BSCF's comments on Solum's public exhibition outlining their Goods Yard redevelopment proposals

Two striking omissions: 1 - Only part of the site proposed for development; 2 - No access from the south

Solum Regeneration
29 March 2015

Dear Sirs


1. A number of members of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation attended your public exhibition recently. I am writing to let you have the Federation’s comments. The Civic Federation is a partnership between the Bishop's Stortford Civic Society and the active Residents’ Associations in the town. Our combined membership covers some 8000 households.

2. The exhibition contained very little information but there were two striking omissions. Firstly, only part of the site was proposed for development, although we understand that Network Rail owns the whole of the site. Secondly, no access to the site from the south appeared to be included, the only access points being from Dane Street and Anchor Street as at present.

3. On the first point it was explained that Network Rail still needs part of the site for operational purposes. It is true that existing sidings are sometimes used to stable a track maintenance train, and that part of the site is also sometimes used for storage of materials. However, this consideration applies to much less than half of the remainder of the site which your outline excludes from development, and there may well be alternative ways of meeting the operational requirements. For example, the aggregates depot at Harlow was set up there to release land at Bishop's Stortford, land which is now used for car parking. The peak use of that depot was for the construction of the Olympic Park and it may well have capacity for storage of materials and the occasional track maintenance train. Alternatively, there is a large area of unused sidings north of Broxbourne station which might also be brought back into use. We would not like to suggest anything which might impede the much needed enhancement of the West Anglia route, but we find it hard to imagine that the remaining Bishop's Stortford sidings would have a significant role to play or why the whole of the site cannot be released now.

4. The site as a whole is the most significant area in the centre of Bishop's Stortford which remains to be developed. It is the main gateway to the town for public transport users and could provide an opportunity to greatly enhance the appearance and amenity of the town. This is an opportunity which has been ignored in previous town centre developments including, unfortunately, the station itself, which have displayed uniformly dismal design standards and aesthetic appeal. However, this golden opportunity will be missed if the site is developed on a piecemeal basis as you appear to be proposing. Since we understand that Network Rail owns the whole of the site there is absolutely no justification for releasing it for development in instalments, whatever the nature of the contractual relationship between Network Rail and yourselves.

5. The issue is also relevant to the second omission – the absence of a southern access route to the site. Regardless of Network Rail's operational requirements, there is no physical impediment to the provision of a southern access road now. There is already in place a signal controlled junction giving access to London Road, and even at its narrowest, there is enough room to provide an access road alongside the sidings. Without such access, which must include access to the station by car users as a dropping off point and to the station car park, as well as for buses and cyclists, we believe that the site is incapable of absorbing any development.

6. Bishop's Stortford station is a major attraction for park and ride commuters because of the frequency of train services to London and Cambridge. Demands on the road network and the station car parks will only increase with the development of a major settlement of up to 2500 homes at Bishop's Stortford North on which construction has now started. The configuration of the road network means that the only access to the station as a drop off point and car park is from the north through Dane Street and Anchor Street. This is the case even for traffic approaching the station from the south. As a result, London Road is the most congested part of the road network and the vehicle/pedestrian conflicts at the point where Station Road crosses the railway line create a permanent safety hazard. Unless traffic approaching the station and car parks from the south is removed from this part of the network, any additional traffic generated by development on your site will simply cause gridlock.

7. East Herts District Council adopted a transport strategy some 10 years ago with the intention of making the goods yard site and other proposed developments in Bishop's Stortford as palatable as possible in terms of congestion, and the strategy included a link road through the goods yard site. Whether a through road would be more satisfactory than separate but unconnected access points from south and north remains to be tested but it is quite clear that without a southern access point the site simply cannot be developed.

8. Moreover, if the development plan covers the whole of the site, then the southern access road would be properly integrated in that plan and provided by the developer, as would be the normal expectation in such circumstances.

9. Our remaining comments are therefore subject to these two caveats –

Subject to those points, you may be aware that both the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation and the Bishop's Stortford 2020 vision committee, led by East Herts Council, have produced outline development proposals for the site, and you might take them as starting points for the form and scale of development. While the Civic Federation’s plans have to some extent been overtaken by the Aldi development next to the station, the brief provided by the 2020 vision committee still contains many of the elements which we believe should feature in the development of the site. Its main features have been summarised in the Draft District Plan as policy BISH3.

10. One of our aspirations is to achieve an important enhancement of the public realm. This site has the potential to take advantage of the river as a potential community asset rather than an inconvenient obstruction to be hidden away, as recent developments have treated it. As a central location, part of the site would benefit from residential accommodation, including affordable and social housing. The town centre already has several modern apartment blocks, and does not need more development of this kind. There should be more emphasis on family homes which respect the scale and historic character of the town. We are not Walthamstow and do not aspire to become like it.

11. The area would also be suitable for a hotel and some retail development. While East Herts Council have given planning permission for this kind of development on the Causeway at the other end of the town centre, the scheme has not progressed and is entirely unsuitable for that site. A location next to the transport interchange for this kind of development would make much more sense. Similarly, the medical facilities in the town centre need upgrading, and it would make a lot of sense to locate a new medical centre near the transport interchange.

12. Consideration should also be given to whether this is a site which would attract a prestige employer, with accommodation to match. The site has outstanding connections to London, Cambridge and Stansted Airport which we would expect to be attractive to a wide variety of employers and could potentially improve the commercial viability of the development.

13. On the question of transport facilities, a multistorey car park would be the means of liberating the large areas of land covered by surface parking at present. The car parking will need to have sufficient places to replace the spaces in the existing official station car park, the temporary car park and whatever demand the development of the site will generate together with some spare capacity for growth – realistically, developments in and around Bishop's Stortford will create more rail heading, whatever well intentioned green travel plans are introduced. The opportunity should also be taken to amalgamate the bus and rail stations into an integrated transport interchange with better waiting facilities for passengers.

14. We look forward to hearing from you when you have proposals to bring forward which deal in particular with whole site planning and access arrangements.

15. I am copying this letter to Kevin Steptoe, Head of Planning and Building Control at East Herts Council.

Yours faithfully