What future for Hertford now

Now that the dust has settled on the planning application for Bircherley Green Shopping Centre it is time to think ahead. There are still a few permissions and details to be finalised but for many the die has already been cast.

The owners of the site have given everybody notice to quit. This was not unexpected as many leases had already been amended to include such a break clause. Everyone will have to be out by 28th April 2018. Some traders have already quit such as Halfords, the Luxury Soap Shop, Hob and Rock Sassy and some such as Chris the gents hairdresser is shortly moving to new premises in Fore Street. But for others the stark choice is either find new premises quickly or face closing down completely.

Whatever the outcome the Bircherley Green site will possibly be completely demolished and then rebuilt from the ground up over a period of maybe two years and more. A big hole in Hertford. You can read in previous posts that there are more shop vacancies than normal and with building work to be a common factor in town centre life who is going to be willing to invest in a new retail venture until the dust has settled again.

There are various schemes in action such as the Hertford Town Centre Urban Design Strategy and the pedestrianisation of Maidenhead Street. However these are in the control of East Herts and/or Hertford Town Councillors. This is not necessarily a bad thing but there can be little input from those who are affected most – traders and residents who live and work in the town centre itself.

Way back in the late 1980’s the Government authorised the setting up Town Centre Management Boards across the country. They were funded by Local Government and most had an initial grant of £35,000. Not so here. Hertford, Ware and Bishops Stortford were given £10,000 each and Buntingford £5,000. Each were established slightly differently but the basic idea was that each Board drew its membership from District and Town Councillors, Chambers of Commerce, Police Neighbourhood Teams, Residents Associations and representation from the day time and night time economies. In other words a cross section of the town that reflected each and every view on how the town should develop, or could develop.

The Hertford Board (HTCMB) used the £10,000 to run events such as Fun Days and French markets. They were very successful in attracting visitors even if most of the input was voluntary. The HTCMB folded a few years ago as East Herts decided that ‘things had not worked out as we had expected’ and the annual grant was withdrawn along with funding to all other towns. In the last few years of existence the agreement by which the grant was awarded was linked to providing economic intelligence rather than staging events to attract visitors. There was no restriction on events but they had to be paid for by other means.

During its existence the HTCMB often fell foul of East Herts as it produced petitions and reports criticising the current parking policy in town; as well as other things it thought could be improved. This caused a conflict between the Board and the hand that fed it. Maybe it was not as effective as it might have hoped but it did try and provide an opposition to the established political establishment.

At present all 50 seats at East Herts Council are filled by 50 Tory Councillors and 15 of the 16 seats at Hertford Town Council are also Tory held. There is no Hertford Chamber of Commerce any more, the HTCMB which renamed itself the Hertford Town Partnership was wound down about six years ago. In short there is no opposition. This is not healthy in an open democracy.

I think it is time that those sections of the community mentioned above form a representative body again because the next three years is an uncertain journey and the destination is the future of those people who have most to lose. I mentioned this in my letter of support for the Wrenbridge proposals for Bircherley Green. I do not doubt that the various political committees will move forward in a proper and in their eyes the right way but maybe this is not the way that the people most affected want or desire.

When the Hertford Town Partnership was wound up I was awarded a grant to provide East Herts with a report on five projects that could be established with the least effort and minimal funding but provide the greatest environmental impact.

I whittled down pages of varied projects, many completely of-the-wall or left field but one of my five final suggestions was to introduce the Community Toilet Scheme. This is a scheme whereby the Council pay hotels and restaurants a small monthly or annual sum in order for the public to use their toilets. There is a significant lack of public toilet facilities in Hertford but an overwhelming number of hotels, bars and restaurants.

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to find the following item on BBC News regarding a similar scheme in Bremen, Germany.

Maybe not pleasantly surprised because I had championed this in 2009. Much to my chagrin the pilot project took place in Ware and then extended to Bishops Stortford. Why not Hertford that has more watering holes than those two put together and only has one public toilet at the bus station that defies description and another in The Six Templars with an entrance by the Castle gates.

Those with long memories may recall that the development of the Six Templars was delayed whilst Wetherspoons and East Herts Council argued over who should be responsible for cleaning these toilets as they occupied space where public toilets previously existed.

