News Stories in 2010

23 Oct 10 - Core Strategy Consultation - BSCF Briefing Note

The BSCF's Recommendations

The BSCF has read the Core Stategy Consultation document and recommends that residents answer the questions as follows:

Questions 1, 2 and 3 should be answered: None of the above

Question 4 should be answered: No

For details of why the BSCF has made these recommendations, see the Briefing Note.

7 Oct 10 - Will Stortford schools appeal planning decision - or have they learned their lesson?

This story, by James Burton, appeared in the online and print editions of the Herts and Essex Observer on 7 October 2010

Plans for a super-school on Bishop's Stortford's Green Belt have failed their examination – but Government spending cuts could determine whether they return for a resit.

At least 250 residents crowded into Stortford's Charis Centre last Thursday night (September 30), when East Herts District Council debated the controversial proposed relocation of the Bishop's Stort-ford and Herts and Essex high schools to unspoilt land on the edge of the town.

At the end of the three-hour battle, during which opponents and supporters pleaded their case to East Herts' development control committee, councillors accepted their officers' advice and unanimously rejected all six applications which made up the scheme.

However, Bishop's Stortford High School chairman of governors Rodney Stock – who addressed the council to endorse the plans – this week refused to rule out a planning appeal.

Under the plans, the two secondaries' London Road and Warwick Road sites would have been sold to make way for almost 700 new homes. A new base would have been built for both on a site off Whittington Way – and Herts and Essex's Beldams Lane playing fields, which are regularly used by the public, would also have been lost to housing. Residential redevelopment would also have been the fate of Herts County Council land in Patmore Close, reserved for a new school decades ago.

Mr Stock said: "[The move] is seen as preferable to a ‘sticking plaster' solution involving sending Bishop's Stortford children out of town and leaving the two outstanding schools willing but unable to help in their admittedly inadequate buildings and facilities.

"We await the outcome of the Government's comprehensive spending review [due on October 20] before reviewing the matter further on advice. We do not, however, expect the Government's spending review to enable Herts County Council to make available funds to provide an alternative solution to the problem."

At the meeting, supporters fought to persuade councillors that the educational benefits of the move outweighed the disadvantages of building on the Green Belt. Under district council policy, this is not allowed unless "special circumstances" can be proven.

John Harris, the county council's director for children and schools, told members there were no alternatives which met the county council's criteria of offering acceptable place numbers, educational standards, costs and transitional arrangements.

To a mixed chorus of cheers and jeers, he said: "None of the options put forward by the local community or those suggested in the officers' report meet educational planning requirements.

"That being the case, the county council considers that there are very special circumstances outweighing the rural character of the Green Belt and, on balance, the application should be approved."

But opponents hit back, saying the Whittington Way site was unsuitable because it was under a Stansted Airport take-off path and classes would be disrupted by aircraft noise.

They also raised concerns over road safety, fearing fewer pupils would walk, cycle or take public transport to the new, more remote site. As a result, they argued, London Road – which is already a congestion hotspot during the school run – would be choked.

Their views were echoed by Cllr Allen Burlton, who described the plans as "a nightmare waiting to happen" during discussion with his committee colleagues.

Cllr Keith Barnes added: "If we allow this, we could end up with a Bishop's Stortford South adjoining an equally unwanted Harlow North. We should not be opening the floodgates for further development."

The head teachers at Bishop's Stortford and Herts and Essex High did not wish to add to Mr Stock's comments this week.

26 Aug 10 - Big Blow for Super-School

This story, by James Burton, appeared in the online and print editions of the Herts and Essex Observer on 26 August 2010

Defiant Bishop's Stortford residents successfully urged town councillors to fight controversial plans for the town's biggest education shake-up in decades.

At a packed two-hour meeting at the Rhodes Arts Complex on Tuesday night (August 24), protesters launched a passionate plea for the authority to oppose the relocation of Herts and Essex High School and Bishop's Stortford High School to a shared Green Belt site in Whittington Way.

If the proposals get the go-ahead when planning authority East Herts District Council meets next month, hundreds of homes will be built on the secondaries' Warwick Road and London Road premises. Herts and Essex's sports fields off Beldams Lane would also be lost to housing.

At Tuesday's crunch talks, school bosses and county education chiefs argued the plan was the only way to meet Stortford's growing need for places.

But opponents hit back, saying the loss of unspoilt countryside was too high a price to pay – and the town council agreed, voting to object to all five of the planning applications that make up the scheme.

To thunderous applause, Cllr John Wyllie reminded colleagues on the town council's planning committee: "I think councillors need to remember that we are elected servants of the people, not their masters – if people don't want something, it is not for us to force it upon them."

Speakers from seven Stortford residents' associations and two private residents spoke out against the proposals.

