Many thanks to my predecessor David Fitzpatrick. Alas David had to leave us to take up a new role and attend to family commitments in Wales.He was an effective leader and his passion & enthusiasm will be missed.
Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation recently lost a valued member in Les Pinnell who passed away after a short illness. He will be sorely missed for his light hearted and obliging nature. Always cheerful, his contribution to the Civic Federation was invaluable.
During late 2013 and early 2014 Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation revised its constitution. When the Federation was formed in 2006 it simply adopted the constitution of one of its founder members, the Bishop's Stortford Civic Society and we felt that it was now time that the constitution more clearly reflected the Federation's current role.
With help from both the Charities Commission and Nockolds Solicitors minor amendments were made to the constitution to reflect its activities, including acting as an umbrella organisation for residents of the town through either individual membership or membership of residents associations. That work is now complete with The Charities Commission ready to sign the constitution off. My thanks to all those involved in that work.
Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation enjoys a strong following in the town and a growing membership but as a registered charity our work is funded entirely by donations and membership subscriptions. May I take this opportunity to remind members that subscriptions were due at the AGM on 3rd April last so please make sure you renew your corporate, family or individual memberships to enable Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation to continue its work.
Finally, we have a very informative web site www.stortfordcf.org.uk where you can keep up to date with local news & the activities of Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation and I encourage everyone to look at it. We also have an active Facebook group (Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation Protecting our Town) whose lively debates sometime even feature in the local press. Do ask to join if you are a Facebook user.
With best wishes,
East Herts Council has been consulting on a draft plan for the district. When finalised, it will be the key planning document for the district, determining what development should happen and where it should be located for the next 20 years.
The Civic Federation has responded and our response can be found on our website. We have been highly critical of the proposals for Bishop's Stortford which continue to allocate the lion's share of all new housing in the district to the town, sacrificing Green Belt land to the south and east of the town in the process. Taken in conjunction with other development locations in the plan and those in Uttlesford's plan which has reached a similar stage of development, Bishop's Stortford could end up in the middle of a ribbon development along the M11/Stort Valley corridor, stretching from Harlow in the South to Elsenham in the North.
We believe that with the completion of Bishop's Stortford North and remaining brownfield sites, the town has reached saturation point. A new strategy is needed in place of perpetuating the lopsided development of past plans. We have argued that Bishop's Stortford should face no more greenfield developments – those in the pipeline are more than sufficient to meet the natural growth in population. But the villages have faced in the past, and would continue to experience in the future, a serious housing shortage and would benefit from a less restrictive approach to development.
Overdevelopment risks suffocating Bishop's Stortford. But villages need room to grow so that successive generations can continue to live there and benefit from the family networks which could then be sustained. In the internet age, the need to live in an urban settlement for work and shopping is diminishing, while preserving villages as middle class, middle aged museum pieces puts at risk the survival of the community facilities which they enjoy such as the shop, school, post office and GP surgery.
Although the closing date for comments has now passed, comments can still be made after that date. We hope as many of you as possible will take the opportunity to do so.
For Information: The District Planning Bulletin is a regular newsletter produced by the Planning Policy Team to keep stakeholders informed on progress on the East Herts District Plan and updated on general planning policy news. To receive your copy you need to register at the: East Herts Consultation Portal
The Civic Federation and member associations have participated actively in the town council's initiative to produce a Neighbourhood Plan for the Silver Leys and Meads areas. An 8-page summary has been distributed, and the Plan can also be viewed on line on the Town Council's website.
The Plan covers these areas because of the major developments in the pipeline. It cannot stop housing being built, but can help shape the development of green spaces, healthcare facilities, education, sport etc. The deadline for comments was the end of April. The next stage in the process is scrutiny by an independent Examiner, following which, residents will be invited to adopt it by referendum.
The Town Council would like to lead production of another local plan, covering the rest of the town and Thorley Parish. An application to do so has been made to EHDC.
The Civic Federation and its member associations will continue to be involved in the NP process. It is envisaged that NP2 will commence early July 2014 and the Town Council is seeking enthusiastic volunteers to join its new NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN TEAM to create NP2 which will cover Central, All Saints, and South Wards, and for part of Thorley between Whittington Way and the A120.
For full details, see: Bishop's Stortford Town Council: Neigbourhood Plan
EHDC recently carried out a consultation on its draft Conservation Area Appraisal document. The Civic Federation welcomed this long-awaited appraisal which will sit alongside those planning documents which developers must take into account when formulating planning applications.
A conservation area is defined as an area of ‘special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to conserve or enhance'. Our conservation area already encompasses a large part of the town centre and immediate surrounding areas.
This Appraisal identifies non-listed high quality buildings and distinctive features (such as walls) which make an important architectural / historical contribution so should be retained. It also suggests enhancement proposals and identifies important open spaces for protection together with significant trees which make an important contribution to the conservation area.
The Civic Federation was pleased to see detailed comments on many much-loved buildings, views and open spaces but was keen to produce its own suggestions based on detailed analysis by residents of each component area. We were pleased to hear that our comments were well received and the Civic Federation has now been invited to work closely with the Conservation Area team going forward.