This problem was overcome but there are also well appointed facilities on the first floor. If you sit awhile in Wetherspoons you will notice many a passer-by popping in and walking upstairs to avail themselves of the facilities and then exiting back into the street. No one seems to mind, the toilets are always clean and inspected frequently – so why should Wetherspoons not be rewarded by the Council for providing a safe and hygienic facility.

My other point is why given the complete disparity in the number of premises available Hertford was overlooked in favour of Ware. You can appreciate why i would like to see a form of town representation rise again.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1516551896ebrab1516551896nhoj@1516551896tcatn1516551896oc1516551896

 

Vale, adios, aloha, ciao, auf wiedersehen, au revoir and goodbye Waitrose

So, the final act as been played out and the Hertford Waitrose is no more. Some might say this is a sad day for the town but more of that later. I am reminded of Marc Antony in Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Waitrose.

Waitrose closed doors
Waitrose closed

I have seen hundreds, perhaps thousands of comments on social media sites from posters who have accused everyone from Council (pick one from three) to Waitrose to John Lewis to Diageo and Wrenbridge and Planners in general for the closure. Some of the comments have been at best uninformed and at worst pure fantasy. I do not claim to be completely ‘au fait’ with all the events leading up to today but if you read a selection of my posts on this subject (right) you will see that closure was inevitable and no one single person or company’s fault.

I have known Waitrose to have been a part of Hertford’s commercial and social life since 2001 when I first became involved in the town and right up to my retirement as Town Centre Manager in 2010.

They were one of the major sponsors of Hertford Fun Day. My abiding memory of the manager at that time Jim Brewin was seeing him in the middle of Old Cross standing by his collapsible chair, floppy hat on head, water bottle in hand directing the road closures. Jim was Chairman of the Fun Day committee until 2005; he organised his staff to help man the road closures and act as stewards and as seen in the previous sentence led by example.

Waitrose provided some of the initial funding for the radios for Hertford Town Watch; a town centre security initiative that with 50 traders, licensees and venues with radios and 19 CCTV cameras became the envy of many other towns. It might not have been that way had not a van parked in Salisbury Square on the morning of one Fun Day exactly where the stage was to be set up. The radio to CCTV control would not work and we discovered that when Waitrose closed at night and on Sundays as it did then, the power to the aerial was also switched off. Of course the aerial is now fully functional 24/7 and has been moved now that Waitrose has closed.

Along with Lloyds Bank Waitrose sponsored the food for the Hertford Town Watch members breakfast meeting at the Waterside until Michelle left. A free breakfast was extended to all town centre traders and you could get everything from a cup of coffee to a full English.

So it has always been. Nearly every organisation in town has cause to be grateful to Waitrose for a form of sponsorship or charitable donation; the Horticultural Show at the Castle, Hertford Food and Drink Festival and lunchtime Soundbites concerts at All Saints Church are amongst those too numerous to mention to have benefited and this does not include the monthly community matters also known as the green coin box.

As sure as night follows day the Hertfordshire Mercury has had an input in its own inimitable style – ‘Eleven things we will miss about Waitrose’.  I will mention a few.

First – Overheard in Waitrose – I was going to award an Oscar here but here are three contenders in reverse order; 3. When does the sale start? 2. I hear John Lewis will be moving in when you move out and my favourite of all time which would have taken the Oscar and the teatime biscuit 3. Wetherspoons have bought the whole of the shopping centre and there will be a bar on the ground floor and a beer garden on the first floor and be overlooked by the car park.

Second – Free coffee – yes, it was great to pick up your morning boost of caffeine at no charge along with the Daily News but as I have mentioned elsewhere Waitrose became part of the problem. Small coffee bars in many English towns suffered a significant loss of trade with this initiative. So now Hertford’s own independent coffee shops may see a small upturn in trade, along with the newsagents with newspaper and Lottery sales and even the dry cleaners.

Third – Employees own the business – they do not. Owners of businesses are not made redundant. ‘Partners’ as they are called have a contract of employment like any other company employee, they have to fight for their holiday entitlement against each other, they get disciplined for breaking company guidelines like anybody else and many are paid just above the National Average Wage. The company will claim that they offer a competitive wage which when the annual bonus and staff discount are taken into account brings the salary up to the level of the National Living Wage. That may be so but the level of profit sharing has been dropping over the last few years and with the supermarket pricing wars raging staff discount does not always compensate for the slightly higher pricing structure at the stores. This is not ownership.

