Last year proved to be both interesting and challenging for Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation and once again I extend my thanks and appreciation to our committee members for their hard work and support. Thanks also to all the Residents Associations and members for their support during the year.
I can report Civic Federation has had another busy year:
More on all these stories in this newsletter.
We continue to live in times of rapid change and I believe the pressure on our infrastructure continues to be greater now than ever before. Civic Federation hopes to be able to champion Neighbourhood Plan 2 once we have seen the final version addresses the concerns we have previously expressed about Bishop’s Stortford South & Green Belt protection.
Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation enjoys a strong following and we are keen to encourage younger members to join, bringing with them renewed enthusiasm and a fresh perspective. As a registered charity our work is funded entirely by donations & membership subscriptions so please spread the word as we always look forward to welcoming new members. Subscriptions are due following the AGM so I encourage you to please renew your corporate, family or individual membership to enable Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation to continue its work. A subscription form is provided at the end of the newsletter.
Lastly, I would like to remind you we have a comprehensive and informative web site www.stortfordcf.org.uk where you can keep up to date with our activities & contribute your views on a range of subjects and I encourage you to take a look at it. We also have an active Facebook group (Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation Protecting our Town) so please ask to join if you are a Facebook user. With best wishes, George Cutting
With best wishes,
The Civic Federation committee decided that it was time to take a proactive approach to our town, as well as fighting to protect Bishop's Stortford from over-development. So we have put together a new group which aims to celebrate the unique heritage of the town through improving the signage in the town and by the river and through the creation of new maps and trails for both adults and children.
We quickly realised that we could not achieve this on our own so we have joined with the Bishop's Stortford History Society, Bishop's Stortford Museum, Bishop's Stortford Town Council, Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust and East Herts District Council. We have discovered that there is already a large amount of material available so our first task has been to commission someone (Mike James, a volunteer at the Museum) to collect and collate this existing material so we can decide how best to promote what is already available and to plan what next steps are required. We will meet again in July to decide how to move forward.
The Civic Federation's Currey Award for 2015 for the development which has done most to enhance the appearance of the town was presented on 23 February 2016. The Town Council's restoration of the Memorial Garden in Newtown Road received a special commendation but the overall winner was the scheme for the redevelopment of Pearse House. The other candidates, all of a high standard, were the refurbished paddling pool in Sworders Field, the Coach House in Water Lane, Unico Restaurant in the former Drill Hall and the Churchill retirement flats in South Street. The judging panel comprised Gill Champion (Chair), Dominic Russell (Russell Property Partnership) Jane Holly (Waitrose) and Brian Edwards (BSCF Vice Chair). The certificates were presented to the winners by the Town Mayor, Cllr Daniel Abbott. The picture below shows the Mayor and Gill Champion outside Pearse House congratulating the winners Lee Frere of JAP Architects (left) and Paul Warner of Marden Homes Ltd (right).
It might have been thought that when the so called ‘super schools’ plans to relocate to Whittington Way were rejected following a public inquiry in 2011, the threat of development on this vital Green Belt site to the south of Bishop's Stortford had been disposed of once and for all. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The possibility of reclassifying this site so that some or all of it might be developed has probably been raised more often and examined by more authorities than any other Green Belt site in the district. In the preparation of the previous Local Plan, EHDC proposed that a sufficient area for a combined secondary school campus should be released from this Green Belt site, local councillors having previously rejected release of the whole of the site for development. In her report on the draft Local Plan in 2006, the Inspector concluded that the site performed well defined Green Belt functions, and directed that the policy proposing its removal should be deleted from the plan. EHDC accordingly adopted the plan with that amendment in 2007 and it is therefore protected under saved policy GBC1.
However, the Inspector had pointed out that whether the exceptional circumstances which the schools thought supported their case were sufficient to override Green Belt protection could be tested through lodging a planning application. They duly did so in 2010, but permission was refused by EHDC, on the advice of officers, that the exceptional circumstances claimed did not outweigh the harm that would be caused to this important Green Belt site.
