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. The Planning sub-committee voted to reject the plans. Their recommendation will be discussed by the full Town Council at the next opportunity.

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.