To continue my theme of mentioning the good it should be noted that all staff that expressed a desire to remain with the company have all been found suitable employment within the group. Those that wished to leave have done so with a very good redundancy and/or retirement package. Throughout this experience since closure was announced in February there has been constant consultation and support from many Head Office departments for all the staff and you cannot say fairer than that. There is sure to be many a tear dropping from eyes when four o’clock chimes.

I don’t know if this will be the case throughout the town. Everyone who knows about these things knew that Waitrose lease expired in 2016. For many years previous County, District and Town Council members and officers have all stated that Hertford will collapse and die if and when Waitrose should leave. No one has done anything to lessen the impact such closure will now have. Retail units are already starting to become vacant.

A huge sum was spent on the Hertford Town Centre  Design and Vision Strategy. That did not offer any proposals either other than a rather extensive appendix as found in Rollercoaster Tycoon or Sim City to illustrate the varied and wonderful designs of street furniture that could be installed in Hertford Town Centre. They were a little light on where the finance was coming from.

I know that the fall out from the closure of Waitrose will be painful and will continue to talk about it here.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1516551896ebrab1516551896nhoj@1516551896tcatn1516551896oc1516551896

The decline in Hertford’s retail offer – Part Three

During my time as Town Centre Manager it was easy to promote Hertford, a different but amazing kind of town full of independent traders; a town where you could still find a haberdashery (since closed), ironmongers and diving school (closed since December 2016 and premises still unoccupied). That wide retail offer continues to decline since my first post on this phenomenon in November last year (see below).

BeckwithsI walked along St Andrew Street and the first thing I noticed was that one of the most iconic buildings in town was ‘To Let’ – Beckwiths, once home to an equally iconic antiques business.

 

It was also home for the stone man that was decapitated a few years back. He was restored but the damage means he is not so tall and does not fit so snugly underneath the eaves.

A little further towards Old Cross ‘Audio Hi-Fi’ remains empty as it has done for more years than I can remember. The business moved around the corner opposite the old Library but it was soon sold to a competitor who then closed it and Deli Italia moved in only to close as well a few months back. The premises remain empty. A few more yards along Bob Hill Motorcycles remains dark.

All is not lost in St Andrew Street as Fingertips have moved in where the Il Vino coffee shop was but this has left a hole in Fore Street of which much later.

Ashleys

On to Maidenhead Street and the sad frontage of what was Ashleys – see my earlier note.

 

The last time I looked in there was an empty space full of concrete debris and a JCB that had fallen into a pit.

 

A few weeks back Planning Department nailed a notice to the hoarding for the owners to replace the hoarding with something more befitting the town. It was pushed through the letterbox and nothing more has happened.

 

Halifax now closed

To the right and along Honey Lane is the similarly empty and boarded premises of the Halifax.

This was part of the Lloyds Banking Group and Lloyds Bank in Bircherley Street must surely be a casualty of the Bircherley Green Redevelopment.

 

The space is required for the new Premier Inn – if planning is approved

Speaking of which Halfords are going early and have announced that they will be leaving their present site on September 19 and moving across the road on September 26 beneath the gym at the old Marquee Centre. This will increase the empty space in the shopping centre as Freedom Australia moved out some time ago; and The Luxury Soap Company and Hobs Hairdressers have also departed.

A few short steps from Halfords the Ruby Room annexe shop is also empty again, Retail Therapy having moved some time ago to St Andrew Street.

four seasonsI have mentioned Fingertips above as having moved from Fore Street but that is just the beginning of the story.

The Oak Room and Creative Sanctuary both have ‘To Let’ signs above and will be closing at the end of the summer period.

 

Four Seasons gift shop is in the final days of a sale before closure and Emma H the bra shop is also empty (owing to lack of support – sorry, couldn’t resist that awful pun).

Out of curiosity I checked a few estate agents on-line to see what retail premises were available and saw a few not mentioned above and will not mention here as there are no visible signs of the incumbents wanting to vacate premises. The obvious signs are there; that Hertford is seeing a slow and gradual loss of retail outlets.