John Rhodes, vice-chairman of the town's Civic Federation, said: "The schools are outstanding in their present locations and with their present facilities.

"They don't need to move, and nor does the age of the buildings provide sufficient justification for building on the Green Belt. If this scheme were to go ahead, it would be a green light for similar developments across the county."

Mr Rhodes said pressure for school places could be relieved by less drastic measures, such as changes to the two secondaries' admissions criteria or minor expansion at St Mary's Catholic School, Birchwood High School and Sawbridgeworth's Leventhorpe School.

He was backed by Thorley Manor Residents' Association chairwoman Alyson Bailey, who said the additional housing would put further pressure on Bishop's Stortford's "already strained" infrastructure.

Mrs Bailey - who earlier this year helped organise a 2,500-signature petition against the plans - said: "People here want a solution that balances the educational needs of our children with a sustainable quality of life for the town."

Herts County Council schools director John Harris said four alternatives suggested by the community had been considered but failed the county's "strict" suitability tests.

These were: a sixth-form college on land off Hadham Road, new, separate six-form-of-entry school at various other sites, relocating to shared premises on development land just inside the northern A120 bypass and relocation to the Hadham Road and Beldams Lane sites.

He said: "There is a very strong educational case for the scheme proposed for the two high schools - and its implementation is essential for the future provision of places and to continue the high standards they currently meet.

We need to have a long-term view and not just muddle through with a series of short-term measures."

Bishop's Stortford High School's chairman of governors Rodney Stock added: "When the school opened in 1957, it wasn't difficult to get a place – but move on 53 years and it's heavily over-subscribed with a large sixth-form it didn't originally have. It's advanced out of all recognition but continues to occupy the same core buildings."

12 Aug 10 - Green for stop. 'Town green' bid to halt Stortford super-school plan  Top 

This story, by Sinead Holland, appeared in the online and print editions of the Herts and Essex Observer on 12 August 2010

The campaign against Bishop's Stortford's proposed super-school took a new twist this week when objectors filed papers to block the scheme by creating a town green on a key site.

The Herts and Essex and Bishop's Stortford high schools want to relocate and expand on a shared campus in the Green Belt off Whittington Way, Thorley, freeing their premises in London Road, Warwick Road and Beldams Lane for the new housing needed to fund the move.

However, on Tuesday, Dimsdale Crescent resident Nigel Stock and Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation chairman Richard Hannah travelled to Herts County Council's HQ in Hertford to submit a formal application to register Herts and Essex High's playing field in Beldams Lane as a town green.

Using the Commons Act 2006, they submitted evidence from 24 local people to support their bid.

They say the field has been a "valuable local resource" for more than 30 years – before it was used by pupils.

Mr Stock, who is no relation to Rodney Stock, the Bishop's Stortford High School governor leading the super-school bid, claimed: "We've been forced into this action. We don't want to lose something that's so important to our community. Without this field there'll be nowhere for many miles for our children to play or for people to exercise their dogs.

"The town's been focusing on the effects of the super-school, but the needs of the local residents of this community have been completely ignored by the council and the school."

Mr Hannah said: "We welcome the determination of residents to make such a complex application and will provide the support they will need in getting this application approved. You only need to come to the field at the weekend to see how it is enjoyed by so many people and how its loss would be an irrevocable blow to the community."

A special meeting of the town council's planning committee will be held on Tuesday August 24 to discuss its response to all five planning applications associated with the super-school.

The applications will then be determined by a special meeting of East Herts District Council's development control committee at the Charis Centre in Water Lane, Stortford, on September 30.

15 Jun 10 - Stortford super-school battle resumes as new plans lodged  Top 

This story, by Sinead Holland, appeared in the online edition of the Herts and Essex Observer on 15 June 2010

Long-awaited plans to build a super-school on Bishop's Stortford's Green Belt were finally submitted yesterday (Monday, June 14, 2010).

The revised application has been submitted to East Herts District Council by the Bishop's Stortford and the Herts and Essex High Schools.

The two secondaries want to relocate and expand on neighbouring sites in Whittington Way.

A previous outline application for the Thorley site was withdrawn in December 2008 in order to review the proposals, following comments from the authority's planners – and a storm of protest from town residents.

Since then, the two schools, along with Herts County Council, say they have re-evaluated how and where they should address the need for additional school places, but have again concluded the Whittington Way option is best.

However, they claim changes to the proposals have been made taking into account the comments in the planning officers' report, while ensuring that the school buildings and environment are fit for the educational needs of the 21st century. Their reasoning has been set out in a supplementary planning statement as part of the application.

Spokesman Rodney Stock said: "A lot of things have been taken into account when deciding on the best way to meet the need for more school places including parental choice, the quality of education, the use of Green Belt land, the benefits for the community and what can be afforded."

