Hertford Waitrose closing on September 12 2017

Finally the second boot has fallen. It has been announced in black and white (well dark Waitrose battleship grey and white) that the Hertford branch of Waitrose will be closing for the final time at 4.00pm on Tuesday September 12 2017.

This will come as no surprise to many – those who have been closely following this blog for instance – or a complete shock to those who thought that this could never happen. The latter still believe that either the Partnership will change its mind at the last minute and stay; or hold to a view quite prevalent in town that Waitrose will upsticks and move a few miles up the road to the Van Hages site in Ware. Once again these points have been explained in great detail on these pages so there is no need to repeat them.

So what will the Waitrose shopper do from September 13 onwards? There are of course various options which have escaped scrutiny. There is a store quite close in Welwyn Garden City, almost next to a John Lewis. The 724 Arriva bus route runs almost every hour.

But there is no need to travel.

There is a Sainsburys store on the edge of town at Hartham. This has parking on the flat, a coffee shop, toilets and spaces for disabled and mother and child parking.

There is a Tesco slightly out of town in Mead Lane. This also has parking on the flat, a coffee counter, toilets and disabled spaces along with mother and child parking.

Not so large is Marks and Spencer which not surprisingly has parking on the flat.

You will see a pattern emerging. Waitrose have consistently stated that the Bircherley Green site before or after redevelopment does not offer them a viable alternative. The Waitrose site has been offered to all and any interested party who have to a man turned the offer down as the site does not offer parking on the flat. The man or housewife on the Clapham omnibus would rather walk to their car in the rain than take an unreliable lift.

Of course if you do have an uncontrollable wanderlust then there is an Asda and a Tesco in Ware as well as a Little Sainsburys. A little further along the A10 is Broxbourne with an Asda, Sainsburys, Iceland, Adi, Lidl and Morrisons. Almost spoilt for choice. And a Waitrose 1.6 miles away in Broxbourne.

Now all we have to wait for is the outcome of the Bircherley Green Redevelopment Planning Application which will be discussed by East Herts Council Development Management Committee on July 19th. Whatever their decision the Waitrose site in Bircherley Green will be dark for a very long time.

July 2017 – This application does not appear on the agenda for the 19th July meeting. I assume that there has been a significant amendment to the plans which would involve another period of consultation and hopefully a recommendation one way or the other to the DMC. Watch this space.

Why doesn’t the 724 run on time

7 November 2014

Why does the Arriva 724 bus service between Harlow and Heathrow never run on time?

Why doesn’t the 724 run to the timetable?

Why is the Arriva Harlow to Heathrow bus service invariably late more times than it is on time?

Why is one or more runs cancelled at short notice without any warning?

Why do Arriva not publish punctuality and performance figures for the 724 bus service?

These questions came back to me yesterday whilst waiting with my daughter and two grandchildren at Hertford Bus Station. They were hoping to catch the 10.20am bus to St Albans. It was an unusually chilly morning and the bus did not arrive until 10.50am. Considering that Hertford is near the beginning of what is admittedly a long route and the bus is scheduled to leave Harlow at 9.50am this is a very lengthy delay. Naturally there was no word of apology or explanation from the driver.

This bus in particular is often late as is the 10.07am from St Albans to Hertford. Sometimes neither of these services run at all. It is not just these particular timings but across the whole timetable.

Whilst biding our time counting buses we noticed that the 724 to Harlow service came in at 10.25am about the time that one might expect the 724 to Heathrow service. This was not an optical illusion. Various passengers did ask the driver if he could be the late running 10.20 724 to Heathrow and even offered him a small gratuity to do so. But no, he was on the way to Harlow.

This is also quite odd as either he was the late running 9.56 am service or the extremely early running 11.01am service. Having some experience of waiting for the 724 at Welwyn Garden City bus station and/or QEII hospital I was at best confused.

I know that this is a long route covering Hertford, Welwyn Garden City, St Albans, Watford and on to Heathrow but it is of not help to anyone waiting along the route. There are few east/west services anyway and the only alternative my daughter has is to take a University bus to Welwyn and then a 300 to St Albans. Fine you may say, but not so easy with two boys of two and half years old and one year old in a pushchair with bits of shopping and changing bags etc etc.

It might make things a bit easier to bear if there was up to date information. The information board at Hertford is placed on the service yard wall and not actually under the covered area of the bus station. It is no more than an electronic version of the paper timetable displayed behind the glass cabinets attached to the brickwork. The board does not display delays and once the appointed time for a bus arrival or departure has passed the number is wiped away completely

Why can’t the bus operators or the bus authority which is I suppose Hertfordshire County Council invest in a system which works very well in London whereby the running times of all routes is displayed with any delays or cancellations on a screen built into the bus stop itself?

I don’t know the answer although I suppose it has its roots (sorry for the pun) in finance or lack of; or a total inability to run a modern service. They can’t even make up their minds what to do about subsidies towards loss making bus routes which provide a vital service for the old, infirm and disadvantaged groups. This decision has been deferred until 2015 so we can still get on a bus after 6.30pm. Yippee!!