It is not all doom and gloom. Two vaping shops have opened in Market Street and St Andrew Street and Hertford Wine in Maidenhead Street. The last time I updated my database the vacancy rate in Hertford was slightly over 3%. I am informed that it is now just over 5% but does not include the recent and imminent closures above.

Let us not forget that Waitrose will close on 12th September and that a date for a decision to be made on the planning application for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green has yet to be set. Until such time as a decision is made I cannot see how anyone can have any confidence in opening a shop in Hertford – of course I could be wrong.

Contact John Barber here: moc.r1516551896ebrab1516551896nhoj@1516551896tcatn1516551896oc1516551896

The decline in Hertford’s Retail Offer Part One

The decline in Hertford’s Retail Offer Part Two

 

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.

A walk through Hertford 2017 style

Wrenbridge have just submitted the final plans for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre after months of discussion between themselves and East Herts Planning Department, local groups, residents and more than enough statutory consultant bodies such as the Environment Agency and the Canal and River Trust that you can throw a blueprint at.

If you really must read all about it then follow this link to the planing page and read as many documents as your brain will allow: Documents relating to application.

Bircherley Green Shopping Centre is located in the town centre bordered by Railway Street to the south, the River Lee (Lea) to the north, Bircherley Street to the east and Bull Plain to the west. This map explains it all:

Aerial view of Bircherley Green
Bircherley Green in blue (top centre) within Hertford Town boundaries

This small piece of real estate almost lost in the middle of twentieth century expansion has consumed the minds of the good and great since 2014. It is contained within the Hertford Conservation Area but as everyone admits it is not the most attractive group of buildings to grace this ancient, market town.

So why has it got everyone defending it and wanting to counter any change? Because Hertford is an ancient English market town. I doubt if anyone who has contributed to any report listed above has bothered to walk the streets recently. They might have a different opinion if they had; so I will save you the trouble of visiting the town yourself and explain how Hertford fits into this mind set.

Hertford has seen a return to the old traditional crafts of tattooing, vaping, nail polishing and video gaming. Many shops have adopted a simple Dark Ages colour scheme of black or dark battleship grey eschewing the more modern trend towards hand painted signage above the door applied with mahlstick and sable brush.

The inns and taverns that were found in almost every house the length of Fore Street and Back Street (now Railway Street and Maidenhead Street) have been replaced by bars and venues serving ‘craft’ beer from metal kegs and poured from bottles containing ales and stouts that were never brewed anywhere in the county or for that matter, the country.

The old coffee shops have given way to transatlantic coffee shops with even stranger sounding names where no face to face commerce takes place apart from a Wi-fi link and where a cup of coffee costs more than a pack of Java beans from a supermarket shelf. Thank Heavens for Rose Cafe which stands by the traditional methods and where you can still buy a traditional cup of Nescaff for under a pound and it is brought to your table with saucer almost as soon as it is ordered.

Unfortunately many staple mid seventeenth century meals such ‘boyle beef, porch, rost beef and cheese’ have been replaced by a growth of restaurants with a distinctive Italian flavour and a slight hint of Turkish. This type of Continental fayre is thought to have been brought over to this country by the growing number of Italian students eager for a sight of their Shakespearean heritage behind the modern facade of estate agents and charity shops.

Do seek out the commercial sector, many of the inns and stores that sold these hot and cold vittals are still there. Many are seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings; one or two are thought to be sixteenth century. The timber framing and plaster boarding have been protected for posterity by the application of twentieth century concrete. You cannot see the original design or view the interior as they are mostly private offices but they are all to be found in the Department of Environment List of Buildings of Historic or Architectural Interest being at least of Grade II standard.

As befits a medieval town the road system is all that you could wish for. The town centre layout has not changed much since the early seventeenth century as Spede’s map of 1611 shows.

Spede's map of 1611
Spede’s map of 1611

Fore Street and Back Street mentioned above can be plainly seen leading from Hertford Castle in the centre to the town’s eastern boundary.

Not only is the road system exactly the same as it was over four hundred years ago, so are the roads. The cobbles have no mortar to bind them, broken slabs on the pavements catch the unwary lady with high heels and pot holes peer though the thin tarmac on the surface of the roads to laugh at motorists. Hertford was built for the horse and cart and this is still the best form of travel through town although there are now no inns to stable your horses which is a bit of a stinker. But fear not, you can still park your car – for a fee – before the Beadle catches up with you.

