The Last Hooraah – 2 May 2019 – Bengeo Ward Election

I failed to get elected to Hertford Town Council for the Bengeo Ward. I would like to thank the other 258 electors who did vote for me.

I would also like to thank all those people who took time to read my election manifesto page which showed a healthy amount of hits according to my web logs. I must also thank the Hertfordshire Mercury for their coverage of my ‘Independence For Folly Island Campaign’. This was the first time in 19 years that I have appeared in print wearing a collar and tie and not my usual ‘smart but casual look’.

Here is the full result for Bengeo:

Peter Alan RUFFLES 1182 (E)
Alex DAAR 1034(E)
Sally NEWTON 929(E)
Linda Elisabeth RADFORD 853(E)
Veronica Elizabeth FRASER 703
John William WIGGETT 631
Tracy Kim Martin TURNER 584
Alec TURNER 507
John David BARBER 259

It is not surprising given the percentage of voters living in Bengeo proper and the successful campaign resulting in the Secretary of State agreeing with the Government Inspector that planning permission be refused for a quarry to extract gravel. It is good to see that the Green Party came a very creditable second to the evergreen Cllr Peter Ruffles.

So why did I bother to stand for election. Often sanitised for TV is this:

It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. Lyndon Johnson, as quoted in The New York Times (31 October 1971).

For the best part of nineteen years it has been me pissing in.

Then in 2015 we lost Zach our three year grandson to brain cancer. I could not go on bashing my head against the establishment’s brick wall and I withdrew from all my involvement in the town. I did not understand how the life of an innocent young boy could be so cruelly ended and I cannot understand it now, almost four years on. This blog has been my way of clearing my head of all the stuff that has happened in those nineteen years, most of which I do understand, but not necessarily agree with.

In the space of the last three months I have lost three good friends who I met as drinking partners in the White Horse when I first moved to Hertford in 1980.

I know that this is the order of things as your grow older but even though you expect death and other losses to increase with your own age it does not make it any easier to bear.

Despite my well known eccentric and often bizarre take on Hertford’s political and social life I have worked closely with most of the past Mayors on various projects. Councillors too (all Conservative); and although I have never hidden the fact that my political leanings are well left of centre it has not stopped us becoming good friends. Some have died, some moved away and others retired from the fray.

The same with Officers from Hertfordshire Highways with whom I argued at the Hertford Transport Forum but shared a convivial drink in the pub afterwards. The Mercury always came to me for news and never gave me a bad press and Hertbeat fm (now Bob) were a constant voice at the other end of the phone for quotes and an interview of what was happening in town.

I worked very closely officers from the Police Community Teams on Town Watch and Pub Watch and they too have moved on to pastures new and hopefully greener.

I could go on but you will appreciate the network that I had built up that had slowly dissolved for many reasons by about 2009. I could spend a day walking the streets talking to traders and passing their views back to Councils, all of which were ignored.

It made the job of Town Centre Manager always pleasant when you knew you had the trust of the community at large but the town centre is not the same any more as anyone reading these blogs will know.

Some may consider my election manifesto a trifle flippant if not bordering on the completely daft but to explain.

Folly Island is a Local Conservation Area; one designed to protect and enhance. Next time you walk over Folly Bridge you will notice the damaged brickwork in places where it has only just been repaired from previous incidents of being hit by vehicles that have got lost down Bull Plain.

As past Chairman of the Folly Island Residents Association and as Town Centre Manager I have argued at the Hertford Transport Forum (which does not now exist) for more to be done to prevent forty foot pantechnicons and ‘the big six-wheeler, scarlet-painted, diesel engine, ninety-seven horsepower omnibus’ (see Flanders & Swann) from being able to travel further than Salisbury Square. In other words large delivery lorries and the lesser-spotted and increasingly rare species the single decker bus.

I, my predecessors and current committee have argued for larger and more visible signage in the town centre to prevent these vehicles who have no business here accessing the Island. Nothing has ever been done.

If you cannot prevent such vehicles from driving through Folly Island then it is only right that they are liable to pay for any damage to fabric of the bridge and the local streets.

The idea of a large treadmill to power free electricity for Folly Island owes everything to Screaming Lord Sutch and the first election manifesto of the Official Monster Raving Looney Party.

On the other hand the idea of a tunnel under the Lea is a result of my wife’s manager at W H Smith offering to make her journey to work easier beneath the canal and the barges. I pointed out to him that these craft are houseboats and it is the Lea Navigation and not a canal.

