BSCF letter to EHDC on Old River Lane Presentation

Liz Watts
Chief Executive
East Herts Council
Wallfields
Pegs Lane
Hertford
SG18 8EQ
29 January 2018

OLD RIVER LANE PRESENTATION

1. I am writing to thank you once again for meeting members of the Civic Federation on 18 January to explain East Herts Council’s current thinking on plans to develop the Old River Lane (ORL) site. I must first apologise for the disrupted start to the meeting – the Town Council had to call out a locksmith to repair the lock on the following day.

2. A number of issues were raised at the meeting and this letter attempts to summarise them for you, together with other suggestions which members have made.

Timing of Development

3. When the repurchase of the site was announced in 2015, it was said that the income generated from existing uses of the site would yield a return of 5-6% - at current interest rates a good, risk free rate of return. Since the site is now in Council ownership we do not understand why its development is being treated as a matter of such apparent urgency.

4. In fact we believe that there are a number of reasons for not rushing into a development which may turn out to be misconceived.

5. I noted at the meeting that the suggestion apparently made by Waitrose that the site should essentially be left as it is was dismissed as not worthy of consideration. The presence of Waitrose in the town is one of the reasons why people might choose to come to Bishop's Stortford rather than shop elsewhere. Its views deserve to be taken seriously.

6. It is in any case a standard technique of public sector investment appraisal to compare investment options against a base case of doing nothing, and in the case of ORL we believe that there are good practical reasons for doing nothing for the time being, and no longer any developer pressure on the Council as owner to release the site for development straight away. We would therefore be interested to know why the Council has apparently set its face against leaving the site as it is for the moment.

Traffic and Parking

7. The extent of any development on the site will depend on how much of the existing car parking provision can be replaced and whether it can be enhanced. As we understand it, the Council’s preferred solution involves creating a 5 storey car park to the north of Link Road and moving the entrance to the Waitrose car park from Old River Lane to Link Road, thus releasing the whole of the site for development apart from the Waitrose car park. After allowing for the loss of car parking at Northgate End to development as well, there would be a net gain of 150 parking spaces. It would allow Old River Lane itself to be pedestrianised.

8. Even with current levels of traffic, Link Road is congested during the peaks. When completed, BSN will add some 6500 to the human population and, at current levels of car ownership, 4500 to the car population. The traffic from that development, whether it is heading for the town centre itself or going onwards to the station, for example, will converge on Link Road at the Northgate End roundabout. The Council’s preferred option would mean adding to this part of the road network the entrance and exit to the multi storey car park and to the Waitrose car park on opposite sides of the road. There will also need to be a pedestrian crossing, presumably signal controlled for safety reasons, to enable the new pedestrian flow which the multi storey car park would create, to get to the town centre safely.

9. A little further on, before the Bridge Street roundabout is reached, another pedestrian crossing will be needed (signal controlled as well?) to improve connectivity between the town centre and the castle park. The ORL development itself will generate the need for a further junction into Link Road to provide access for service vehicles and for any residential parking requirement.

10. We believe that these arrangements will create insuperable conflicts of movement, between traffic wanting to get through Link Road to another part of town and traffic trying to enter or exit any of the car parks, and between all traffic and the greatly increased pedestrian flows that would be generated. The potential congestion would feed back on to other parts of the town centre road network and create even greater severance between the town centre and castle park than exists at present.

11. We would therefore expect the Council’s first step to be to model the traffic impacts to see whether its preferred parking location is deliverable in practice or whether it needs to focus on a less extensive development within the boundary created by Link Road itself. It is also apparent from its undulating nature that Link Road does not rest on stable foundations and may be incapable of physically supporting the increased volume of traffic that would arise and this too needs to be tested.

12. We were advised at the time of the completion of the Allies and Morrison report that a bespoke town centre traffic model had been created to test the scenarios they were suggesting, including this one. We trust therefore that the Council has carried out a model run of its preferred proposal and would be grateful if the results could be shared with us. If this has not yet been done, we suggest that it should be carried out as a matter of urgency before any wider feasibility study is commissioned.