Did I mention Hertford Castle? It did exist but the unwary visitor may find it hard to find. All that remains is the grassy mound on which the original Norman motte was built. What we call ‘the Castle’ is actually the gatehouse rebuilt by Henry VIII in the early sixteenth century and then parts of it were blown up by the Duke of Devonshire in the nineteenth century.

No medieval town could be without its castle; or its market. There is a Charter Market on Saturdays which struggles to fill the available space. No longer are cattle herded down Fore Street to be sold at market behind the old inns that stretched to All Saints churchyard at the rear. I suppose this might be a good thing as they might wander along Gascoyne Way and cause traffic to snarl up all along the A414 east and west, which of course never ever happens at all in these more enlightened times.

This is why report after report from agencies as diverse as Historic England and Waste Services have been damning the application to redevelop Bircherley Green Shopping Centre in a bid to protect Hertford’s heritage and architectural beauty from the ravages of the Twenty First century – and urge us all to continue to embrace the legacy of the Saxons, the Norman Conquest, the Plague and the Poor Law.

It is now all in the hands of the East Herts Council Planing department – we await their decision.

Town councillors vote 3-0 to throw out Bircherley Green plans – No!!

It was with a wry smile that I read in the Hertfordshire Mercury that Hertford Town Council had voted unanimously to reject the planning application to redevelop Bircherley Green.

This would be fine if it wasn’t so wrong or, far from the truth. It was the Planning sub-committee that voted to reject the plans.

There are or were, eight members of that sub-committee. One has since resigned as his seat is now subject to a by-election. Of the remaining seven three left the meeting room owing to a conflict of interest. Comments were reported by the Mercury from three councillors so it can be extrapolated that the seventh councillor did not turn up as the vote was in their words – unanimous, with no one abstaining.

This was not a three man judging panel as found at boxing matches or a jury of twelve good men and women deliberating on a verdict at a High Court trial. It was three councillors on a reduced sub-committee taking a joint decision. It is taking the concept of democracy a bit too far.

Even so Hertford Town Council is not the Planning Authority. East Herts Council is. Hertford Town Council’s comments will have the same weight as anyone else who chooses to respond to the planning application whether for or against. The case will be assessed by a Planning Officer and whether recommended for approval or rejection will still be heard by the Development Management Committee at the earliest opportunity. This could be May but possibly as late as June or July before a final decision is made.

I do wish the Mercury could get it right sometimes.

Returning to the sub-committee I am pleased that Cllr Haddock has the interests of Folly Island at heart but I am sure the matter of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west was discussed with residents and later addressed by Wrenbridge with their consultancy team.

On the other hand I have known Cllr Ruffles for a long time. He has always been a good friend of Folly Island. I talk to him and ask his advice and opinion on all sorts of things from floods and local history to the state of the alleyway at the back of my house. Our paths have crossed at the many committees, forums and focus groups that exist in this part of the world. He knows where I stand on all things political and once found great pleasure in leaving me alone in the middle of Salisbury Square on a particularly windy Saturday morning holding on to a very large Conservative Party umbrella whilst he went and collected something else from the Castle.

But on the matter of Bircherley Green I have to disagree with him.

I know Hertford Town Centre is a Conservation Area and that the majority of the buildings within its borders are Grade II listed as they of significant historical or architectural interest. I have the Department of Heritage bible to refer to but my 1990 version does not include Bircherley Green even though it was built in 1981.

Waitrose from the river
Waitrose from the river

Bircherley Green Shopping Centre is not something I would wish to preserve or enhance. It has no historical or architectural interest at all. The rear of Waitrose is far from being a welcoming feature to anyone coming into Hertford by boat, or walking through Folly Island. Any premises built today would be river facing.

There is no one to take Waitrose space. It has been offered to every other supermarket chain (and other retailers) and they have all turned it down for one overriding reason in that it does not have parking on the flat. Without a main A* tenant Bircherley Green will dissolve into a black hole.

The only chance Hertford has of attracting High Street names is to offer space that is suited to their modern day requirements. People used to ask me why can’t we have a River Island or a Next or so on etc etc. The reason is that you can’t go knocking listed buildings about just to make space to accommodate a name.