He said the review had established that there was no realistic potential for expanding the Bishop's Stortford and Herts and Essex High Schools on their existing sites and that even if this were possible, there would be funding issues and construction work would have a negative impact on students' learning.

The review also established that the provision of a new six-form-of-entry school, or separate sixth-form centre, would not comply with the county council's current educational policy and that the cost of the scheme would make it unaffordable. It was concluded that funding would be required from central government or private sector sources, which is unlikely in the prevailing economic climate.

Cost implications also mean that the relocation of just one of the schools to an alternative site in the town, including land long set aside in Hadham Road, would be unaffordable for the county council and would also be dependent on additional land being made available to ensure there would be adequate facilities.

Therefore it is planned that the present school sites and a site in Hadham Road be sold for housing to fund the building of the two schools.

As part of the revised proposals, the Bishop's Stortford High School and the Herts and Essex High School will remain as a separate boys' school and a separate girls' school each retaining its individual ethos with its own buildings, identity and teaching staff.

However, the co-relocation would give the opportunity for a greater range of courses and the schools will enjoy shared facilities, particularly for sports provision, which would not be available to a stand-alone school.

New facilities would include a six-lane swimming pool, eight-court sports hall, floodlit games area and squash courts, which will also benefit the local community.

3 Jun 10 - Stortford super-school bid set for comeback as Causeway plans due to be unveiled  Top 

This story, by Sinead Holland, appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 3 June 2010

A development revolution set to change the face of Bishop's Stortford is under way this week.

While the details remain shrouded in secrecy, the Observer has learned that East Herts District Council members will get a first look at proposals to transform the town centre at the Causeway - while campaigners are mobilising once more, convinced that a revised super-school plan is about to be submitted for a Green Belt site off Whittington Way  Map .

The scheme to relocate the Herts and Essex and Bishop's Stortford High Schools to a campus in Thorley and redevelop their existing bases with hundreds of new homes has become mired in controversy.

In March, after a critical independent report by Inspire East, the town's civic federation [BSCF] called for the scheme to be scrapped and for a separate new school to be built in Hadham Road to ease the pressure on places for secondary pupils.

This week the organisation, which represents residents associations across Stortford, was mobilising members once more and drawing up a list of demands in anticipation of a new application – although yesterday (Wednesday) East Herts told the Observer no plans had yet been submitted and no one was available to either confirm or deny the move on the schools' behalf.

Once the submission has been lodged, the federation wants an extended three-month public consultation period – beyond the usual 21 days – and a development control meeting dedicated solely to the application, held in Stortford rather than Hertford.

Chairman Richard Hannah said: "This application will be a defining moment in the history of Bishop's Stortford and therefore must be allowed to be properly discussed with the public."

The federation has also made clear its concerns about the future of the Causeway, fearing a high-rise eyesore.

Landlord Henderson, which took control of the key site as part of a complex £7.35m car park and office block sell-off by the district council – which critics claimed had short-changed council tax-payers – will reveal its plans at a private briefing on June 15.

The mammoth scheme is set to include shops, offices and homes and a parking revamp.

This week, former Stortford mayor Colin Woodward, who serves on both the town and East Herts councils, again defended the deal as value for money and revealed growing excitement about the new retail, commercial and residential project: "A senior officer has said to me, ‘you'll love it when you see it' and was at pains to point out that Henderson are responsible landowners with a good track record. I reserve my judgement until I have seen it."

27 May 10 - Campaigners celebrate end of eight-year battle  Top 

This story and video Campaigners rejoice as Stansted Airport bosses scrap second runway plan appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer on May 27, 2010. BAA has finally announced that it is withdrawing its plan for a second runway at Stansted Airport.

13 May 10 - People power puts brakes on Sunday parking charges in Stortford

This story by James Burton appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 13 May 2010

People power has turned the tide in the fight against controversial plans for Sunday parking charges in Bishop's Stortford.

Following several petitions from furious residents and traders, including one organised by the Observer, East Herts District Council officers have recommended a rethink on the scheme and advised councillors to put off making a decision until next spring.

Although the 50p charge – which also includes bank holidays – could have been rolled out this summer, with a decision pencilled in for next month, officers believe the issue needs to be fully scrutinised as part of the authority's upcoming parking review.

The proposal for six of the authority's eight Stortford car parks, including those in The Causeway and Link Road, sparked a furore when it came to light at the start of March. Only Elm Road and Crown Terrace, on the edge of the town centre, would be exempt.

Residents' anger was fuelled by claims that East Herts had not done enough to inform the public of their plans. Although the council had advertised on pay-and-display machines, protesters said the notices were not prominent enough and pushed for a full consultation.