Our Chairman has led the campaign against Tesco converting the Archers pub into an Express store, something which does not require planning permission owing to a loophole in the existing planning regulations. There had been a lot of support for the campaign because the change of use threatened the viability of the nearby, long established convenience store and post office. Nevertheless, there were insufficient planning reasons for preventing the change of use taking place. Havers Action Group did however manage to prevent an ATM machine being installed, and external staircases have been removed. Currently, delivery lorries are causing some nuisance, and negotiations are in hand to control this.
Bishop's Stortford was recently ranked at number 14 in the Times newspaper's list of the top 100 towns to live in – one of only two in Hertfordshire. The Civic Federation want to maintain or improve on this ranking but fear that this development in particular will plunge us in the opposite direction. We think it is a gross overdevelopment of this sensitive site in the heart of the conservation area, with too many unsuitable uses proposed – another cinema, a hotel and flats which are either not wanted by local people or which have a very doubtful commercial justification. As for the additional retail space, it is striking that the developers still have no prospective tenant for the proposed anchor store and the town's most recent retail development, Jackson Square, has never been fully let. It seems that the internet is changing people's shopping habits faster than developers' perception of the commercial environment in the 21st century.
The Civic Federation of course made all these points before planning permission was granted (by a majority of 1) in 2011. But we also believed that the procedure followed in granting planning permission was flawed. We therefore applied for a judicial review of the decision with a view to having the permission quashed. Our application could not be launched until the Council and the developers had completed their commercial S106 negotiations in January 2013. Permission for a court hearing (which is only granted in a small minority of cases) was given in June of that year. Since the council and the developers did not ask for it to be expedited, the hearing took place in February of 2014. Despite the best efforts of our legal team (who were acting on a no win – no fee basis) we were not able to persuade the judge that the decision was defective. We therefore had to meet the other side's costs up to the limit of £5000 at which the court had capped our liability. In fact we received more than this in voluntary donations – a tribute to the strength of the concerns which this scheme has raised – and the Federation would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Bishop's Stortford for the support they have given us in fighting for the interests of the town.
But the saga is not over yet. In order for the scheme to proceed, the council now has to make Compulsory Purchase Orders covering a large part of the site, including the Waitrose car park. They have only just started this process and it remains to be seen whether some or all of those whose property interests will be adversely affected will be able to challenge the orders on the grounds that they are not in the public interest.
The so called Areas of Special Restraint (ASRs) have been included in local plans as a proposed housing development site for many years, even though the original justification for them – homes for Stansted Airport workers – never fully materialised. Instead they were absorbed into East Herts' general housing target, and have recently been the subject of planning applications, in part because of the district's failure to identify enough sites for housing anywhere else. Outline planning permission has now been given for 2,200 houses to the north west of Bishop's Stortford on ASRs 1-4. An application to develop a further 450 homes on ASR 5 still awaits a decision at the time of writing.
A dedicated campaign called ‘Save our Stortford' was established to achieve the best possible outcome for our town. The main aim now is to work together with the council and the consortium of developers to achieve as many benefits for the town as possible. £53 million has been offered for investment in the town. Some of the money raised from residents by the Federation has been used to pay for a professional assessment of the traffic implications, which has proved very useful. A close eye will be kept on the amount of traffic generated and we have encouraged the council to pause the implementation of the development if the early stages of it generate more serious traffic problems than forecast.
As well as traffic in the town, the additional traffic it would generate on the A120 is a cause of concern and has at last galvanised Herts Highways into proposing a bypass for the bottleneck at Little Hadham. However, the proposals as they stand leave a lot to be desired, with the risk that, like many such schemes, the congestion problem may simply be shifted to Standon, while motorists wanting to enter Bishop's Stortford will have four roundabouts to negotiate in quick succession which could be avoided by a more sensibly engineered solution.
The new store has opened in London Road and so far its impact has borne out our expectation that the traffic generated greatly exceeds that arising from the previous use of the site as a car showroom and garage. We are still considering how best to hold Herts Highways to account for their inability to forecast the impact of this development. The store itself seems to be thriving, and its final appearance has been greatly improved thanks to the efforts of committee member Jill Wade in persuading the developers that one of their standard ultra-modern designs would not have been an appropriate addition to the conservation area.
Unfortunately this has not been held in the past year, due mainly to the fact that Gill Champion, who has successfully organised the event for the last few years, has moved away from the area. We are currently seeking to organize a panel to assess the candidates with a view to making awards for two years this autumn.
Those already identified for last year are:
In addition, for the current year we would also like to consider Aldi, Cooper's redevelopment and Fishy Biz.
The Davies Commission, appointed by the Government to look at airport capacity primarily in the South East, has published an interim report. It has concluded that while the London area needs at least one more runway, Stansted Airport should not be considered for expansion beyond its existing runway's capacity for the next thirty years.
While the existing runway could handle double the number of flights currently using it, this is very welcome news for people in the area whose environment has been blighted by the prospect of another runway for over 10 years.
This outcome is a great tribute to the work of Stop Stansted Expansion, of which the Civic Federation is a supporter.
The Haymeads Residents' Association led a strong campaign to have the Herts & Essex School playing field in Beldams Lane converted to Village Green status, in order to preserve the area for use by the community as well as the school.
The application was considered at a public inquiry, but the Inspector was satisfied that the school had taken sufficient steps to maintain its private status, in spite of extensive evidence of community use, and refused the application.