Having a vibrant centre with all the famous names in one place might make Hertford a place to visit again and once shopping is done enjoy the bars, restaurants and pubs and perhaps stay overnight in one of the many hotels. Leaving Bircherley Green as it is will ensure that many shopkeepers comment that ‘there is nothing in Hertford to come for’ moves even closer to the truth and what was a ‘challenging’ environment will be one that will enter its final death throes.

A more detailed version of the above will form part of my own letter to Planning Department to support the application along with a host of other observations made during my years as Town Centre Manager.

More thoughts on Bircherley Green Shopping Centre plans

I have already made some initial comments on the planing application recently submitted for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre (see right).

It is not going to win any awards but it does attempt to remove one eyesore from the centre of Hertford without putting another in its place. The Planning Statement comments: In summary, the wider area is of a generally mixed character with no particular prevailing building style or dominant materials. Whilst there are historic buildings throughout the Town Centre there are also a significant number of more recent buildings and developments.

The majority of Hertford’s buildings are listed in the Department of National Heritage List of Buildings of Special or Architectural Interest. Most are Grade II, a few such as Hertford Castle are Grade I but there is no place at all for Bircherley Green which was built in 1981.

The plans show the new Bircherley Green as three distinct blocks with retail premises supporting up to 70 apartments and Centurion House now a Premier Inn Hotel. The cleaner version from the Public Realm Statement is shown below.

Bircherley Green Shopping Centre

The big break from the past is that these plans allow for free and unfettered pedestrian access through the new centre. Before the shopping centre was built the area was home to the bus station, a town centre car park and a few remaining dwellings on the banks of the River Lea.

The main spine is to be The Mall which runs from Railway Street down to the river edge. This is also accessed by a path from the bus station and a much improved river walk which allows people to walk between the bus shelter and Bull Plain.

This is of course a double edged sword. Whilst it fulfils much of the town vision statements even harking back to the Riverside Yards Project of 1998 it also adds to the potential for all sorts of odd behaviour.

At present Bircherley Green Shopping Centre is gated and the gates closed in line with Waitrose opening hours. The Mall would not exist nor would the walk from the bus station. The river edge is no more than a service road and because of the restrictions on use provided by the gates in Railway Street and Bircherley Street is rarely used as a major thoroughfare.

This new free access will enable the proposed wining and dining area along the river to flourish. It will also mean that people will be walking through and around the centre all hours of day and night. The residents of the new builds will be parking their cars in the car park or searching for space elsewhere as will the hotel guests if the car park is full.

As we know Hertford has a bustling, energetic and thriving night time economy. But it brings with it loud and oft times aggressive and drunken noise and behaviour. The centre will now provide all manner of short cuts across town and an oasis of rest with benches along The Mall and on the riverside. The restaurants will no doubt try and push their closing times to a later hour and the lights along the Mall and the river might not always be switched off when they are supposed to.

None of this may happen. Nights may pass without disturbance from carousing drunks or noise from the night time economy. You cannot oppose something that has not happened but I do hope that in their consideration East Herts Council may have some regard for those residents who live close to this ‘jewel in the crown’.

Bircherley Green planning application

Finally after many months of bated breath a planning application has been made for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre. Both are long overdue.

If you cannot wait any longer this is the link to the the appropriate page: https://www.publicaccess.eastherts.gov.uk and enter 3/17/0392/FUL into the search box. There are pages and pages supporting the application but the Planning Statement, Public Realm Statement and Heritage Statement are the best places to start.

My first impression is that the new design is at best utilitarian (something that is useful or functional) rather than ‘a jewel in the crown’ as some have recently tried to market it. It will make no difference what I think as the plans have been well battered having been tossed between Wrenbridge and East Herts Council for some time so I expect that it is something upon which they are all agreed and can be approved.

The Planning Statement says: 163. The starkly visible, hard and uninviting ‘back of house’ landscape along the north is replaced with a new, high quality, pedestrianised public realm, active frontages and a distinctive ‘feature’ pavilion. Rather than turning its back on the river frontage, as the existing centre, the proposed development marks the new key nodal point and celebrates the new riverfront square. This aspect of the proposed development constitutes a considerable enhancement and it is exactly the kind of exciting, vibrant redevelopment referred to as desirable in the draft Hertford Conservation Area Appraisal.

This is quite true. This is the ‘back of house’ now.