The authority hopes to claw back £37,500 from the charge, but more than 2,000 people who signed petitions argued this should be drawn from councillors' £460,000-a-year allowances and expenses pot instead.

Appleton Fields resident Helen Hunter, who set up a Facebook protest group which attracted more than 1,100 members, said on Tuesday: "I'm delighted that these plans, with significant implications for life in our town, have been recommended for deferral.

"Let's hope East Herts District Council has got the message and finds better ways of involving local people in their transport and parking strategy and other decision-making processes.

"It's clear that Bishop's Stortford people will not put up with secretive council meetings and allegedly public notices hidden in obscure places."

But while residents rejoiced, Stortford's Lib Dem district councillor Mike Wood feared the Tory-controlled authority was delaying the difficult decision until after next spring's local authority elections.

He said: "They've managed to alienate most people here in one fell swoop and they've seen the strength of feeling against them, so it's no surprise that they've drawn back - but will they try to reintroduce it once the elections are over? I just hope that's not what they're planning."

Independent East Herts councillor Nigel Clark, who represents Sawbridgeworth, added: "That may be a strategy the administration have in mind, but if that's the case I don't think the people of Bishop's Stortford will fall for it.

"There seems to be a lot of activity on Facebook about it, which I've been following with interest, so I doubt residents will let the issue go."

The council will vote on whether to defer its decision at an executive meeting on Tuesday (May 18) at its offices in Wallfields, Hertford. The meeting starts at 7pm and protesters are urging supporters to attend.

East Herts District Council is beyond a joke  Top 

Taken from the front page story by Sinead Holland, in the Herts and Essex Observer of 1 April 2010

April Fool's Day, 2010 saw the local paper, The Herts and Essex Observer, print a front page story and a two-page report highlighting the local public's exasperation with East Herts District Council over how it has been running the town over the last few years. Some of this criticism was vociferously expressed at the BSCF's Annual General Meeting which was held a few days before the paper went to press.

These are just some of the EHDC's recent decisions which are so upsetting to the people of Bishop's Stortford:

The three stories immediately below are a selection from the April 1 edition of the newspaper.

1 Apr 10 - Frustration at council's 'culture of secrecy' reaches boiling point  Top 

This story, by Sinead Holland, appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 1 April 2010

A residents' revolt is under way in Bishop's Stortford this week over the secrecy and stonewalling "endemic" at East Herts District Council.

At the packed annual meeting of the town's civic federation, anger boiled over after a further 12 months of frustration.

President Michael Hurford was the first to let rip at the Charis Centre last Thursday. He said: "We've reached the stage where voters have lost trust in the district council and they have lost the trust because of what appears to be a culture of secrecy. It has become necessary for this association to use Freedom of Information requests."

An "appalled" Mr Hurford said that the federation had been forced to use the legislation to obtain details not just of the council's deal to sell the Causeway site to a developer at a knockdown price, but also to uncover how the authority had worked with the architects of the controversial super-school plan "to massage the application so it would become creditable" in defiance of public opposition. Mr Hurford said: "Secrecy is endemic and something we should no longer put up with."

He had harsh words for the council's Conservative members from the town. "They must reject party political cabals and remember that their loyalty is to the people of Bishop's Stortford, not their parties," he said. Federation chairman Richard Hannah was equally disillusioned with the council's conduct. He said: "When the public challenge anything, they refuse to answer the question.

"[They say] ‘You do not understand me, you misunderstand me, you have grey hair and you are too old to have an opinion, you have not put in enough effort, it's confidential, it's the Government's fault, it's the town council – we cannot work with them, it's Herts County Council's fault.' We would dearly like to work with them, but whenever we offer the hand of friendship they hoodwink us."

But he warned: "People power is powerful – district council elections are in 2011 and we have to gear ourselves up to make sure every vote counts and stop the bullying."

Former mayor Eric Marshall summed up the mood of the standing room only audience when he jibed: "You have to admire their dexterity – they have their noses in the trough and their hands in our pocket at the same time."

The residents' frustration is shared by the opposition parties. Independent councillors Nigel and Deborah Clark, who represent Sawbridgeworth and Hunsdon respectively and work with Stortford Independent Keith Barnes, have discovered the number of FOI requests filed against the council has almost trebled from 112 in 2005 to 298 in 2009. By March 15 this year, a further 78 had been lodged.

Against a background of dozens of unanswered questions by officers or the Tory executive, the Clarks made 21 FOI submissions last year. Mrs Clark said: "It is disappointing that we have had to resort to the FOI Act so often."

1 Apr 10 - Document changed after being signed by Civic Federation  Top 

This story, by Sinead Holland, appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 1 April 2010

East Herts District Council stands accused of duping Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation after a key document was changed AFTER it was signed. The "unethical" alteration was made to the Bishop's Stortford 2020 Vision report, detailing how the town should develop in the future.