Conservation Area

13. The Conservation Area Management Plan adopted by the Council identifies the whole area consisting of Grange Paddocks and Town Meads as an important open space. It recommends (para 6.143) that unless the need for small scale recreational or other community facilities are required, it is important that the site be protected from development and remain available as a diverse open space for residents of the town and visitors to the adjacent town centre. It is difficult to reconcile this recommendation with the erection on part of the site of a five storey car park, which would moreover be quite out of scale and keeping with the existing development in the adjoining area. Although the point was discussed extensively at our meeting, there did not appear to be a satisfactory answer.

14. Although the Conservation Area Management Plan is silent on the ORL site, the previous development proposal by Hendersons was the subject of a review by the Urban Design Panel of English Heritage (as it then was). Having emphasised that the relationship between the ORL site and the existing town is critical, some of their comments would seem to be equally relevant to the proposals the Council are now considering. For example

‘One of the reasons the ORL indicative scheme includes very substantial blocks (which risk repeating the mistakes of Jackson Square) is that they contain very substantial and inflexible forms of development like the cinema which might better be sited elsewhere.’

‘There is a strong body of local opinion which values and welcomes the retention of the public space at the north of the site, but less audible public valuing of the supermarket car park. However, with its mature trees and outlook to the motte and to quality buildings on the edge of town, there are few better. It should only be built over after careful thought.’

‘Sites of this scale are routinely built out at one time and, whatever the conceit above ground, are in fact one building. The Panel advises that truly distinct and separate buildings should be constructed, perhaps over an extended timetable, thus allowing for flexible scheme development over time and reusability in the future.’

15. Among its conclusions the Urban Panel urged the need for robust challenge of retail predictions which need to be tested against the rapidly emerging impact of internet commerce.

16. The comments about large blocks and inflexibility would seem to apply equally to the proposal now to locate a new arts centre and cinema on the site. The comments about the visual benefits of the existing car park, while referring only to the supermarket, are equally relevant to the adjacent Council owned car park. We deal more fully with the question of the need, if any, for retail use below.

The Retail Offer

17. You will have seen from questions at the meeting that we struggled to understand what retail requirement the proposals were intended to meet. You explained that Bishop's Stortford residents did not spend as much in our shops as might be expected in a town of our size.

18. We were invited to infer that this was because there was not a sufficient variety of comparison goods shops particularly in quality end of the market. However, the sad fact is that it is the quality and independent retailers who have disappeared over the years – Laura Ashley, Carr and Bury, Clement Joscelyne, Pearsons, Boardmans and Tissimans all served the top end of the market and their loss and replacement by pound shops, charity shops and restaurants has made our high street less of an attraction.

19. Some of the closures were for family reasons, some because independents find it hard to survive in the age of internet shopping, but all must have found that while people liked the variety, it did not translate into enough sales. And of course shopping habits have changed anyway over the years. We do not understand therefore what type of retailer would be attracted to the proposed new units, or why they should fare any better than former upmarket shops. We would be interested to know what market research has been carried out into where the commercial interest might come from – Hendersons never found a tenant for their proposed department store.

20. However, if the scheme were to create a successful new retail focus, then our concern would be about the potentially adverse impact on South Street, our main shopping hub at the moment. Hendersons were quite open in expecting their development to move the retail heart of the town towards it. They acknowledged that South Street would suffer, but did not care, because they had no financial interest in it. The Council however, needs to be concerned about the whole of the town, and we do not think that it would be in the town’s interests to see the commercial vitality of South Street undermined by new development.

21. Another explanation for the apparent weakness of the retail offer in Bishop's Stortford which is often advanced is traffic congestion and difficulty of finding suitable parking. As explained above, if this is the root cause, then the Council’s preferred scheme is likely to make things worse.

