In the last year the Civic Federation has experienced two sad loses. Michael Hurford, our first President, died after a short illness in the autumn of 2012. He battled his condition as courageously as he fought for the quality of our town and surrounding countryside in which he believed so passionately. Until a few weeks before his death he was still lobbying neighbouring parish councils to encourage them to join in our campaign to prevent unsustainable development of the ASRs. He was always the soul of charm and courtesy, even to those people with whom he disagreed most strongly, and was rightly described in the local press at the time as ‘the people’s champion’.
Our second loss was happily not a fatal one, but permanent nevertheless. David Fitzpatrick who was elected as our chairman last year unfortunately has had to relocate to Wales to care for elderly relatives. He brought a wealth of experience and new ideas from his career in the voluntary sector which we shall find hard to replace.
As a short term measure, the committee co-opted me to fill the gap as chairman on an interim basis until our AGM last month. Going forward, you will see the composition of this year’s committee elsewhere in this newsletter. Because our main campaigns all have lead spokespersons, the committee will be experimenting for the immediate future with a rotating chairmanship, and so introducing this newsletter to you will be my last act as chairman.
Attached to this newsletter you will find a subscription renewal form. We have kept the rates at the same level as last year. However, the level of income which subscriptions generates is only enough to cover our day to day running costs. In the past we have raised money separately to fund the schools relocation campaign, and we have separate requirements in connection with the ASR planning applications and judicial review of the proposed Causeway development. I hope that you will give generously.
The plans to relocate two of our secondary schools to a Green Belt location on the edge of town and to pay for the move with some 700 homes on the vacated sites’ first became public knowledge in 2004.
In our view, this was always an opportunistic solution looking for a problem. Following a month long public inquiry in 2011 into the refusal of planning permission, the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, announced in September 2012 that all the appeals had been refused apart from the relaxation of one condition relating to the use of the Boys’ High School’s playing field at Jobbers Wood.
We were delighted with the outcome which was a tribute to the commitment of Federation members over an extended period. One point, among the many which emerged at the public inquiry, is important to emphasise. There is no shortage of secondary school places in Bishop's Stortford. Our secondary schools in total have some 25% more places available in year 7 than all the JMI schools together produce at the end of year 6 in the educational planning area which covers Sawbridgeworth and the outlying Hertfordshire villages as far as Much Hadham.
Of course, our closeness to the county boundary means that we rightly admit pupils from Essex. But how many of them and whether they are given preference over local children depends on the admissions policies of each of the secondary schools – they all set their own policies. We could see no justification for excluding Bishop's Stortford children from a local school when it appears that the intake in some cases extends to Clavering, Ongar and even Enfield, and certainly no justification for sacrificing our Green Belt for the sake of children who live so far away.
The County Council’s approach both to forecasting future demand and how to meet it was shown to be flawed at the public inquiry. We look forward with interest to how they approach the task in future. In the meantime, the Inspector ruled that until the long term arrangements for educational provision have been satisfied, the site at Patmore Close should be retained for possible educational use.
The so-called Areas of Special Restraint (ASRs) between the north west side of town and the bypass have been earmarked for housing development in local plans for many years. However, when a master planning exercise for the area was carried out a few years ago, it was concluded that they would not be capable of development unless a transport strategy was implemented covering the whole of the town – otherwise the road network would not be able to support the extra traffic the development would cause. Applications have now been submitted and our response to them has been led under the umbrella of Save our Stortford (SoS).
We have engaged professional transport and planning consultants to help prepare our objections to the plans which, we believe, are unsustainable in their present form.
Far from accompanying the applications with a transport strategy for the whole town, the transport assessment creates a cordon, which separates the northern side of the town from the southern part which includes the Boys’ and Girls’ Secondary Schools and the railway station.
The congestion impacts have only been assessed north of the cordon - so both those impacts and the suggested mitigation are seriously defective.
The character of out town will not be improved by another dormitory suburb plonked on its edge, with many of its residents commuting to London or Cambridge because they cannot afford a home nearer to their place of work. Even the environmental design standards for the new homes are unambitious. We shall be looking to our planning authority to insist that any development of the ASRs makes a positive contribution to the quality of our urban environment, something which the current proposals conspicuously fail to do.
The scheme is in the heart of the conservation area, and was slated as wholly inappropriate by English Heritage and the Council’s own conservation officer. The principle of such a development in planning terms has never been properly considered by the Council and we believe that the decision to grant permission was biased by the Council’s own financial interest in having the site developed.
Moreover, in the 16 months between the Development Control Committee’s decision and the formal issue of planning permission the external environment has made the scheme even more of a white elephant than it was at the time of its inception. We have a cinema already; the site previously earmarked for a hotel in South Street found no takers and now has permission for retirement homes; there has never been an anchor tenant for the department store and existing retailers in that market segment in the town have closed; and the last thing we need is more flats in the town centre.
