News Stories in 2017



Town Council - Christmas Tree Lights New!

Thanks to donations from several sources, including the BSCF, the lights on the Christmas tree in Market Square will be enhanced this year.

For more details see: A big thank you from Bishop's Stortford Town Council!


BSCF District Plan Statement  New!

EAST HERTS DISTRICT PLAN 2011-2033
STATEMENT BY BISHOP'S STORTFORD CIVIC FEDERATION

Chapter 5 – Bishop's Stortford

Issue 1 What is the basis for the number of new homes?

Issue 3 How and why was this level chosen ahead of other options?

Issue 7 Are the allocated sites appropriate and deliverable?

1. These questions are closely related and we are providing a single response to them.

2. The figures quoted by the Inspector (3729 – 4142) need to be updated. As noted in our objections (20 November 2016 para 20) to the pre-submission consultation version of the plan, the figures should have added to them a proportion of the completions, commitments and windfall allowance for the district. These totalled 5860 dwellings which were not allocated to specific settlements. We suggest that an additional allowance now needs to be made for the following:

Southmill Road 70 (under construction)
South Street 48 (under construction)
Hadham Road 84 (policy BISH 4 – see EHDC updated housing land supply note Sept 2017 ED 130)
Goods Yard 200 (policy BISH 7 – see EHDC updated housing land supply note Sept 2017 ED 130)
BSN say 100 (policy BISH 3)

3. This last point needs further explanation. The permission granted for Bishop's Stortford North (BSN) includes provision of two JMI schools of respectively 1 and 2 forms of entry (FE) on ASR’s 3-5. However planning permission has now been granted for a single 3 FE school on allotments which had not been zoned for development under the permissions previously granted. As a result, the land previously set aside for the two schools will now be available for additional housing, and 100 seems a reasonable estimate of the number of extra dwellings which could be accommodated.

4. Adding the above to the higher of the figures quoted by the Inspector gives a total of 4644 new homes. The most recently reported dwelling total for Bishop's Stortford was 14920 in 2011 and this allocation represents a 31% increase. It also represents 25% of the total housing supply for East Herts as set out in the Sept 2017 note (ED 130 Table 1) provided by the Council.

5. Of the lower figure quoted by the Inspector, the possibility of there being no homes under policy BISH 4 is no longer relevant. The County Council are relying on the whole this site being developed (247 dwellings in total) in order to fund development of a 6 FE secondary school on another part of BSN next to the A120 bypass. The site will become available for development when the County Council have completed an exchange of land agreement with the BSN developers. The availability of the Boys High School site for housing (policy BISH 6) is contingent upon the Green Belt site at Bishop's Stortford South (BSS – policy BISH 5) being developed. There is no other location to which the school could move. We discuss these two policies at paras 14-18 below. The remaining variable, the East Herts Council owned site at Old River Lane (policy BISH 8) currently awaits the publication of proposals by East Herts for its future use. For purposes of reviewing the soundness of the plan in relation to Bishop's Stortford we believe that the appropriate dwelling total to use is the higher figure, uplifted as we suggest to 4644.

6. Turning to the basis for allocating this number of dwellings to Bishop's Stortford, much of the total has already been determined by decisions already taken. BSN, Hadham Road and the two sites under construction amount to 2894 dwellings. The Goods Yard site has had a planning application including 680 dwellings refused but the developers are now working on another scheme. This is the last substantial brownfield site in the town and the Civic Federation support its development, though we are likely to continue the debate the amount of housing which the site can support.

7. As we argued in our submission of 20 November 2016, (paras 4 and 9-21) the allocation of housing to Bishop's Stortford over the last 30 years and as proposed in this plan greatly exceeds the requirement that would have arisen from the natural growth in the population, and the town has taken a disproportionate share of the inward migration into the district. The objectively assessed need (OAN) has been derived from a projection of demand within a housing market area covering four local authorities, and the dwelling total for East Herts is a target for the whole of the district – it is not about how it should be distributed within the district.

8. We believe that the schemes already committed and remaining brownfield sites will provide more than enough housing to meet the natural growth in the population of the town with a margin to spare for further inward migration. There is no objective justification for encroaching further on greenfield sites on the edge of town and we do not believe that such an approach would be sustainable.