The Arts Centre

22. While a larger theatre venue appears as a popular demand in surveys of what new facilities people would like in the town, as with shopping, what people say they would like does not necessarily translate into sales. So we would be interested to learn what market research has been carried out to establish what sorts of entertainment avoid the town because of the limitations of the existing Rhodes Centre, how often we could expect to host such shows at a better venue, and how large an audience they might attract. If we are looking at only five events a year, £25 million seems a lot to pay for the privilege.

23. There was a lot of discussion too about the demand or lack of it for a second cinema. This too ought to be informed by market research, rather that the anecdotal evidence which is all that we seem to have to rely on at the moment.

24. You said that the future of the existing Rhodes Centre was a matter for the trustees, but if we are to make an informed response to the Council’s proposals, we need to know what the consequences of implementing them will be. One criticism of the present venue is that it is peripheral to the town centre. But its apparent isolation will change with the goods yard development and indeed it will be more conveniently located for the bus and train stations than ORL. It is also not clear whether the limitations of the theatre are thought to be the size of the auditorium, the back stage facilities or both, and whether the perceived shortcomings could be tackled more cost effectively on site.

25. Finally, the Rhodes Centre props up the museum both physically and financially. If the Arts Centre becomes redundant what happens to the museum and what can we expect the rest of the site to be adapted to – more housing?

26. In short we think a far better justification of a new and relocated Arts Centre is needed than we have seen so far.

Piecemeal Approach to Development

27. One of our members raised concerns at the meeting about the piecemeal approach which has plagued development in the centre of Bishop's Stortford in the past, leading to a succession of poor quality developments unrelated to each other and to the existing urban fabric. The Allies and Morrison report provided a welcome opportunity to take a holistic approach to the future of the town centre as a whole.

28. However, the Council's proposals for ORL seem to be stepping back into the past, looking at the site in isolation without giving adequate consideration to what is going on around it. This is best exemplified by the fact that within the Council it is being treated as a separate project with a separate steering group. The Shaping Stortford Steering Group which is supposed to be overseeing the evolution of the town centre as a whole is, in this case, merely an observer, while the key decisions affecting the future of the town are taken in other fora.

Conclusion

29. In summary, we feel that the Council’s proposals risk repeating the fundamental flaws in the Henderson scheme, by trying to cram too much development on to the site. This then creates a parking requirement for which there is no acceptable solution. While abandoning the idea of underground parking is very welcome, the alternative proposed multi storey car park creates even more traffic circulation problems while being a visually intrusive eyesore in a conservation area. These problems could be avoided if, as we have frequently suggested, development of the site was confined broadly to the footprint of Charringtons House and the adjacent temporary car park.

30. I hope you find these comments helpful.

31. I am copying this letter to Cllrs Gary Jones, Warnell and Woodward and to James Parker, CEO of the Town Council.

Yours sincerely

JOHN RHODES
PRESIDENT



Comments from Liz Watts, Chief Executive, East Herts District Council New!   Top 

Her comments are in red below.

Liz Watts
Chief Executive
East Herts Council
Wallfields
Pegs Lane
Hertford
SG18 8EQ
29 January 2018

OLD RIVER LANE PRESENTATION

1. I am writing to thank you once again for meeting members of the Civic Federation on 18 January to explain East Herts Council’s current thinking on plans to develop the Old River Lane (ORL) site. I must first apologise for the disrupted start to the meeting – the Town Council had to call out a locksmith to repair the lock on the following day.

2. A number of issues were raised at the meeting and this letter attempts to summarise them for you, together with other suggestions which members have made.

Timing of Development

3. When the repurchase of the site was announced in 2015, it was said that the income generated from existing uses of the site would yield a return of 5-6% - at current interest rates a good, risk free rate of return. Since the site is now in Council ownership we do not understand why its development is being treated as a matter of such apparent urgency.
Councillors are ambitious for the site and have chosen to seize the opportunity while it exists. My advice to them has been that these sites can sit ‘on the books’ for many years unless there is a sense of momentum and a serious expressed intent from the council. That said, we commissioned the Bishop’s Stortford Town Centre Planning Framework two years ago, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that the development is being treated as a matter of ‘apparent urgency’. There has been a two year process of looking at the whole town centre and then focusing in on the Old River Lane site itself, and there will be significant further masterplanning work during 2018.

