that the bridge was giving to those using it.

The awards presentation evening was opened by Richard Hannah, Chairman of the Civic Federation. This was followed by an extremely professional and humorous presentation by Gill Champion and Liz Martin. Michael Hurford, Federation President, presented the awards to the architect of William Searing Close, Robin Hiscott, and to Julian Lockwood. the architect of the Goods Yard footbridge.

Finally, this was a very enjoyable social event, where everyone involved in the developments - site owners, architects, developers and the final users of the buildings - were able to look at the displays of all the candidates and compare the various design aspects of all the sites.

The Hockerill Phoenix  Top 

To celebrate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on 27th July 1981, a street party was held in Kings Court. This was a great success and showed that neighbours could organise themselves and work together to the good of everyone. The Hockerill Residents' Association was formed from this success and enthusiastic residents volunteered for membership of the committee and as road representatives.

The broad objects of the association, open to all residents for a small annual subscription per family and in a small defined area around Hockerill, were:
  1. To promote the wellbeing of the inhabitants of the Hockerill area, and
  2. to ensure that matters concerning the welfare of the area were resolved in a manner equitable to the majority of its inhabitants.

During the ensuing years the Association thrived as, apart from dealing with specific issues arising, the community spirit was maintained by regular Newsletters and social events; fish & chip suppers with entertainment, garden parties, talks from the police and from councillors representing all levels of local government. And because cars were not so plentiful at that time, there were coach outings for christmas shopping and summer trips.

The Association was able to purchase a seat which, after a couple of moves, is now located at the bottom of Hockerill Street.

Unfortunately, the good times could not last and, apart from three stalwarts, Ralph Gilbert, Ron Clark and Bill Montague, who were founder members, the Association has been moribund for the last few years as it became impossible to find new committee members and road representatives.

It is good news that, like the 'Phoenix which rose from the ashes' there are strong moves to rejuvenate the Association.

The nucleus of the new committee is being formed and, to relaunch and bring the Association back to life, there is to be a 'Meet Your Neighbour' Social Evening at All Saints Vestry, on the 14th March, 7.30-10.00 pm. We wish them well and hope to see you there, particularly the younger members of our community.

Ralph Gilbert

Chantry Community Association - Saved in the Nick of Time  Top 

Following reports in the latter half on 2008 that the Chantry Community Association (CCA) was probably contemplating an inevitable winding-up, it is pleasing to report that it has now found a new lease of life.

The CCA represents the area of Stortford between Rye Street and Windhill and had about 850 subscribers in 2007-08.

As the committee numbers dwindled, it seemed that the CCA would suffer a fate similar to that of the the Hockerill, Bishop's Park and St. Micheal's Mead residents' associations. Like these groups, CCA members felt thoroughly disconnected from decisions which, although having a direct affect on their quality of life, were being taken by a distant and confusing planning bureaucracy.

However, just before the last rites are to be administered on this august body, the CCA is now repositioning itself to focus on purely local matters. Some of the local causes which are generating new energy and ideas for the CCA include Rye Street speeding, the schools' relocation and the application for Astro turfing on the Cricketfield Lane 'plateau' site.

Committee meetings are scheduled for January 7th and March 11th with the AGM scheduled for May 20th at the British Legion.

For further details, refer to the Chantry Community Association's website and to David Hogden on 01279 656151.

Meanwhile, the CCA will be fully involved in the work of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation.

New Residents' Association for the Haymeads Area  Top 

Haymeads Residents' Association  Map  started life in response to the application to move the Herts & Essex and the Bishop's Stortford High Schools, with the attendant application to build 180 houses on the Herts & Essex playing field in Beldams Lane.

The idea was deeply unpopular with local residents who have used the field for recreation for decades and who are totally 'fed up' with traffic congestion and accidents on the Linkside Road/Haymeads Lane 'rat-run'.

Residents worked together to keep each other aware of developments, share information and to produce a presentation for the District Council's Development Control Meeting. Fortunately, the applications were withdrawn at the eleventh hour, although we are now prepared if the applications rear their heads again.