Waitrose from the river
Waitrose from the river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is how it was presented to residents in 2016.

Waitrose from river as proposed 2016
Waitrose from river as proposed 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

As presented in the Planning Statement 2017

Waitrose from river 2017
Waitrose from river 2017

 

 

 

 

The Statement goes on to say: 162. The proposed development is a non-traditional form of development which does not attempt to mould modern building types into traditional forms. Instead the development takes the form of modern buildings. However, the rhythm picks up on the traditional street grain and the use of compatible materials subtly references to the traditional materials in Hertford, combined with modern materials—something which can be seen in many modern buildings in the conservation area.

However recent developments along the river have maintained a uniform style, although modern they pick up on the traditional features of sloping roofs found in historic buildings such as the Seed Warehouse, the new Hertford Library and Lombard House (the Hertford Club – out of shot below).

dophin yard
Dophin yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

A feature that the old Waitrose building carried forward. It may be ugly but it did at least try to blend in with the existing riverfront scene.

Any comments on these plans may be made on-line using the link above or in writing no later than 30 March 2017.

So at last things have started to move in Hertford. Things that have been mentioned in previous posts (see right) are mentioned again here with no comment from me whatsoever.

Following the publication and acceptance of the Vision and Design Strategy as developed in consultation with Tibbalds and others one or two of their proposals were taken up by the three Councils. On 7 September 2016 the Hertfordshire Mercury reported that:

Improvements in Hertford town centre to the tune of £1million look set to be on the way after councillors agreed to fund half the project.

East Herts District Council’s executive committee agreed to put £500,000 towards key improvements
to The Wash, Maidenhead Street and Bull Plain. Hertford Town Council is looking to contribute £300,000 to the project, while Hertfordshire County Council has also given its backing.

Resurfacing roads and improving pedestrian access are among the key proposals, which the authorities believe will better public space and traffic flow.

The district and town council will now seek further funding for the project.

Then on 1 February 2017 they also reported that:
A £225,000 government grant will help build new health centres and regenerate town centres,
according to County Hall.

The money will be given to Hertfordshire County Council by central government under the One Public Estate model.

The council did not reveal which projects would benefit from the funding.

In the Planning Statement it mentions that negotiations are still on-going with the North and East Herts Trust for a NHS walk-in or GP surgery to be sited in the new development. If talks are successful then space could be made available in the office space now vacant within Centurion House.

On Friday 24 September some residents of Folly Island (most probably those most affected) received notice from East Herts Council under the Town and Country Planning Act of the application for the development of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre.

On Saturday 25 September my good wife and I took a stroll through our home town and from Folly Bridge, through Bull Plain, Maidenhead Street, Mill Bridge and to Old Cross the pavements and roads were covered in lines and squiggles of every colour in the style of a modern Jackson Pollock.

At first these seemed quite confounding but we decided that these were markings by Highways for the improvements to the public realm as mentioned above. So, there is a fairy godmother after all!

Hertford Waitrose closing in September 2017

That thud on the doormat was not the daily delivery of junk mail, nor the latest manuscript submission to a publisher rejected for the second or third time but the other boot finally falling.

That boot is of course the confirmed closure of Waitrose in Bircherley Green in September 2017. It was the only outcome of a process that began in 2014 and should surprise no one. It will of course. It will anger and outrage and ‘Disgusted of Hertford’ will fill the letters pages and message boards for weeks to come.

The Hertford store was always too small for a modern supermarket. It did not have space for all the products that fight for prominence elsewhere; it could not support a coffee bar, sushi bar or wine bar such as other Waitrose stores do. The lifts (nothing to do with the company) were frequently out of action and the car park (once beloved of East Herts Council and now in private hands) was a constant source of complaint. The toilets of course were unfit for human habitation. None of that was Waitrose fault or for the staff to repair.

They said in 2014 that the plans for Bircherley Green as designed and presented by Wrenbridge were not viable for their needs. Their stance never wavered. They wanted their own space, car parking on the flat and access routes.

Waitrose were outbid for the McMullen site that now houses Sainsburys. Despite being Planning Department’s preferred option for Ware the Council Executive plumped for Asda who most conveniently blocked the final application by Van Hages to extend their Ware Garden Centre to accommodate a food store (Waitrose never mentioned).