4. In fact we believe that there are a number of reasons for not rushing into a development which may turn out to be misconceived.

  • Over the next 5 years or more the town will be undergoing at least two major developments on a scale we have not experienced for many years – at Bishop's Stortford North (BSN – already started) and the station goods yard. The construction of both of these, the latter in particular, is likely to cause major disruption to the town and town centre. To turn ORL into a building site at the same time as these other developments can only be detrimental to the functional operation of the town centre.
    I do see your point John, but conversely there is constant feedback from Bishop’s Stortford councillors and residents that it is inappropriate to build homes without the associated facilities. Old River Lane is a key part of the council’s strategy to address this very valid concern.
  • The traffic impacts and the effectiveness of the mitigation predicted by the developers of these schemes, particularly BSN, have been viewed with considerable scepticism, not least by the Development Management Committee of the Council. It would therefore be prudent to wait until the developments have reached a sufficient level of occupancy to judge how closely actual impacts compare with those predicted, before subjecting the highway network to further pressure.
    The development at Bishop’s Stortford North will take well in excess of five years to complete. Councillors are not minded to wait this long to provide the additional facilities which the town so badly needs.
  • The nature of retailing is changing dramatically with the rise of on-line shopping. For this reason too it would be prudent to delay development until the types of unit needed to support a thriving high street can be more clearly identified.
    Our property consultants have already soft-market tested the demand for retail/restaurant space in Bishop’s Stortford and the signs are that there is a healthy demand for the type of quality offer that people in the town have expressed an interest in.

5. I noted at the meeting that the suggestion apparently made by Waitrose that the site should essentially be left as it is was dismissed as not worthy of consideration. The presence of Waitrose in the town is one of the reasons why people might choose to come to Bishop's Stortford rather than shop elsewhere. Its views deserve to be taken seriously.
I think this is a misunderstanding. Waitrose are very supportive of a redevelopment. They are naturally anxious about surface car parking availability, since this is required by their standard operating model (although they have occasionally built supermarkets with multi-storey car parking), and we will work with them to ensure that their surface car park, while reconfigured, will have no fewer spaces.

6. It is in any case a standard technique of public sector investment appraisal to compare investment options against a base case of doing nothing, and in the case of ORL we believe that there are good practical reasons for doing nothing for the time being, and no longer any developer pressure on the Council as owner to release the site for development straight away. We would therefore be interested to know why the Council has apparently set its face against leaving the site as it is for the moment.
I refer you to my answer to your point 3.

Traffic and Parking

7. The extent of any development on the site will depend on how much of the existing car parking provision can be replaced and whether it can be enhanced. As we understand it, the Council’s preferred solution involves creating a 5 storey car park to the north of Link Road and moving the entrance to the Waitrose car park from Old River Lane to Link Road, thus releasing the whole of the site for development apart from the Waitrose car park. After allowing for the loss of car parking at Northgate End to development as well, there would be a net gain of 150 parking spaces. It would allow Old River Lane itself to be pedestrianised.
Yes, the Council is working towards a solution that involves the consolidation of the Causeway Car Park and the Northgate End Car Park in a multi-storey car park at Northgate End. The numbers haven’t been finalised yet, but they will be available in the next few weeks.