Building on the success of that 'information network', the next step will be to constitute formally the Residents' Association to better represent residents in continuing our fight to protect and enhance our corner of Bishop's Stortford.

In the meantime, we are fully occupied in our attempts to make traffic calming in Linkside Road a priority and to ensure that the proposed alterations at the Nags Head junction really do improve traffic flow and reduce queuing.

Most recently, the network kept residents informed of plans to demolish two 1930s semis in Haymeads Lane and build 13 houses in the rear gardens. Herts Highways' total failure to mention the additional traffic this would add to the already horrific and continuing traffic congestion meant that Councillors were unable to use this argument to reject the application. Instead, they considered that the application would be detrimental to that part of Haymeads Lane.

Jill Wade

Stansted Airport  Top 

The Government eventually took its decision on BAA's application to increase the passenger throughput at Stansted Airport from 25 to 35 million passengers per year (mppa) together with a commensurate increase in the maximum number of flights permitted (known as the G1 application) in October 2008.

It was disappointing that neither the Inspector nor the Government appeared to pay much heed to the powerful arguments made against the proposal by Stop Stansted Expansion with the support of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation As a result, passenger numbers will be allowed to increase without any guarantees about the timing and extent of any improvements m the rail services needed to get the greater numbers to and from the airport. And the limit on the number of flights has been increased well before the previous limit had started to bite. So, in practice, the only effective curb on noise nuisance has been set too high to have any practical effect.

Even before the decision on the G1 proposal had been taken, BAA had put in a further application to build a second runway and increase passenger numbers to 68 mppa by 2030 - three times the number of passengers who use the airport at present (the G2 application). This has been 'called in' by the Secretary of State for a public inquiry which is due to start on 15 April 2009. BSCF intend to give evidence again, objecting to this unnecessary and unwanted expansion - even the airlines who use Stansted have objected to the application. At the time of writing, details such as the venue for the inquiry and when we might be scheduled to appear, have not been settled.

One of the reasons we put forward for delaying the start of the inquiry was that a review of the use of airspace by the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) had not yet been completed. One of its suggestions had been to move the busiest flight take off path closer to the built up area of Bishop's Stortford. As a result of representations made by the Civic Federation among others, NATS are now reconsidering this suggestion, but until they have reached a conclusion we shall not know what the noise impact will be of either the G1 or G2 proposals.

Meanwhile, passenger numbers using the airport have been falling, and the owner, BAA, is likely to be required by the Competition Commission to sell it. It seems unlikely that any new owner would want to proceed with the G2 application, in view of the strong objections of airline users.

Schools' Relocation  Top 

Much of the energy of the Civic Federation over the last year has been devoted to resisting a plan by the Boys High School and the Herts and Essex Girls School to relocate to a single campus on Green Belt land at Whittington Way, and to pay for the move by building nearly BOO homes on the vacated sites.

We did not question the need for additional school places accessible to Bishop's Stortford families - indeed we thought that the shortage of places was larger and more pressing than the education authority and the schools were suggesting. But we felt that there was a better solution - to use the site that the County Council acquired for educational purposes next to the fire station over thirty years ago. This would avoid the need to build on the undeveloped Whittington Way Green Belt site.

We felt that the proposals would have had the biggest adverse impact on the town since the plans for the redevelopment of the town centre in the 1960's which led to the formation of the Civic Society and which happily came to nothing. The campaign against the schools relocation amply justified the creation of the Civic Federation as a partnership between the active residents' associations and the Civic Society. Our campaign and public exhibitions led to a petition of nearly 4000 signatures, while nearly 1000 letters of objection were submitted, leading to the planning authority postponing the meeting scheduled to take the decision until December to give itself time to consider all the material.

Having considered all the arguments the planning officers recommended refusal of all the applications supporting the proposal for four main reasons

As a result of the planning officers' recommendations, the schools and the developers withdrew all the applications before the planning authority could consider them.

While the Civic Federation is delighted at the success in awakening the community to the issues at stake, the underlying problem of the shortage of school places, accessible to local families, can only get worse. We are urging the schools and the education authority to learn from this experience and to involve the local community from the outset in developing a solution which we can all support.