The schools took their case to an appeal which was considered at a month-long public inquiry in 2011. In his evidence to the inquiry, EHDC's Head of Planning and Building Control explained the particular importance of this site in relation to the purposes of the Green Belt and concluded:
‘ The site then has clear merit in its current form when considered against the purposes of the green belt set out in PPG2.’
Following the inquiry, the Inspector and the Secretary of State both concluded that the harm which would be caused by developing part of the site as an educational campus was not justified by any very special circumstances and that the whole of the site should continue to be protected as Green Belt.
It therefore came as a considerable disappointment to us that when the draft District Plan was published and consulted upon in 2014, it proposed that the whole of the site, known as Bishop's Stortford South (BSS), should be removed from the Green Belt and designated for up to 1000 homes and associated supporting infrastructure instead. We objected vigorously at the time, pointing out that even without this development, Bishop's Stortford was scheduled to absorb, as it has for many years past, far more homes than local organic growth would demand. We suggested that, with the changes in shopping and working patterns brought about by the internet, the villages which are spread over most of the land area of East Herts would benefit from an additional 1000 homes to allow them some organic growth which would enable succeeding generations to stay in their own settlements.
Consultation on the draft District Plan concluded in May 2014. Since then, the Government has published Guidance to the effect that Green Belt protection cannot be sacrificed merely to achieve an objectively assessed housing target. As part of their procedure for producing the next version of the District Plan, EHDC have commissioned an independent review by Peter Brett Associates of the Green Belt and the suitability of sites within it for release for development. This was published towards the end of last year and concluded that the suitability of this site for release from the Green Belt was low.
BSS has now been found an important Green Belt site which is unsuitable for development by EHDC’s Head of Planning and Building Control, East Herts Council itself as local planning authority, two Planning Inspectors on separate occasions, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and most recently the technical consultants reviewing the Green Belt prior to publication of the next version of the District Plan. There has never been a planning justification for its removal from the Green Belt. The only reason advanced has been to assist in meeting East Herts’ housing target. But this is a target which applies to the whole of the district, and, as the Guidance referred to above makes clear, meeting a housing target is not a sufficient reason for sacrificing Green Belt protection. The Town and Parish Councils who are covered by NP 2 have both objected to development of this site in the past and we have no reason to suppose that their attitudes have changed, and the Neighbourhood Plan 2 team have obtained evidence that the local population remains strongly opposed to any proposed development.
EHDC have not yet decided upon a revised version of the draft District Plan for publication. Publication is expected to take place in October after which the public will have another opportunity to comment before the plan and the comments on it are sent to an independent Inspector who will conduct a form of public inquiry called an Examination in Public. It will help our case for keeping this vital green lung undeveloped if EHDC are persuaded to drop this from the District Plan before it is published and we are therefore asking you to help our campaign by writing to your district councilors urging them to get any development on the site struck out of the Plan.
This plan, approved in early 2015, was put to the test recently when the Bishop’s Stortford Sports Trust put in a planning application to create two hockey pitches on an area known as Ash Grove. This area had been specifically protected in NP1 as a ‘Local Green Space’, serving as a green lung for both existing residents and for future residents once the 2500 new homes are built on the ASRs and this was supported by the Examiner of the plan. Since hockey pitches are artificial, they are treated as a ‘development’ and are therefore subject to the same qualification as for development on the Green Belt (which status Ash Grove already held), i.e. that development should only take place ‘in very special circumstances’ where the benefit outweighs the harm. Although the Bishop’s Stortford councillors all voted against the application, they were outvoted by other District Councillors and approval was granted. While everyone supported the expansion of sports facilities in the town, this was a grave setback for those who were involved in the drafting of the plan policies. However, the decision has since been referred to the Secretary of State for Local Government and the Hon Mark Prisk MP has supported many requests from local residents that it be ‘called in’. We await developments.
This plan has been subject to extensive consultation and is now approaching its final draft before submission to EHDC and then to an Examiner. The NP2 team has worked hard to elicit feedback and ideas from town residents on the draft policies in the plan, including manning a stall in Jackson’s Square on several days in March. The team expects the final plan to go to referendum later in the year.