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.

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.

Bircherley Green Redevelopment – new proposals

30 November 2016

I have commented elsewhere on this site the devastating effect the death of our grandson in October 2015 had on my family and myself. I stepped down from my last remaining position in town and took no more than a passing interest in events.

Family and friends said this was not good for me. To get back in the swing of things I have migrated my old web site to here. It still needs a bit of work and tinkering but one of the things I wanted to do was to bring these posts up to date on events in town, especially the future of the Bircherley Green Shopping Centre.

Elsewhere in town the change of use from prime A1 retail units to bars, hairdressers and coffee shops goes on. At a  recent public meeting a few people kept mentioning the fact that Hertford was the County town. It is but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

The consultation regarding the rail link between Hertford North and Stevenage appears to be lurching to a situation after 2018 when even a replacement bus link may not be in place following the extra platform space at Stevenage being planned for the London/Cambridge link.

Hertfordshire County Council’s Transport Plan for 2025 sees no necessity to involve Hertford other than a possible by-pass either north or south of the town. The main centres or hubs are the other major towns such as WGC, Hatfield, Watford and even Harlow gets a mention. The county town is just another spot on the map.

I have already commented on the loss of the Magistrates Court, the Police Station and Tax Office. House building continues apace but no schools, doctors, dentists, hospitals, nurseries but plenty of bars and gyms.

So, the proposed redevelopment of Bircherley Green is back on the agenda. It was originally called ‘Regeneration’ but this has been discarded in favour of the lesser option. Which is?

Plans for Shopping Centre
Plans for Shopping Centre

Wrenbridge have presented new drawings and proposals for the Shopping Centre which bear only slight resemblance to those exhibited to Hertford in 2014. The anchor tenant is to be Premier Inns (coloured orange above)  – as I have mentioned before this was not in the original plans but did surface in the Hertford Design and Vision Strategy as proposed by Tibbalds in February 2016.

Bircherley Green riverfront
Bircherley Green riverfront

Instead of 124 accommodation spaces there will now be only 70 but there is only likely to be no more that 8 prime retail units for the high end destination High Street names. There are of course more restaurants proposed (as well as one inside the hotel) to make the river front more attractive.

This is all fine and in line with the evolving District Plan. However no one seems to have mentioned or complained that Waitrose do not figure in these plans at all. In fact at two public meetings Wrenbridge referred to Waitrose in the past tense. Waitrose have maintained their stance that Bircherley Green is not for them. When their license (not extended lease) expires in December 2017 where will they go?

They were optimistic that Van Hages would be submitting a new application but this has not been forthcoming and after the fiasco of the precious applications it is unlikely that an attempt will be made unless the Government has made a drastic alteration to its policy on Green Belt being released for commercial development.

Those who have followed events in Bircherley Green will remember the shock and outrage expressed in the media and on the social networks when Serendipity was refused permission to move next door in to the premises vacated by Going Places (now absorbed into Starbucks).

Now there is not even a whimper that this too may disappear.

The strangest thing about this ‘redevelopment’ is that East Herts Council are hoping that a boutique cinema and NHS Walk-in centre can be incorporated into the plans. The only thing that appears to be on most people’s minds judging by the amount of time they have taken up at meetings is where everyone living in the new flats, staying at the hotel, shopping in town and coming in for a drink and a meal are all going to park.

I have seen no sensible answer to any of these questions but I do know from experience that an application when it comes in will be backed by expert research into peak and off-peak parking needs and traffic flows. Not sure about the cinema and the drop-in centre as I wonder who could possibly imagine such things being squeezed into a very tight commercial development. But I stopped worrying about District Council a long time ago.

Today being 30 November was the last day Wrenbridge were accepting comments from the general public. Once they have been digested they hope to be able to submit a planning application in mid December at which time I too, will inwardly digest and report back on here.

The leaving of Hertford

18 November 2014

There is very little talk in Hertford at the moment other than when will Waitrose be leaving. This is no doubt in response to the Hertfordshire Mercury edition of 6 November in which they used the headline and caption – Waitrose confirms it will be moving out of Bircherley Green, Hertford – Waitrose will pack its bags and move out of Hertford town centre.