8. Even with current levels of traffic, Link Road is congested during the peaks. When completed, BSN will add some 6500 to the human population and, at current levels of car ownership, 4500 to the car population. The traffic from that development, whether it is heading for the town centre itself or going onwards to the station, for example, will converge on Link Road at the Northgate End roundabout. The Council’s preferred option would mean adding to this part of the road network the entrance and exit to the multi storey car park and to the Waitrose car park on opposite sides of the road. There will also need to be a pedestrian crossing, presumably signal controlled for safety reasons, to enable the new pedestrian flow which the multi storey car park would create, to get to the town centre safely.
We are consulting with HCC on the highway works related to the Northgate End development, including the proposed signal controlled pedestrian crossing. The entrance to the proposed multi- storey car park will be at the back of the car park, giving a long run alongside the car park for vehicles to queue off the road. The location of the multi-storey at this end of the town will serve to stop drivers coming from the Rye Street/Hadham Road entrances into town who wish to park needing to venture further along Link Road.
As you are already aware the ‘Shaping Stortford’ working group, of which you are a member, has in addition commissioned a Transport Strategy for the town which will consider how congestion in the town can be reduced. The Transport Strategy factors in the growth of the population and the forthcoming Growth and Transport Plan that will be led by HCC will pick up on the inter-urban interactions and the wider growth to help deliver a full and a clearer picture on transport in Bishop’s Stortford.

9. A little further on, before the Bridge Street roundabout is reached, another pedestrian crossing will be needed (signal controlled as well?) to improve connectivity between the town centre and the castle park. The ORL development itself will generate the need for a further junction into Link Road to provide access for service vehicles and for any residential parking requirement.
The initial idea is to create a more pedestrian and cycle friendly environment along Link Road, transforming it from a vehicle dominant road (see p. 78 of the planning framework document). The safer the road is for pedestrians to cross and cycle on, the more likely we are to achieve the desired modal shift. Obviously all changes to the road network will be considered at the detailed design stage for the core site – Old River Lane.

10. We believe that these arrangements will create insuperable conflicts of movement, between traffic wanting to get through Link Road to another part of town and traffic trying to enter or exit any of the car parks, and between all traffic and the greatly increased pedestrian flows that would be generated. The potential congestion would feed back on to other parts of the town centre road network and create even greater severance between the town centre and castle park than exists at present.
As mentioned above in the response to point 8, the bigger picture on transport will help with making informed decisions. The Council is working hard to rejuvenate the town centre and deliver a scheme that is pedestrian friendly.

11. We would therefore expect the Council’s first step to be to model the traffic impacts to see whether its preferred parking location is deliverable in practice or whether it needs to focus on a less extensive development within the boundary created by Link Road itself. It is also apparent from its undulating nature that Link Road does not rest on stable foundations and may be incapable of physically supporting the increased volume of traffic that would arise and this too needs to be tested.
As per my response to point 8, we are working closely with HCC on this. Modelling work has been undertaken and will be available to public upon validation of the planning application.

12. We were advised at the time of the completion of the Allies and Morrison report that a bespoke town centre traffic model had been created to test the scenarios they were suggesting, including this one. We trust therefore that the Council has carried out a model run of its preferred proposal and would be grateful if the results could be shared with us. If this has not yet been done, we suggest that it should be carried out as a matter of urgency before any wider feasibility study is commissioned.
The work on the VISSIM model, which was created in Spring 2017, has been put on hold, in agreement with HCC, until the outcome of the transport strategy was available. Therefore LinSig Modelling has been undertaken for the purposes of the Northgate End Development. The output files of this modelling work will be an appendix to the transport assessment which will be submitted as part of the planning application.

Conservation Area

13. The Conservation Area Management Plan adopted by the Council identifies the whole area consisting of Grange Paddocks and Town Meads as an important open space. It recommends (para 6.143) that unless the need for small scale recreational or other community facilities are required, it is important that the site be protected from development and remain available as a diverse open space for residents of the town and visitors to the adjacent town centre. It is difficult to reconcile this recommendation with the erection on part of the site of a five storey car park, which would moreover be quite out of scale and keeping with the existing development in the adjoining area. Although the point was discussed extensively at our meeting, there did not appear to be a satisfactory answer.
This will be a matter for the Planning Authority to determine. We are obviously mindful of the sensitivity of the area, but have to balance this with the vitality, breadth and depth of offer in the town centre.

