The Civic Federation is now in its fifth year and, to mark the occasion, the AGM was held at the Rhodes Arts Complex on 7th April 2011.
This was an extremely lively and successful meeting and was well supported by all our Residents' Associations, members of the public and some of our Town and District Councillors. The guest speaker was Mr Bob Reed, Chairman of the Bishop's Stortford Natural History Society, who gave a very interesting and informative talk about the history of the River Stort.
Once again it has been another busy year for the Civic Federation in a number of areas which will have a major impact on the future of our town. To cover the wide range of activities, the committee met eight times over the past year, and this was supplemented by several subcommittee meetings throughout the year.
The main topics that the committee has been busy with over the last twelve months are listed below:
Full details of the Civic Federation's activities on the above topics throughout the year are described in more detail later in this newsletter.
I am pleased to announce that in January 2011 the Civic Federation together with the Chamber of Commerce and Retailers Association have formed a Strategy Alliance. The main purpose of this Alliance is to protect the historic character and market town ethos of Bishop's Stortford for future generations, to promote growth and prosperity and to ensure a holistic approach to the regeneration of the whole town.
Moving on to routine matters, I am delighted to report that all the committee members have agreed to continue for an other year and that Clare Bottoms has joined the committee. I am also pleased to announce that the annual subscriptions are to remain the same. 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. The forthcoming year will be very challenging and will be a defining period in the future of the town. The main issue continues to be the schools relocation because, despite having been comprehensively refused planning permission by EHDC, the schools have appealed against the decision. There will now be a Public Inquiry which will start on 20th September.
The Civic Federation intend to fight this appeal which is once again being funded by Hertfordshire County Council using taxpayer's money. We have launched the Stop Schools Move Fund to raise funds to engage legal counsel to ensure that Bishop's Stortford communities, who overwhelmingly opposed the move, are professionally represented at the inquiry. Your support would be greatly appreciated to help us reach our target of £30,000, and a donation form is enclosed with this newsletter. Any contribution you make would be additional to your annual subscription which is set at a level intended only to meet our routine expenses.
In addition, the proposed development of Causeway Site by Henderson continues to threaten not only the historic landscape of this part of the town; it will also bring parking and traffic chaos across the whole town. Henderson's proposals will cast a dark shadow on the regeneration of the Station Goods Yard and the whole of the south end of the town. In order to defend these challenges to our town, it will be particularly important that the Civic Federation and all our resident's association members continue to be proactive, and play an active role to ensure that all the things we value about the town are protected and not destroyed by empty promises from developers.
Finally, I would like to that this opportunity to thank the committee and all our members for their continuing support throughout the year and a special thank you to Jeremy Morton who has done a great job looking after our website.
Richard Hannah, BSCF Chairman
Issues and Options Phase
In September 2010 EHDC sent out a questionnaire across the district to solicit feedback from the public for the placement of some 8500 houses. The burning question the questionnaire asked was where you would put 8500 homes and supporting infrastructure in East Herts by 2031. The consultation was concluded in November 2010.
The Core Strategy documentation prepared by EHDC set out the broad locations of development in the district, as well as planning policies on a range of issues. However, in the opinion of the Civic Federation the assumptions adopted by EHDC in preparing these documents are fundamentally flawed, because the overall number of houses was taken from the now redundant East of England Regional Plan using atop down approach, and not evidence based on demand.
There should instead be a more informed bottom up calculation of the housing demand which the local population of each major settlement will generate. This should be accompanied by an assessment of the additional population which each settlement could support in relation to their needs.
The strategy also assumed that Bishops Stortford would take an additional 4000 houses on top of the 8500 to be allocated across the district - virtually the whole of East Herts' housing allocation for the next five years. Bishop's Stortford has already taken 40% of East Herts housing development over the past twenty years and is now very close to the capacity of the town. The Civic Federation have robustly responded to this questionnaire rejecting the proposals put forward by EHDC, including the allocation of the vast majority of these houses on the Areas of Special Restraint land Map to the north of the town.
Preferred Options Phase
The results from the consultation of the "issues and options phase" will be translated into preferred options which will be presented by EHDC to the public in July 2011 for consultation.
Therefore, it is vitally important that all local communities across the town get involved and engage in this consultation to make sure that our town does not once more become the sacrificial lamb and dumping ground for additional houses which we don't want.
This will be our last chance to make our voices heard, otherwise we will get what others decided and the legacy we leave our future generations may not be what they wanted.
The results of the Currey Award 2010 competition were announced at a presentation ceremony held on Thursday 11 November 2010 at the Ferguson Building, Bishop's Stortford College. The Candidates were:
The winner was the Bridge House pub in Newtown Road the original of which was built in 1868. The judging panel felt that the new building was a very successful development on a prominent site In the town centre and was a beacon of hope for all future developments.
A special award was also given to Stortford in Bloom in recognition for the wonderful flowers they place around the town throughout the summer.
Bishop's Stortford has been the victim over the past years of unsympathetic development, which has not been properly co-ordinated and integrated with a proper overall implementation plan. Consequently, our town has suffered from a piecemeal development approach, which incrementally has had a harmful impact on the townscape, traffic congestion, car parking and infrastructure.