The civic federation has been staunch in its opposition to plans for relocation of the Herts and Essex and Bishop's Stortford high schools to a joint campus on Green Belt land in Thorley, so chairman Richard Hannah scrutinised the draft report's reference to future education provision carefully before endorsing it on behalf of the federation.

He added his name to a document which said of education in the town: "Existing schools sites maintained and enhanced". But when the finished report was published, that sentence had been replaced with: "Facilities for schools that match their aspirations."

The governors and heads of both secondaries have made it clear they want to move out of town, freeing the existing facilities in London Road and Warwick Road for housing development, while the civic federation is adamant that a new school should be built on land set aside in Hadham Road to ease the pressure for places.

At the civic federation's annual meeting last week, Mr Hannah said: "I was annoyed that I had been duped into signing a document that was changed."

The federation voted to remove its support of the education section. However, Mr Hannah remains determined to get to the bottom of how and why the key phrase was switched. This week he told the Observer he was prepared to use the Freedom of Information Act to force the truth. His attempts to extract a satisfactory explanation from East Herts' director of customer and community services, George A Robertson, have so far failed.

In an email, Mr Robertson told Mr Hannah: "With regard to the section you raise concerns about, some members of the group felt that the text you refer to... was not relevant to the outcomes for schools and education or for the users of those services.

"The wording was therefore changed to reflect the desired outcomes in terms of education and training, which is more relevant to the subject matter it seeks to address, but not prescriptive in terms of how that might be achieved for the specific schools and sites to which you refer.

"I would be surprised were I to be told that you believe that the majority of civic federation members do not agree that schools should have facilities that match their aspirations as education establishments.

"However, I am aware that many people are sensitive about the location and nature of school provision in Bishop's Stortford, but give my assurance that the change to the document in no way pre-empts or pre-judges the issues or outcomes around the site to which you refer, or any other."

Mr Hannah replied: "In my business experience the approach you adopted was not professional or ethical."

1 Apr 10 - Scale of plans for Causeway 'hidden from councillors'  Top 

This story, by Sinead Holland, appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 1 April 2010

A design statement for a key Bishop's Stortford site to rival Jackson Square was kept secret from the town's elected representatives on the district council.

The civic federation used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the document, which was prepared for developer Henderson as it sealed a £7.5m deal with East Herts District Council for buildings and car parks in the Causeway.

It outlines proposals for the site, in River Lane, by its new owner and makes it clear that fears that the development will rival Jackson Square in scale are well founded. When the federation showed it to the town's district councillors, they were "shocked" by its contents.

The statement says: "The site is located in a lower area of the town centre, giving the opportunity for the development to locate higher buildings to its eastern boundary.

"The development should be composed of multiple buildings of differing form, height and scale capable of recreating the diverse nature of the surrounding blocks.

"The maximum block height will be one retail level (with mezzanine) and three additional levels of use, but should allow for architectural features and elements to exceed this where appropriate."

Underground parking is proposed instead of the surface spaces at the Causeway and Waitrose car parks.

The statement continues: "The placement of residential, health club, offices and hotel uses at the upper levels of the development blocks will allow the town public spaces to be active well into the night."

To the dismay of the civic federation, flats are clearly also part of the scheme.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Bishop's Stortford Mike Wood said of the secrecy which surrounded the commercially-sensitive statement's existence: "This is what is wrong with East Herts – too many things going on behind the scenes in secret. Those who should be making the decisions are those who are elected."

EHDC has decided to cease holding development control meetings – where planning applications are decided – in Bishop's Stortford. Previously, meetings alternated between Stortford and Hertford. Cllr Wood said: "It's another kick in the teeth for Bishop's Stortford."

11 Mar 10 - People's plan for town: over to you, councils  Top 

Bishop's Stortford Town Council has officially adopted a far-reaching Town Plan. This plan builds on the responses by over 4000 residents to a questionnaire issued to residents late in 2008, and is being launched in tandem with the 2020 vision created by the District Council.

The Town Plan is available in three different editions: 1) a four-page summary - to be delivered to every household in Bishop's Stortford, 2) a more extensive summary and 3) the complete town plan.

This story by James Burton appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 11 March 2010

A far-reaching report outlining Bishop's Stortford residents' hopes and fears for the future of their town was handed over at a special ceremony this week.

The 93-page blueprint, called Bishop's Stortford Town Plan, was put together by volunteers who distributed questionnaires and compiled the results.

More than 1,000 of the town's 35,000 residents had their say, expressing concerns on 11 key topics including housing, education, transport and Stansted Airport.