This is of course slightly misleading. It is true that Waitrose have indicated their intention to relocate from Hertford. Previous applications are referenced in my blog of 20 October 2014. They have also stated that the Bircherley Green Regeneration Plan is not viable for their purposes within correspondence attached to the application as below – Ref: 3/14/1708/FP (since refused).

A planning application has been made my CPRE on behalf of Van Hages Garden centre for the demolition of some buildings and provision for a food store. There is no mention of Waitrose in the application but the wealth of supporting documentation has been prepared by Waitrose so it can be extrapolated from this that it is their intention to move to Van Hages. All things being equal.

However as the poet said: ‘there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip’.

Further comments on this application be it in favour or against were closed on Thursday November 13. The application will now go to East Herts Council Planning Department who will determine this application based on current planning regulations and not because some vocal people in Hertford do not like the idea of losing a store in a shopping centre in a heightened state of disrepair and unable to carry the full range of products required of a modern supermarket.

Planning Department may recommend that the application is refused. Even so when the case is heard by the Development Management Committee they can accept this advice or overturn it. If refused Van Hages and Waitrose can resubmit their proposals or appeal up to the Office of the Home Secretary. It is a long journey.

In an statement to the Sunday Telegraph Managing director of Waitrose Mark Price said out-of-town supermarkets in Britain will have to reinvent themselves to survive a surge in popularity in convenience stores, online and discount retailers.

If we count the Van Hages site as being ‘out of town’ then what are we to make of Waitrose’s intentions? Mark Price added: “The more space that is put down from this point on, the more you have to worry about the economics of the industry. So, I think it is no surprise that a number of players are saying they are not opening any more space or they are opening only limited space, because every new bit that opens makes the economics harder and harder.”

The future is by no means certain. It appears that they might be leaving Hertford some time in the future but not yet; or perhaps not until their lease expires in 2016. It is not even certain that they could see out this lease for as Mr Price told The Sunday Telegraph it is “incredibly hard to call” whether all of Waitrose’s will survive.

Who knows what is going through the corporate mind at present. One thing is sure, no one in Hertford has a clue.

Waitrose leaving Hertford for Amwell End

20 October 2014

I see that an application has been made by CBRE on behalf of Van Hages Garden Centre for part demolition and extension of their existing store and provision for a food store. The Hertford Waitrose store is not mentioned by name in the application but are partners to the accompanying documentation.

You can view the application by clicking on the East Herts Council Planning page and using the reference: 3/14/1708/FP (application since refused).

From my knowledge of the negotiations this always appeared to be the preferred option for Waitrose. They were unsuccessful in their bid to build a store on McMullens land having been outbid by Sainsburys. Their application to build a store in Ware was approved by the East Herts Council planners but overruled by the Executive in favour it would appear with hindsight Asda, who have now begun building work.

Where does this leave the Hertford store?

Waitrose is central to a proposed application by Wrenbridge for the Bircherley Green Regeneration Plan which involves a new anchor food store and 124 new homes – see my earlier post on the impact this will have on the bus station and other access routes.

There are various scenarios for Bircherley Green and Hertford in general – none of which are particularly positive.

If the Van Hages application is successful and Waitrose leave Hertford in mid-2016 when their lease expires what will happen to the empty space? There is no obvious tenant to fill this as no other major supermarket chain has expressed an interest although no doubt urgent enquiries are being conducted by the management team at Savills.

If the Van Hages planning application fails and Waitrose decide to stay will the regeneration application by Wrenbridge be approved considering there are already grave concerns over transport and housing issues?

In the event that this is successful where will Waitrose go for at least eighteen months whilst the new shopping centre is being built, including customers and staff?

Finally if Waitrose do leave for Amwell End in 2016 and there is no incoming tenant what will happen to Bircherley Green in particular and Hertford in general. Wrenbridge have already intimated that in the last analysis if no anchor store can be found Bircherley Green may just rot away.

This is in no-ones best interests but until one or more planing application is approved then speculation will continue to haunt the town.