14. Although the Conservation Area Management Plan is silent on the ORL site, the previous development proposal by Hendersons was the subject of a review by the Urban Design Panel of English Heritage (as it then was). Having emphasised that the relationship between the ORL site and the existing town is critical, some of their comments would seem to be equally relevant to the proposals the Council are now considering. For example

‘One of the reasons the ORL indicative scheme includes very substantial blocks (which risk repeating the mistakes of Jackson Square) is that they contain very substantial and inflexible forms of development like the cinema which might better be sited elsewhere.’

‘There is a strong body of local opinion which values and welcomes the retention of the public space at the north of the site, but less audible public valuing of the supermarket car park. However, with its mature trees and outlook to the motte and to quality buildings on the edge of town, there are few better. It should only be built over after careful thought.’

‘Sites of this scale are routinely built out at one time and, whatever the conceit above ground, are in fact one building. The Panel advises that truly distinct and separate buildings should be constructed, perhaps over an extended timetable, thus allowing for flexible scheme development over time and reusability in the future.’

Thank you for sharing this feedback.

15. Among its conclusions the Urban Panel urged the need for robust challenge of retail predictions which need to be tested against the rapidly emerging impact of internet commerce.

16. The comments about large blocks and inflexibility would seem to apply equally to the proposal now to locate a new arts centre and cinema on the site. The comments about the visual benefits of the existing car park, while referring only to the supermarket, are equally relevant to the adjacent Council owned car park. We deal more fully with the question of the need, if any, for retail use below.

The Retail Offer

I shall respond to all of the points below in one go, since they are closely interrelated.

17. You will have seen from questions at the meeting that we struggled to understand what retail requirement the proposals were intended to meet. You explained that Bishop's Stortford residents did not spend as much in our shops as might be expected in a town of our size.

18. We were invited to infer that this was because there was not a sufficient variety of comparison goods shops particularly in quality end of the market. However, the sad fact is that it is the quality and independent retailers who have disappeared over the years – Laura Ashley, Carr and Bury, Clement Joscelyne, Pearsons, Boardmans and Tissimans all served the top end of the market and their loss and replacement by pound shops, charity shops and restaurants has made our high street less of an attraction.

19. Some of the closures were for family reasons, some because independents find it hard to survive in the age of internet shopping, but all must have found that while people liked the variety, it did not translate into enough sales. And of course shopping habits have changed anyway over the years. We do not understand therefore what type of retailer would be attracted to the proposed new units, or why they should fare any better than former upmarket shops. We would be interested to know what market research has been carried out into where the commercial interest might come from – Hendersons never found a tenant for their proposed department store.

20. However, if the scheme were to create a successful new retail focus, then our concern would be about the potentially adverse impact on South Street, our main shopping hub at the moment. Hendersons were quite open in expecting their development to move the retail heart of the town towards it. They acknowledged that South Street would suffer, but did not care, because they had no financial interest in it. The Council however, needs to be concerned about the whole of the town, and we do not think that it would be in the town’s interests to see the commercial vitality of South Street undermined by new development.

21. Another explanation for the apparent weakness of the retail offer in Bishop's Stortford which is often advanced is traffic congestion and difficulty of finding suitable parking. As explained above, if this is the root cause, then the Council’s preferred scheme is likely to make things worse.
As mentioned above, our property consultants have undertaken a review of the property market in Bishop’s Stortford as an early piece of research to inform our work in Bishop’s Stortford. Key points were that the prospects of securing retailers would be improved if there were a good leisure or cultural anchor – and potentially a small to medium sized cinema operator. A strong sense – and quality – of place is very important for attracting new retailers. The offer in Bishop’s Stortford is already strong, and while it is always difficult to have discussions about interest in units when the scheme hasn’t even been masterplanned (let alone achieved planning permission) there is interest from a number of restauranteurs and retailers, sufficient to proceed with the planning of the scheme. There is no intention to create a department store, but rather to anchor the scheme with the existing Waitrose and the new arts centre.
In terms of the impact on South Street, councillors are mindful of this risk, particularly related to the part of the street south of Station Road. While this may have been of less interest to Hendersons – as a commercial developer – the council will obviously monitor this risk carefully and assess steps that can be taken to mitigate it.