The document is a snapshot of public opinion in the town: what residents like, dislike and the ways they would like to see Stortford develop and improve over the coming decade.

While 91 per cent of respondents say they are either "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the town's schools, more than half are "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the housing situation. One recurring complaint is the number of flats going up in the town centre, such as the recent development in Riverside.

Despite criticisms in some areas, the plan paints a largely positive picture. Twothirds of householders are happy with health-care provision while just seven per cent are "very dissatisfied", and nearly 70 per cent feel local business and employment are healthy.

The results are similar for shopping, public services, policing, sport and leisure – but satisfaction levels are lower for transport, with potholes, traffic jams and poor public transport ranking among the top gripes.

The finished report, which was received by town mayor Colin Woodward at the Rhodes Arts Complex on Tuesday night on behalf of the town council, will also be submitted to East Herts District Council. The local authority will consider the findings when it prepares its own Local Development Framework, which in turn will influence major planning decisions in the district. In its introduction, the plan states: "Often there is a feeling of apathy where town plans are concerned. It is correct that residents and local [i.e. town] councils cannot make the final decisions regarding many changes, but that is not, and has never been, a reason to not say what needs to be said."

Cllr Woodward told colleagues on Tuesday: "This was a unique exercise in that it started with town council discussions but went way beyond that. Bishop's Stortford is a place that you all care about – and you've demonstrated that by the hard work and many hours that you've put in. I welcome the optimism and energy that comes through in this report."

11 Mar 10 - Fury at bid to scrap free Sunday parking  Top 

This story by Sinead Holland appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 11 March 2010

Bishop's Stortford residents are up in arms at the announcement that free Sunday and bank holiday parking is set to be abolished.

A campaign has been launched after East Herts District Council proposed introducing a 50p charge on these days at six of the eight pay-and-display sites it operates in the town – only Elm Road and Crown Terrace on the outskirts of the town centre would be exempt.

Town mayor Colin Woodward, who is also a district councillor, unleashed a storm of protest when he conceded that the move would be unpopular with motorists, but said the controversial suggestion came from members of the public as part of East Herts' budget consultations. He said: "If users of car parks don't pay then all taxpayers have to help EHDC raise its revenue in higher council tax."

Despite his claim, outraged residents have deluged the Observer website with complaints and even set up a Facebook group called Say No to Stortford Sunday Parking Charges. Founder Helen Hunter said: "The council ‘public consultation' about this significant and ill-thought-out change is appalling."

Stuart Henderson, director of North Street department store Pearsons, said: "Bearing in mind everywhere else in the South East doesn't charge for parking, I think it's a step in the wrong direction.

"We're in a changing economy. Sundays are becoming part of the working week and this move penalises retailers and shoppers. It goes against what traders are trying to achieve here and the general consensus is that it will kill Sunday trading.

"We're all doing our bit to make Bishop's Stortford a vibrant town and what we don't want to see is people going to places like Lakeside and Cambridge, where they can park for free, at a time when every single retailer is encouraging people to shop local."

Residents and traders have until March 26 to make their objections known to the council. A spokeswoman told the Observer that the charges were likely to be introduced in the summer, if approved. It is estimated that the Sunday parking fees in Stortford and Hertford would generate an extra £67,500 a year in income, but enforcing them would cost £30,000.

From Monday, March 29, drivers using Stortford's car parks from Monday to Saturday will face an across-the-board hike in charges of 10p an hour. The allday fee will rise 20p (4.7 per cent) to £4.40.

The increases come as revenue falls and the council faces extra costs. Last year it sold two of the town's car parks – at the Causeway and Waitrose – to a developer for a knock-down price before being hit by a 600 per cent increase for the Apton Road car park it rents from Herts County Council.

It is estimated the council lost £149,000 in parking revenue last year with £235,000 projected in 2010-11. However, extra fines are helping to make up the difference – for every £1 raised through parking charges, the council raises an estimated 20p in fines.

4 Mar 10 - Report criticises plan for Stortford's super-school  Top 

This story by Sinead Holland appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 4 March 2010

Super-school plans for Bishop's Stortford should be scrapped, opponents claimed this week after a critical independent report was revealed. Using Freedom of Information Act legislation, the Observer has obtained a design review compiled by Inspire East, which was commissioned by East Herts District Council's head of planning Kevin Steptoe.

The East of England panel of six looked at the project to rebuild the Herts and Essex and Bishop's Stortford high schools on a shared Green Belt campus off Whittington Way as governors prepared to resubmit the high-profile scheme to the local authority.

Inspire East concluded: "We are not yet convinced that an approach that has two separate schools located next to each other, separated by limited shared facilities, is the correct approach here.

"A clearer understanding of the functioning and hierarchy of the organisation of the two schools is needed."