The Federation has therefore initiated judicial review proceedings, and has applied to the court to have the planning permission quashed. East Herts Council have contested our application which now goes before a judge who will decide on the written evidence whether our case deserves a full court hearing. We have applied for an order to set a cap on our costs whatever the outcome of our application, but even if it is granted, getting to court may cost us several thousand pounds. We have therefore set up a fund to help with those costs.
To contribute to the Causeway Site Judicial Review Fund, please see here:
Causeway Site Judicial Review Fund
Plans to relocate the South Street medical surgery to Silver Leys created controversy over the last year. The lease on their town centre property will soon expire and it is in any case not fit for its intended purpose.
However, the proposed relocation site (to which the Bishops Park medical centre would have moved) has extremely poor access and the only bus services passing the site operate at two hourly frequencies.
Most patients registered with the practice would need to drive there, if they are able to, or get a taxi if they are not. The Civic Federation challenged the failure to find an alternative town centre location but recognised that an alternative location at Tanners Wharf would largely overcome the access issues which led us to object to Silver Leys.
The Tanners Wharf option has been granted planning permission. This relates to a second block which has only reached foundation level rather than the partially complete block which a local legal practice is reported to be moving to. East Herts councillors, against the advice of officers, refused planning permission for Silver Leys on grounds of poor accessibility, and the developers appealed.
In a decision made last month, the Government appointed Inspector upheld the councillors’ decision and refused the appeal because of access problems.
We hope that the practice will now look at alternatives with a more open mind – perhaps the vacant office block on the Causeway will become available if our judicial review application is successful!
The Archers pub on the Havers estate has been vacant for a couple of years. Conversion from a pub to a convenience store is not a change of use that requires planning permission and supermarket chains have been keen to exploit this loophole, with Tesco, in this case, starting conversion work without any prior consultation with local people. A particular concern was that this development would undermine the long established NISA store and Post Office only a short distance away. A magnificent campaign led by one of our committee members, George Cutting, made clear the hostility of local people to the development. Partial success was achieved at the Development Control Committee in that permission for an ATM was refused and permission for external alterations deferred for additional information. Subsequently a licence to sell alcohol was granted. It is now up to people to vote with their feet if they want to support the long established NISA store.
A new store is to take the place of the former Lancaster Garage in London Road. Thanks to the persistence of Committee member, Jill Wade, the design has been changed from ‘in your face’ modernism to one of a more traditional appearance.
Development has now started on site and the store is due to open in November.
Unlike Herts Highways, we expect a significant impact on traffic on the most congested part of the road network and we will be monitoring it closely.
S106 funding will be used to improve parking regulations on neighbouring streets.
The Haymeads association has lodged an application to have the Herts and Essex School playing field in Beldams Lane adopted as a village green. Adoption would not alter ownership or existing customary usage rights but would make it more difficult to develop this site which is the only public open space in the area. A Public Inquiry into the application started in January and resumed at the end of April. We shall report the outcome on our website when it is known.
The Federation continues to support the campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), and has a representative on SSE’s committee. Ownership of the airport was recently transferred from BAA to Manchester Airports Group. A Government appointed Commission under Sir Howard Davies is taking evidence on need for an expanded hub airport for London and if demand forecasts justify it, where it should be located. SSE has presented extensive evidence to the Commission but it is not due to report until after 2015 general election. The Government has also started consultation on the night flying regime at Stansted. The details are on SSE’s website.
The Town Council has started the process of drawing up a neighbourhood plan covering the north west side of town and the Civic Federation are represented.
We are doubtful of the value of an exercise which covers only half the town and which cannot come into effect until the core strategy for the local plan has been adopted (see above) but it may provide an opportunity to influence the future of the ASRs for the better.
The local plan, which is intended to replace the one adopted in 2007, is seriously behind schedule and exposes the Planning Authority to the risk of planning applications being considered purely in the light of the National Planning Policy Framework, which is both highly generalised and strongly pro- development.
The local plan will be the key exercise in determining how much new housing should be built in East Herts and where it should be located over the next 20 years. The earlier consultation on possible strategies envisaged raids on the Green Belt around Bishop's Stortford in addition to the proposed development of the ASRs.
Having absorbed 40% of the total new housing in East Herts over the last 20 years, we shall be making it clear when the preferred strategy is eventually published for consultation that if and when the ASRs are developed, Bishop's Stortford cannot take and will not need any more new housing in the plan period.
No civic award was made last year. Candidates so far identified for this year are:
If members would like to make any additional nominations they should be sent to the Secretary by the end of June.