The Arts Centre

22. While a larger theatre venue appears as a popular demand in surveys of what new facilities people would like in the town, as with shopping, what people say they would like does not necessarily translate into sales. So we would be interested to learn what market research has been carried out to establish what sorts of entertainment avoid the town because of the limitations of the existing Rhodes Centre, how often we could expect to host such shows at a better venue, and how large an audience they might attract. If we are looking at only five events a year, £25 million seems a lot to pay for the privilege.
We are working in partnership with the Rhodes theatre, who obviously have detailed insight into these issues. In terms of the detail of the programme itself, this is work that will be carried out by the new interim trust board once it is established. Further details about this will be available in due course.

23. There was a lot of discussion too about the demand or lack of it for a second cinema. This too ought to be informed by market research, rather that the anecdotal evidence which is all that we seem to have to rely on at the moment.
Again, soft market testing by our property consultants demonstrated interest from at least one ‘art house’ cinema operator.

24. You said that the future of the existing Rhodes Centre was a matter for the trustees, but if we are to make an informed response to the Council’s proposals, we need to know what the consequences of implementing them will be. One criticism of the present venue is that it is peripheral to the town centre. But its apparent isolation will change with the goods yard development and indeed it will be more conveniently located for the bus and train stations than ORL. It is also not clear whether the limitations of the theatre are thought to be the size of the auditorium, the back stage facilities or both, and whether the perceived shortcomings could be tackled more cost effectively on site.
The size of the auditorium, back stage and street access to back stage facilities are all significant issues. Lack of rehearsal/studio space and limited car parking are also consistent problems for the Rhodes. These problems will only be exacerbated with a growing population and demand for an enhanced arts programme.

25. Finally, the Rhodes Centre props up the museum both physically and financially. If the Arts Centre becomes redundant what happens to the museum and what can we expect the rest of the site to be adapted to – more housing?
As I think I mentioned at the meeting, that is a matter for the Rhodes trustees and I wouldn’t venture to suggest what they may choose to do.

26. In short we think a far better justification of a new and relocated Arts Centre is needed than we have seen so far.

Piecemeal Approach to Development

27. One of our members raised concerns at the meeting about the piecemeal approach which has plagued development in the centre of Bishop's Stortford in the past, leading to a succession of poor quality developments unrelated to each other and to the existing urban fabric. The Allies and Morrison report provided a welcome opportunity to take a holistic approach to the future of the town centre as a whole.

28. However, the Council's proposals for ORL seem to be stepping back into the past, looking at the site in isolation without giving adequate consideration to what is going on around it. This is best exemplified by the fact that within the Council it is being treated as a separate project with a separate steering group. The Shaping Stortford Steering Group which is supposed to be overseeing the evolution of the town centre as a whole is, in this case, merely an observer, while the key decisions affecting the future of the town are taken in other fora.
Cllr Jones sits on both groups, and as you know the minutes are shared. As the landowner for the Old River Lane site it is entirely appropriate that this development is led by the council, although we are working very closely with the town council and Rhodes Trust on the arts centre element. The development respects the adopted planning framework.

Conclusion

29. In summary, we feel that the Council’s proposals risk repeating the fundamental flaws in the Henderson scheme, by trying to cram too much development on to the site. This then creates a parking requirement for which there is no acceptable solution. While abandoning the idea of underground parking is very welcome, the alternative proposed multi storey car park creates even more traffic circulation problems while being a visually intrusive eyesore in a conservation area. These problems could be avoided if, as we have frequently suggested, development of the site was confined broadly to the footprint of Charringtons House and the adjacent temporary car park.

30. I hope you find these comments helpful.
Yes, it’s always very helpful to get feedback. I hope my responses are equally helpful.

31. I am copying this letter to Cllrs Gary Jones, Warnell and Woodward and to James Parker, CEO of the Town Council.

Yours sincerely

JOHN RHODES
PRESIDENT