That site would have suited Waitrose. It would have meant that they could have doubled their floor space to about 26,000 sq ft, incorporated toilets and a cafe and offer parking on the flat. There would have been improved vehicle access for ‘click and collect’ and for the in house delivery teams to deliver orders.

Instead the people of Hertford signed petitions to plead with Waitrose to stay in Hertford even though they had constantly said they did not want to. Finally Asda broke cover and invoked the Green Belt. There are no lambs frolicking through the green grass amidst the piles of timber and paving slabs in Van Hages outdoor selling areas and no combine harvester with lights glaring moves silently at night to bring food to our tables.

The net result is that we have the worst of all worlds, especially if you are a Waitrose customer. No store in Hertford, no store in Ware, you may have to drive to Welwyn or Bishops Stortford and an uncertain future as to what kind of national chain will inhabit the space in the projected designs which will be presented by Wrenbridge shortly as part of the Bircherley Green redevelopment project.

It is often said: ‘be careful what you wish for’. This is what happens when you fail to read the big picture. It is unlikely that the Government will allow for any piece of Green Belt to be re-designated and for commercial building to take place on it. It is likely that it may occur for housing and given that the Gilston Garden Town, previously known as Harlow North will become a reality there ought to be somewhere for people to shop.

Perhaps more effort ought to have gone into persuading government advisors to allow for Van Hages to build on their Green Belt and we might then have a Waitrose supermarket close by with all the product ranges and facilities of a modern store. But this will not happen.

However there is a bright side in all this doom and gloom. When Waitrose finally closes its doors customers may buy their morning paper and Lottery ticket from the independent newsagent, their breakfast coffee from an independent coffee shop and get their dry cleaning done at an independent dry cleaners. Hertford still has a strong independent bias of which newsagents, coffee shops and dry cleaners make up a significant proportion.

Everything changes, nothing changes

Welcome 2017. Me and Mrs B took a stroll around town last Saturday (31st December 2016) and discovered a few things.

In Depth Diving School in Bull Plain has closed. This was quite unexpected. I always highlighted them in reports as one of three independent traders that were unique to Hertford. The other two being Margaret Hart’s haberdashery shop (Harts of Hertford) once of Bull Plain but later Fore Street; and Botsfords the ironmongers.

Around the corner in Maidenhead Street the shop that was once Ashleys is now boarded up and has been for some while. The last time I looked the innards had been completely removed and a mini JCB was just visible over the rim of a very deep hole at the entrance.

What was Mr H the fashion outlet is now a shop which buys and sells and swaps computer games, games consoles and everything else in the gaming world. The Tourist Information Centre is now firmly ensconced in Mill Bridge and we enjoyed a very pleasant coffee and calorie busting cake there on the MacMillan Cancer Big Coffee Morning Day.

Our mini tour took us into Fore Street and a new Champagne and Cocktail bar has opened where the Sun Studio Tanning Salon once was. The old Bollywoods Indian restaurant is now a magnificently furnished Mediterranan restaurant.

Doubling back to Railway Street there was a small gathering of market traders and shopkeepers. Two young men with guitars on their backs asked me if they needed a license to start busking in town. I pointed them in the direction of the Tourist Information Centre who do issue licenses for such things.

Why is this is relevant? After so many years after having left the post of Town Centre Manager a local shopkeeper who had been asked the same question by our hopeful buskers saw me approaching and uttered those immortal words: ‘I don’t know but here comes a man who does’. Just like old times. It gave me a small sensation of utter job satisfaction to know that I was still considered the man to go to.

So Hertford goes on as it always has, shops close, new traders open new shops, old businesses fade away and new ones open with bright hopes for the future. But one large black blot still hangs over the rim of the horizon and the question is –

What is happening to Waitrose and when will Wrenbridge be submitting their application for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green? Actually that is two but they are totally entwined. As I have said before Wrenbridge mention Waitrose in the past tense so we must assume that some in the not so distant future if the planing application is successful Waitrose will actually leave Hertford.

Of course the planning application might not be approved and the ball thrown back into Waitrose’s court. However as we now stand with very wobbly feet on the first few days into the birth of a new year we await Wrenbridge’s next move; a move that was promised to happen about three weeks ago.

As I have said so many times in this blog; will someone somewhere please tell the people of Hertford what is going on.