The panel predicted "conflict in the later stages of the development" unless key issues were addressed.

It said: "The panel feel it has not been made clear how the schools will provide a benefit to the wider community beyond the provision of two replacement schools."

The project's backers were warned: "The team need to demonstrate more robustly that building on this site is sustainable and sensible, rather than simply opportunistic.

"The panel has the sense that the school site is being presented without the benefit of a wider masterplan.

"Given that the starting point is an open greenfield area, we feel the current ideas regarding location and siting are not yet strongly convincing or fully justified."

The first draft of the plans to build on the Green Belt in Thorley and redevelop the schools' existing sites in London Road, Warwick Road and Beldams Lane for more than 700 new homes was withdrawn amid a storm of protest a year ago, but the controversy shows no sign of abating.

A spokesman for Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation, which has been leading the fight, said that the organisation welcomed the Inspire East report, but said its findings should have been shared with the local community and councillors.

He added: "The report emphasises that the promoters have failed to understand the educational and organisational implications of the two schools on the same site. It also points out that a thorough sustainable travel and transport strategy to and from the school has not been properly explored.

"Surprisingly, the report mentions that additional housing is planned on this Green Belt site, which is contrary to the Local Plan, but does not mention the impact of aircraft noise on the new facilities.

"The promoters of this scheme seem to have learned nothing from their previous proposal, which was comprehensively rejected by the people of Bishop's Stortford.

"The [Bishop's Stortford] Civic Federation (BSCF) wants the right solution for the children of Bishop's Stortford; clearly this is not the right one. We hope that the findings of the Inspire East report are accepted by the two schools and the local education authority (LEA) and that their proposal to build on Whittington Way is withdrawn.

"The BSCF believes that the LEA should now seriously consider focusing all their efforts to engage with local communities transparently and build new schooling facilities at their reserved site on Hadham Road."

A spokesman for the governors behind the schools move declined to comment.

25 Feb 10 - Tooze timetable is a cause of division  Top 

This leader appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 25 February 2010

The newhead teacher of Herts and Essex High has learnt a harsh lesson this week. The strength and depth of feeling over the superschool plans is not quite the welcome Cathy Tooze envisaged when she took on the top job at the Bishop's Stortford secondary.

Her support for relocating her new school and Bishop's Stortford High to the Green Belt on the edge of town has once again whipped up a frenzy over what would be the biggest educational shake-up in Stortford for a century. Last week we reported that she was urging residents to seize an opportunity for change and believes pupils will greatly benefit from improved facilities on a shared site.

However, if the correspondents on this page are any indication, then opposition remains as fierce as ever. The pros and cons of creating a combined campus are complex and it is vital all parties are fully educated when considering this highly contentious issue.

With our children's futures at stake, Mrs Tooze's arrival presents an opportunity to ensure that we all do our homework properly.

18 Feb 10 - New head backs super school  Top 

This story by Sinead Holland appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 18 February 2010

The new head of Herts and Essex High has urged Bishop's Stortford people to back plans for a super-school in the Green Belt.

Cathy Tooze, who has now taken the reins full-time at the girls' secondary, said that revised plans for the controversial joint project with Bishop's Stortford High School would soon be submitted to East Herts District Council and she hoped town residents would seize "a real opportunity for change".

A storm of protest was provoked by the previous application to relocate both secondaries to a shared Green Belt site off Whittington Way, Thorley.

Their existing campuses in Warwick Road and London Road, plus a sports field in Beldams Lane, would then be redeveloped for 700 homes, along with a plot in Hadham Road owned by local education authority Herts County Council which is earmarked for a new school.

Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation has led the fight against the proposals, which were withdrawn more than a year ago after concerted opposition – including 1,000 protest letters and a 4,000-signature petition – and a recommendation from EHDC officers that councillors on the development control committee should reject the scheme.

However, Mrs Tooze said: "The message is not to just think about today's students, but think about the students of tomorrow and think about the advantages if we are able to rebuild these two schools so more children can benefit from the outstanding education we provide."

The former head of Hadleigh High School in Suffolk was appointed as Alison Garner's successor in September but split her time between both institutions until the start of this term. Since arriving at the Herts and Essex, the maths specialist said she had been struck by the quality of her staff and the application and ability of pupils, but it was clear that the aspirations of both were limited by the confines of a cramped and ageing site.

"This is a beautiful site, but we have just one small field. The girls have a 10-minute walk to get to the athletics fields and some of the buildings are falling apart. We're hugely over-subscribed, so if there's an opportunity to expand, surely we should be taking that."

She joins the Herts and Essex as the school celebrates its centenary and is well aware of its rich history at Warwick Road, but stressed: "A school is its people, not its buildings – but we can offer an education for the future in a building for the future."

