BSCF letter to East Herts Council on its roles relating to the Old River Lane site New!

Richard Cassidy Esq
Chief Executive
East Herts Council
Wallfields
Pegs Lane
Hertford
SG13 8EQ
13 January 2020

OLD RIVER LANE (ORL), BISHOP'S STORTFORD

1. I am writing to you as Chief Executive because the matters raised in this letter concern two separate and independent functions of East Herts Council. The first is the role it performs as the planning authority for the district, and the second its role on this particular site as the sponsor and potentially the developer of any new development which takes place on it.

2. Taking the planning authority function first, the intentions for this site are set out in policy BISH8 of the District Plan, adopted in 2018. Item I of this policy states

‘The Bishop's Stortford Town Centre Planning Framework will form the basis of a Supplementary Planning Document, which will be used to inform the masterplanning of the site.’

Item III of the policy refers inter alia to connections between the site and Castle Gardens (now the subject of a lottery funded improvement scheme) and parking areas off Link Road, new and enhanced crossing points on Link Road, on site parking requirements and a design and layout which reflects its location within the Town Centre Conservation Area.

3. Clearly the purpose of a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) is to guide the masterplanning exercise for the site and not to provide a retrospective rubber stamp for any more detailed planning which has already been undertaken. Clearly too, the initiative for producing the SPD should lie with the Plan Making function of the Council and not with that part of the organisation which is promoting the development. The ORL Steering Group has now been meeting for some considerable time and I believe may now have appointed consultants to work up detailed plans for the site. But as yet, no SPD has been published to inform their work or to inform the general public about the guidelines which the development should follow. Until that has happened no masterplan can be approved, and therefore, no planning application can be lodged.

4. I would therefore be grateful if you could advise the Civic Federation as to when the SPD for the ORL site is expected to be published. According to the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 the SPD has to be the subject of a formal public consultation before it is adopted and we should be grateful if you could advise us as to when you expect this consultation to start and how long it will last for.

5. Arguably too, with a development of this scale on a site of this sensitivity, the SPD should also be the subject of a Strategic Environmental Assessment and it should certainly be the subject of a traffic and transport assessment which takes account of not only the proposed development on this site but the cumulative impact of this and of the proposed multi storey car park and the new pedestrian crossings across Link Road. Perhaps you could confirm that the SPD will be underpinned by these studies.

6. Turning now to the Council’s role as the developer of the site, the planning permission for the proposed multi storey car park has now been found to be lawful, following a second judicial review. It is not referred to at all in the District Plan but its sole purpose is to release the ORL site so that development can take place there. It is therefore integral to the ORL development but, in the absence of the SPD, we do not know what that development will be, what the overall impact on the road network will be or whether infrastructure or other constraints will make a less ambitious development unavoidable. This in turn might make the multi storey car park either unnecessary or at least capable of being reduced in size.

7. Some of the options being canvassed for the site seem to us, to put it mildly, to be of doubtful commercial viability. We hope therefore that, in parallel with the publication of the SPD by the Plan Making function of the Council, the promoters of the development will publish the business case for their aspirations, so that the public is able to form a view at the same time about the potential costs and benefits to taxpayers.

8. In these circumstances, we believe it would be wholly inappropriate for the planning permission for the car park to be exercised in advance of the adoption by the District Council of the SPD for the ORL site. To start work on the car park in advance of an adopted SPD which demonstrates the need for it will simply be seen by residents in the town as an act of gratuitous municipal vandalism. We should therefore be grateful for your assurance that no such premature steps will be taken to exercise the planning permission for the car park.

9. Finally, the car park development involves the disposal of a large part of the playing field behind the former Northgate School with no provision for replacement of those facilities at another location. We should be grateful for your assurance that any necessary statutory consents to its disposal will have been obtained by the appropriate authorities.

10. Please acknowledge receipt of this letter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

John Rhodes
President