9. On this point, the Council’s sustainability appraisal of the plan (SUB 004) is instructive. Box 6.1 describes the approach to growth within urban areas, growth at villages and greenfield allocations on the edge of the market towns as fairly ’set in stone’. We take this to mean that the previous pattern of development across the district (edge of town urban extensions combined with a highly restrictive approach to any development in villages) was accepted as a given without any consideration as to whether changes in communications and life style patterns will make this approach more unsustainable in the future. Having approached the appraisal with a built in prejudice against rural development, it is unsurprising that the report (Table 7.1) concluded that this was a less sustainable model than the one included in the plan.

10. We disagree. We explain our thinking in paras 22-34 of our objections of 20 November 2016 and give a very brief summary of the main points here.

11. In conclusion, we believe that there is no objective or rational basis for the dwelling total allocated to Bishop's Stortford. It is simply the result of perpetuating the past policy of ‘stuff it in Stortford’ to mitigate the housing pressures on the rest of the district, irrespective of where local residents might actually want to live. The alternative, more appropriate to the 21st century, of allocating less to Bishop's Stortford and more to rural East Herts has not been given proper consideration. An arbitrary target of 500 new dwellings in villages was fixed at the start of the process and the fact that 391 are already commitments (updated housing land supply paper Sept 2017 ED 130) suggests that the target was far too unambitious.

12. We therefore suggest that the Bishop's Stortford total should be reduced by 900 dwellings. We think that redistributing them to the rural area would be appropriate, though there may be other alternatives.

Issue 5 Are the allocations BISH 4 and BISH 6 available for development?
Issue 6 BISH 5 Is this the best option having regard to loss of Green Belt?

13. As explained in para 5 above the site at BISH 4 now has planning permission and the only constraint on development is the completion of the necessary land exchange with between the developers and the County Council. Indeed development there may well start before the bulk of BSN has been completed because the infrastructure requirements are much less onerous.

14. Policy BISH 6 requires the policy of developing BSS (BISH 5) to be implemented, since only if this site is developed will there be a location for the Boys High School to move to. There is no other available site in town, and without the development of BSS, the school will have to stay where it is, with redevelopment on site a feasible option which we would support.

15. BSS is currently within the metropolitan Green Belt. This site was in fact only incorporated into the Green Belt in 1979 and confirmed in the 1985 structure plan – it is not part of the immediate post war designation which is argued in some quarters to be too severe a constraint on the development needs of the present century. On the contrary, this designation occurred when it was anticipated that Stansted would become London’s third airport, that Bishop's Stortford would provide a significant amount of the housing to support its growth at BSN, and that the town would need to protect the green spaces in and around its boundaries after enlargement.

16. As explained in our objections of 20 November 2016 (paras 45-58) the suitability of this site for development has probably been examined more often and more thoroughly than any other part of the Green Belt in the district. On every occasion it has been deemed unsuitable for development not least by East Herts Council itself and their advisers, Peter Brett Associates. As made clear in the NPPF (para 82) Green Belt boundaries should only be changed in exceptional circumstances. Letters from former Housing Ministers, Brandon Lewis and Gavin Barwell in 2016 make it clear that housing need alone is not a sufficient justification for altering Green Belt boundaries and that, where it is proposed to do so through the local planning process, it should be with the support of the local people. The people of Bishop's Stortford have made it clear through the Neighbourhood Plan for the area and through a subsequent petition against this part of the District Plan that they are strongly opposed to the development of this site.

17. It is for East Herts Council to demonstrate what they regard as the exceptional circumstances which justify the alteration to this particular Green Belt boundary. They have not done so. As discussed in paras 6-8 above, housing need, even if it were a sufficient justification, does not apply in the case of Bishop's Stortford where there would be more than sufficient housing to meet local need and some inward migration without the release of this site. While the Council acknowledge (Green Belt Hearing Statement page 12 para 3) that the entirety of the housing requirement could be met in the two thirds of the district not covered by the Green Belt, they dismiss this as not sustainable without giving serious thought to what makes rural communities sustainable, or what is needed to preserve the quality of life and sustainability of urban communities.