Whilst sheltering from the sprightly November wind my daughter said that there as no other real option but to learn to drive. I support her in this. But you can see where this is going. One less passenger, one more car, less bus services owing to lack of passengers, fares rise, more car owners and so on ad infinitum until the powers that be have it all their own way and no more have to pay for a public service such as buses. One more headache solved. But not for my daughter with two tired children and a rather exasperated father and grandfather.

Death by a thousand cuts

29 July 2014

Hertford has reasonably good transport links owing to its two train stations and bus station. Buses run almost to timetable except the Arriva 724 Harlow to Heathrow route which travels along a parallel universe where there are no hands on the clocks and it is never late until twenty minutes past the time indicated on the timetables. Like most areas north-south links are fine but the east-west routes are not so frequent.

There are evening and Sunday buses as well but if the intended cuts to bus company subsidies to be made by Hertfordshire County Council go ahead then there will be fewer if any buses at all running after 6.30pm or on Sundays to the furthest parts of the town, the villages or as they are sometimes called ‘the hinterland’.

This is not so good if you need to get home after a days work and have no other means of transport. It makes a mockery of the term ‘public service’. HCC’s own research indicates that there will continue to be a fall in the availability of public transport as commuters fed up with declining services and rising fares will turn to car ownership, thus creating a vicious circle. The car will be the dominant form of transport and buses will be a less than reliable service for the infirm, elderly and those who are unable to afford alternative transport.

There is still time to comment on the proposals which go under the familiar umbrella of ‘public consultation’ although there is no doubt that expenditure has to be saved and cuts will have to be made to met that shortfall. The Hertfordshire Libdems have begun an on-line petition.

Hertford is the county town. Fact. When I moved to Hertford in 1980 it was a thriving, bustling market town. During my years as Town Centre Manager since 2000 I have watched the steady decline of the retail offer and the equal dominance of the evening economy along with the change to a coffee shop culture, an urban feel for bars and gastro-pubs and a glut of premises in the hair and beauty sector.

Since my first post on Hertford’s retail offer two more shops are closing – Cactus in Railway Street and Loulebelle in Old Cross.

This has not happened overnight. Perhaps only people like me who are able to sit around and watch the world go by can appreciate the slow movement that has taken place. When traders some of whom have been here for over thirty years start to tell me that ‘there is nothing in Hertford to come here for’ then you know you have problems. The evenings are fine but in the day time then it is the elderly, mums with pushchairs and the unemployed and unemployable who fill the town.

Offices are being converted to residential units. This is in line with Government guidelines in wishing to bring people back to the town centres. But you need to work in London to be able to afford the cost of buying in the town centre. People stay in London for entertainment and shopping and the money stays in London. Therefore the numbers of office staff are also declining; they used to browse the book shops, Woolworths. W H Smiths, keep the sandwich bars in business and all the other independent shops we were proud of. There are not so many of these any more either and this is helping to accelerate the rapid fall in footfall during the day time, the lifeblood of the traditional traders. It is fine coming to town for a cup of coffee but you used to shop first and then drink, now you just drink because the shops are closing.

Not just the shops. Sovereign House as well. Admittedly this has been a blot on the Hertford landscape for some time but it also housed the Inland Revenue Services and Social Security office. Both of these are now boarded up. I presume the latter has been moved to the Jobcentre Plus building in Parliament Square but as for the tax man – perhaps Stevenage?! And the drop-in arrangement at Wallfields has also been cancelled.

There was a County Court here as well which used to hear family disputes but this was moved to Shire Hall some years ago. In 1971 a Crown Court was established in St Albans but criminal cases and the juvenile court presided over by magistrates were still held at Shire Hall but have now been transferred to either Stevenage or St Albans and only the family court remains here. This could also lead to some of Hertford’s solicitors moving as well to be close to where cases are heard adding to the exodus of office workers mentioned above.

Just around the corner from Sovereign House is the local Police Station. It is closed to the public. You cannot just turn up and speak to someone at the front desk. You have to make an appointment. The Probation Office remains in Ware Road but Hertfordshire Highways has moved out from its Hertford base also in Ware Road to St Albans, Stevenage and other centres. County Hall sits on top of the hill but many of its functions have also been transferred around the county. East Herts Council at Wallfields encourages more staff to work from home and utilise hotdesking when in town.

You may be spotting a trend here. I have mourned the loss of the round town cycle race and Fun Day is no more. This years Hertford Carnival had to be cancelled for lack of interest amongst the town’s clubs, societies and other organisations – not I might add the organisers. In the early part of this decade the Vintage Bus Rally from Hertford Bus Station was a highlight of Fun Day but this year was so poorly attended by enthusiasts and public that I fear this may also be lost.

I repeat: Hertford is the County town. But slowly and almost imperceptibly its pre-eminence as an administrative centre has diminished to the point where it is hard to see it continuing to function as such. It is still a pleasant town to visit with its strong architectural and historical heritage but even tourists are slowly waning.

I headed this piece ‘Death by a thousand cuts’. On the surface nothing has changed but underneath Hertford is bleeding, possibly mortally from a succession of decisions taken by various groups who see no future for the town which has been stripped of all those things that make its residents happy to live here.

The town’s motto is ‘Pride in our Past, Faith in our Future’. What future now?