With a new school just four years away if planning permission is granted, she was particularly keen to work with Bishop's Stortford High head Andrew Goulding in developing a sixth form at the new school which would offer the broadest range of subjects for students, but was clear that the secondaries would operate separately – preserving single-sex school choice for parents in the town and surrounding villages.

She said she had no doubts the Whittington Way plans were the only viable option for the town and while the mother of three has decided to commute from her East Bergholt home in order not to uproot sons Jack, 16, and Ed, 14, her hope is that her six-year-old daughter Anna will be able to attend Herts and Essex – on its new site – in five years' time.

4 Feb 10 - Experts called in amid claims council sold off Stortford land on the cheap  Top 

This story: Experts called in amid claims council sold off Stortford land on the cheap appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer on February 4, 2010. A specialist team of number-crunchers has been called in to scrutinise East Herts District Council's £7.35m Bishop's Stortford town centre sell-off after critics claimed the figures simply do not add up.

28 Jan 10 - Sharing 2020 vision for Stortford  Top 

This story by Sinead Holland appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 28 January 2010

A document detailing "A Vision for Bishop's Stortford" is being delivered to every home in the town this week.

The plan for the future has been prepared by the Vision 2020 group, a partnership led by East Herts District Council and made up of "a wide range of stakeholders in and around the town".

They claim it encapsulates the shared views and long-term aspirations of residents – although the civic federation had criticised its conclusions and produced a rival People's Vision.

Backers of 2020 say it spells out the opportunities and challenges that Stortford faces now and in the future and will provide a reference point for improving infrastructure, housing, education and leisure.

Now that the document is in place, they hope it will provide a reference point and guidelines for achieving these goals.

East Herts District Council leader Tony Jackson, chairman of the Bishop's Stortford 2020 group, said: "Bishop's Stortford is a thriving and successful town. It is safe and welcoming and rightly shows pride in its appearance.

"We produced this document to help ensure it builds on that heritage for now and its future generations. It not only looks at how we can make improvements, but, importantly, how we can prepare for the many issues the future will bring.

"It has been a challenge working together with so many different organisations; from the town council, the chamber of commerce, civic society (sic), voluntary sector, businesses, arts and leisure organisations.

"However, we soon found our common ground and reached a consensus. The shared vision those discussions produced provides a benchmark for the direction of Bishop's Stortford.

"We hope as many people and organisations as possible feel they are able to pledge their support for those wishes and aspirations for the town."

He is urging residents and organisations to sign up to the principles of A Vision for Bishop's Stortford at

21 Jan 10 - Residents celebrate hockey pitch victory  Top 

This story by Sinead Holland appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer of 21 January 2010

The rejection of plans to turn a Bishop's Stortford beauty spot into a floodlit, all-weather hockey pitch has been heralded as a victory for the community.

Residents in the Cricketfield Lane area had campaigned to block proposals from the town's hockey club to transform a Green Belt gem known as the Plateau Pitch into a synthetic playing area.

They were backed by East Herts District Council, which refused the scheme – to players' dismay – in April, prompting an appeal by the club. Now Government inspector Christina Downes has dismissed the plea.

Two of the staunchest opponents, award-winning garden designers Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith, said: "What we found amazing was that so many people from the local community got behind the campaign to protect this open space from development, either by writing letters, contributing money to fund the campaign, signing petitions or attending the opposition rally.

"It's so heart-warming that there's still a big sense of community in Bishop's Stortford and when people stand together we can achieve results.

"It was also so good to see that so many families used the Plateau Pitch over the last couple of weeks for sledging and playing in the snow. This area is part of the amenity space in this part of town and it's good that it will be protected for generations to come."

In her report, Ms Downes said: "The appeal development would, in my opinion, result in a substantial visual interruption within this open site.

"Although the fencing would be wire mesh and would be coloured green or black, I have no doubt that it would be seen as a sizeable enclosure and that the adverse impact would be further reinforced by the eight lighting columns around its perimeter. Openness is the most important attribute of the Green Belt."

She said that the loss for local people was not outweighed by the benefits development would bring to the club, which struggles to accommodate all its teams on sites around the town. Bishop's Stortford Hockey Club's disappointed chairman Simon Murphy said: "We're surprised at aspects of the decision, which appear to reflect a lack of understanding of the sport and the necessary provision of both fencing and lighting, which were identified as specific obstacles to consent.

"One of our main reasons for seeking to obtain planning permission at Cricketfield Lane was to ensure the financial security of the Sports Trust which runs the entire facility. However, if we are forced to move away from Cricketfield Lane then I fear for the long-term financial future of the trust and its very existence. The impact on the cricket, squash and tennis clubs, our trust partners, should not be underestimated if this were the case.