18. We do not believe that any exceptional or very special circumstances have been advanced to alter the Green Belt boundary by releasing BSS for development. On the contrary all the arguments and evidence point to keeping it undeveloped. We would therefore urge the Inspector to recommend that policy BISH 5 is removed from the Plan. This will necessarily require the removal of policy BISH 6 since there would be no question of the school relocating to the site while it is in the Green Belt – they have tried and failed to do that before – and no other site is available for them to move to. However, assuming that the school stays where it is, the Civic Federation would see no objection to part of the Green Belt site being used to provide additional playing fields for the school, and for a policy to be included in the plan which anticipated that possibility.

19. Removal of these two policies would reduce the housing total for Bishop's Stortford by 900. We have suggested that they should be redistributed within rural East Herts but there may be other options. There would also be a number of detailed consequential changes to other parts of the plan which we have sought to identify in our objections of 20 November 2016 (from para 68 onwards).

20. Finally, for completeness on Bishop's Stortford Green Belt issues, we note that a statement was made on behalf of Bishop's Stortford College to the Part 1 hearings, objecting to the inclusion of the town’s so called green wedges in the Green Belt and instead arguing that they should be allocated for housing (ID 834625 – Para 5.5). The College happens to own part of one of the wedges. We would be strongly opposed to any alteration to the Green Belt status of these parcels of land. They provide vital areas of green space and recreation between various of the town’s extensive new developments. Although the Council’s Green Belt advisors (Peter Brett Associates) suggested that they might be preserved by other policies in the plan, our experience has been that all too often the Council has in the past been willing to set aside its own policies in response to pressure from developers. Green Belt status is the safest way of ensuring that these essential amenities are preserved.

BSCF October 2017


BSCF statement on the Green Belt published in the Bishop's Stortford Independent, October 4 - 10, 2017

LAST CHANCE TO SAVE THE GREEN BELT

This week a review begins by an independent Inspector of the East Herts District Plan. The review is a form of public inquiry called an Examination in Public where the Inspector will be asking key stakeholders, including the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation, whether the plan has been soundly prepared and should be adopted by East Herts Council as the blueprint for development in the district until 2033. The Civic Federation will be arguing that it should not.

Over the last forty years, Bishop's Stortford has been allocated 40% of all the new housing in East Herts. From a town of about the same size in 1981 as Hertford, we now have a population which is half as big again. This has not happened by accident or as a result of market forces. It has been the deliberate policy of previous district plans to allocate the lion’s share of all new housing to our town. The rationale has changed from time to time, but the policy of ‘stuff it in Stortford’ has been applied continuously.

The plan now under review promises more of the same with some 4500 new homes allocated to Bishop's Stortford – nearly 30% of the total for the whole of the district. This has come about by projecting forward past patterns of inward migration without asking whether such lopsided growth across the district is sustainable in future. Bishop's Stortford will be killed by having to take far more housing than its infrastructure and facilities can support. But at the same time, our villages are being killed off by having too little new housing which comes nowhere near meeting the organic growth in their own populations which, collectively, outnumber that of Bishop's Stortford. An arbitrary decision was taken at the start of the plan preparation to restrict housing in the villages to only 500.

Much of the growth in Bishop's Stortford has already been committed by decisions taken in previous plans, such as 2500 new homes at Bishop's Stortford North. However, this plan also proposes to sacrifice our precious Green Belt by developing all the land south of Whittington Way to the Bypass. Development on the Green Belt and on land which would be released by that development amounts to 1000 of the total number of homes allocated to the town.

The Civic Federation had thought that defeating the 'super schools' appeal to develop part of the site would secure its protection as open space for the benefit and enjoyment of all. There is no justification now for developing the whole of the site, given the amount of housing the town will be absorbing elsewhere. Local people have made clear time and again that they want this site to stay undeveloped. The Civic Federation will be asking the Inspector to strike this proposal out of the plan. It is our last chance to save this Green Belt site for the whole community.



Mar 23 - Currey Award for 2016

The Currey Award for 2016 was presented at Rhodes Centre on the 23 March 2017. See here for full details of the Currey Award for 2016 on March 1, 2016.