Although each planning application has to be judged individually on its merits, the overall responsibility for taking a holistic view of the town centre development for the best interest of the people of Bishop's Stortford rests with EHDC, and not with individual developers. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that this fundamental requirement has been judiciously applied by EHDC to Bishop's Stortford.
The town centre will soon be faced with the prospect of having two major developments, one at the Causeway Car Park Site which was sold by EHDC to Henderson for development, and one at the Station Goods Yard site, at opposite ends of the town. Both these developments are crucial to the future success of our town centre and the legacy they leave for future generations. Given the geography and physical constraints of our town, we only have one final opportunity to get it right; there is no undo button!
Therefore, it is imperative that both these developments are properly coordinated to provide balanced retail and commercial offerings with complimentary facilities, avoid duplication and over capacity so as not to result in vacant units and, most importantly, to address the crucial issues of traffic congestion and car parking, both now and in the future.
Causeway Site Development
Henderson has put forward an outline planning application for a proposed development that could result in serious car parking issues and traffic congestion across the town during both the construction and operational phases. Furthermore, the scale of the proposed development at the Causeway Car Park Site, which includes a department store, 34 retail units, restaurants, a cinema, a 110-bed hotel and 100 flats could have a detrimental effect on the successful regeneration of the Station Goods Yard site and the rest of south side of the town. This area of the town is still suffering from the "bonanza" which was promised from the Jackson Square / Riverside development.
The Civic Federation, Retailers Association, Chamber of Commerce and our Town Council have all independently already registered their objections to EHDC on the Causeway Car Park site proposals put forward by Henderson. In addition, several statutory bodies such as the Highways Department, the District Conservation Officer, the County Archaeologist and the Environment Agency have also objected to this proposed development.
EHDC's Development Control Committee is not expected to consider the application until the end of June. The Civic Federation, together with the Retailers Association and Chamber of Commerce hope that even at this late stage the applicants will reconsider their scheme with a view to finding a proposal which would be more in keeping with what the town wants.
Finally, as part of our campaign against Henderson's proposal, we have set up an online petition: Oppose Causeway Development.
The Civic Federation together with the Retailers Association, Chamber of Commerce and Town Council believes that this area and the south end of the town should be the "cornerstone" of any major town centre regeneration to bring new life to the whole town. The Goods Yard area is far more suited for major development than the Causeway Site and is urgently needed to rejuvenate the whole of the south end of the town which has many buildings which are poor and rundown. This area of the town should be considered for development before the Causeway Site. If the Causeway plans go ahead unchanged, the station goods yard is likely to remain an undeveloped blot on the townscape for the foreseeable future.
The Civic Federation and Town Council have put forward proposals and a conceptual layout of which highlights the potential for this area.
See our Proposed Causeway Development Information page for more information about the Causeway Car Park site planning application objections and proposals for the development of the Goods Yard site.
Despite the emphatic rejection of the proposed schools move to Green Belt land at Whittington Way, the schools governors supported by HCC lodged an appeal in March 2011, against the democratically taken decisions over a four year period by the bodies listed below:
However, HCC and the schools governors have once again ignored the irrevocable impact the schools move and all the additional housing on the vacant sites will have on local communities across the town. Disregarding public opinion, HCC continue to spend taxpayer's money in supporting the schools move, despite having no control over the schools' admissions policies, which extend well beyond Bishop's Stortford and the boundaries of Hertfordshire.
The Civic Federation understands that HCC has spent over £650,000 of tax payer's money in funding the relocation plans to date. This does not include the costs to the schools and HCC of pursuing the appeals or the money that EHDC will have to spend defending their decision to refuse planning permission.
The Civic Federation propose to fight the schools appeal which will be heard at a Public Inquiry by an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Public Inquiry will start on the 20th of September 2011 and is likely to last for four weeks. In addition, the Civic Federation are also working closely with East Herts Planning Officers to share our combined strengths and expertise, and to minimise legal costs for both parties. We have already had an extremely productive meeting with EHDC Planning Officers to formulate our joint strategy and prepare our submission documents.
The Civic Federation intend to engage legal Counsel to present their case on behalf of the local communities across the town and, in order to meet these costs, the Federation have launched the Stop Schools Move Fund.
We hope to receive denotations from our local communities, who overwhelmingly objected to the schools move. The appeals funds target has been set at £30,000, which we hope will be generously supported by all our members.
For full details of how you can donate to the schools appeal fund, please see our Stop Schools Move Fund page which has a donation form that can be downloaded for contributions to be made manually. Alternatively, donations can be made electronically using the banking details shown on the page.
Finally, given that the government is promoting the Big Society and Localism Bill, the Civic Federation urges everyone to write to Mark Prisk our Member of Parliament, with copies to both Michael Gove the Education Secretary and Eric Pickles the Communities Secretary, to seek their support, and to let them know that our local communities have twice democratically and overwhelmingly rejected the schools relocation to Whittington Way.