BSCF's Formal Response to Henderson's Proposals for the Causeway Site
Open Letter to the Public
The comments set out below are based on the presentation given to the Civic Federation on 22 June 2010 and feedback from members of local Residents’ Associations who visited the public exhibition at the Causeway offices in Bishop’s Stortford.
It was disappointing that the information presented to the Civic Federation and at the public exhibition was extremely limited and relied heavily on artistic sketches which created a distorted perspective on height and contained no information about the elevations of the proposed buildings. It is recognised that this is only the start of the consultation process but residents must be consulted on this important detail should the project progress. It is vital that any development is in keeping with our market town.
The initial impression of a space divided into quarters with walkways to reflect the existing street pattern, generating a circular route around the town’s shopping areas, was interesting. Public open spaces of adequate size with seating are something which is lacking currently. Hotel facilities are also lacking and would provide employment opportunities for residents.
We are pleased that Henderson wants to have the support of local residents by listening to what they hate most about recent developments. However:
- Design aspects of the proposals appear worryingly similar to Jackson Square.
- Buildings appear to be mainly 4-5 storeys which was widely felt to be too high. There are currently no buildings on the car park site, providing uninterrupted vistas between the castle mound and St Michael’s Church. This open space and views are very much a part of the Conservation Area and are what local people value highly and wish to protect
- Preserving the character of a market town and protection of our historic buildings are priorities for residents of Bishop’s Stortford. Recent developments have been unpopular because they conflict with rather than compliment existing built heritage. The designs do not appear to show enough attention to these objectives. For example, we feel that Coopers store would be dwarfed by adjacent buildings and hidden amongst unsympathetic architecture rather than celebrating its historic appeal.
- The Civic Federation would welcome redevelopment of the existing office blocks with buildings more in keeping with the character of the area.
- We support the inclusion of a hotel as the traffic generated would tend not to conflict with existing uses and there could be adequate car parking, using the existing public car parks if necessary. A hotel would be a useful facility for the town, bringing life to a part of the town which is dead at night, and would comply with the relevant policies in the local plan. However, the proposed design is too tall, bland and modern and is in the wrong location. Putting a 4-storey hotel alongside a 4-storey office block will give the impression of a solid building line around that perimeter of the town, already being dubbed ‘the Berlin Wall’ by residents!
- We welcome inclusion of green spaces with trees and seating but these must be for public use.
- Pedestrian areas apparently double up as delivery/loading for stores. It is unclear how this works with the concept of café culture, outdoor seating and street furniture.
- The suggestion of providing retirement accommodation as a solution to parking problems is interesting but many elderly people rely on their car more when walking becomes difficult. We are not convinced older people would choose to live literally on top of the town’s nightlife and fear the flats would be given over to housing associations instead.
- There is no need for any more such flats in the town; what is required is small family homes.
Traffic and Access
- The main roads leading into town are at capacity and would need substantial alteration (which has been deemed impossible in previous studies).
- The proposed location of the entrance and exit to the car park are likely to exacerbate the problems created by the Jackson Square access arrangements, which initially caused chaos and are still far from ideal.
- An independent traffic survey must be commissioned to ensure the scheme is workable. Herts Highways’ assessment of traffic flow densities cannot be relied upon based on their past performance.
- It has not been demonstrated how traffic would cross town to get to the car park. At least 2 park and ride schemes should be provided to accommodate traffic coming into Bishop’s Stortford from outside areas and the town boundaries such as St Michael’s Mead.
- The net increase in parking spaces would be 200 (600 underground compared with 400 now). This seems insufficient to cope with the traffic the development would generate.
- Development would be achieved by putting two very popular surface car parks underground (and potentially under water). Waitrose car park is welcomed by both young and old as providing a safe and pleasant environment. An underground car park would be difficult for mothers with young children and older citizens, and potentially unsafe at night. The majority of respondents felt very strongly the existing car parks should remain.
- We are concerned by the apparent willingness for a proportion of retail units to remain empty for a period. We feel the town does not need 35 more retail units, given the level of vacant units already in the town. They will suck even more life out of South Street. This has been seen in Harlow where the Water Gardens development drew trade completely away from the market area.
- The attraction of Bishop's Stortford used to be the range and quality of independent retailers, though sadly these are diminishing. These plans would accelerate the trend of turning Bishop's Stortford into a copy of every other retail centre. There is no point in trying to be a smaller version of Cambridge or Harlow.
- We are alarmed by the inclusion of a department store and the potential harm this will do to our existing store, Pearson’s. In fact we are unconvinced that negotiations with any national department store are sufficiently advanced and feel there is too much risk the department store site could be re-designed later without further public consultation.
The proposals demonstrate a lack of detailed knowledge of Bishop’s Stortford. It was felt key issues had not been adequately researched: traffic, access, parking, existing facilities and businesses. We would want Henderson to demonstrate that they have fully-considered and workable solutions to all these issues and look forward to working with Henderson to examine these. We feel it is vital that any site and building design compliment and enhance this conservation area of our town. With this in mind, we would like to invite Henderson to meet again with the Civic Federation to discuss the feedback from local communities and to explore the Civic Federation’s proposals.