But, the myth still persists of a network of tunnels under the town centre first published in the Hertfordshire Mercury in 2004. My book on The Tunnels of Hertford is available from Amazon and a brief summary on its own page on this site.

Part Two of this post will look at the improvements to Maidenhead Street and beyond and ask the question: who is going to be responsible for opening and locking the gates at either end of Maidenhead Street to protect the pedestrianisation between 9.30am and 5.30pm?

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1558378466ebrab1558378466nhoj@1558378466tcatn1558378466oc1558378466

Parish Council Elections May 2nd 2019

Those with long memories may recall that I wrote about the last local council elections on April 16th 2015.

I commented along the lines that this was like a blanket of apathy descending on Hertford.

I have been involved in Hertford since 2000 and if you read my previous posts (see right) you will know how frustrated I have become over the lack of any action being taken to breathe life into the corpse.

In answer to the obvious question I have decided to stand for election for Bengeo Ward at Hertford Town Council on May 2.

Independence For Folly Island

Not much more to add on this post as all the information you will need to vote – Independence For Folly Island – is on my election manifesto page.

Vote John Barber,  Thursday May 2, 2019.

You can view all the candidates for both Parish and District Councils on the East Herts Council Local Election Page.

This is a very brief breakdown of the parties standing in Hertford and in brackets the number of seats each constituency returns.

Parish Councils

Bengeo (4)

Con 4
Lab 3
LibDem 1
Green 1
Ind 1

Castle (4)
Con 4
Lab 4

Kingsmead (4)
Con 4
Libdem 2

Sele (4)
Con 2
Labour 2
Lab and Co-op 1
Green 1


Bengeo (3)
Con 3
Lab 3
Green 3
Libdem 1

Castle (3)
Con 3
Lab 3
Green 3
Libdem 1

Kingsmead (2)
Con 2
Lab 1
Green 1
Libdem 2

Sele (2)
Con 2
Lab 1
Lab & Coop 1
Green 1

Hertford Rural North (1) and Hertford Rural South and Hertford Heath all return 1 seat.

As you can see some Parishes and Districts are well contested, some not so. I will post the results here as soon as I am able.

See East Herts Elections 2019 Page.

You can contact John Barber on: moc.r1558378466ebrab1558378466nhoj@15583784669102n1558378466oitce1558378466le1558378466

Slow boat to Sainsbury’s

I have been giving some thought in the last few weeks to the idea of river shopping. To be more precise, a regular ferry connecting Hertford East Rail Station, Bircherley Green Bus Station and Sainsbury’s.

The infrastructure is already in place.

Why this sudden flash of inspiration? Since the service road was blocked by concrete slabs in the New Year I have found that this offers a safe route from home on Folly Island to the eastern half of town. There is now no traffic to hit you from behind or lost cars mowing you down from the front.

This how it looks from the perspective of Folly Island.

This as we know, is not a pretty sight.

One of the prime motives of the Development Plan is:

Delivery of significant public realm improvements including the rejuvenation of the riverfront with greatly increased accessibility and usability.

I recall Sainsbury’s offering a safe route from bus station to the store at the time of their own planning application. Most routes through town only offer traffic congestion, badly maintained pavements, wayward cyclists, stray dogs and chariots of fire ridden by young mums.

The three major posts can now be connected and a trip to Sainsbury’s to do the weekly shop from wherever you start being completed in peace, tranquillity and fresh air.

Let’s start at Hertford East Railway Station. Hertford Basin is just a few yards away, much improved since the building of the riverside apartments.

Thanks to Wikipedia

A ferry would then take you along the Lea and collect more shoppers who have just alighted from a bus. There is ample room for a landing stage at the exit from the car park, now closed and unused.

Going by river is  so much more pleasant than the current service road.

Then under Folly Bridge and alight at Little Hartham where there is already a mooring stage. From here a short walk along a new road across the new bridge with time to watch the ducks and geese and swans that have made homes there.

All Sainbury’s need do is to extend the trolley park!

Anyone who has experienced the river knows what a relaxing place this is. Always improved by a cup of tea or a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Customers will no longer have to drag two wheeled shopping trolleys from one place to another or carry heavy bags through crowded streets.

I haven’t presented this plan to Sainsbury’s. I will just take all the credit if it comes to pass.

This is part of the vision for the river and fits just nicely with the riverside as envisaged by Diageo, Savills, Wrenbridge, Barton Willmore, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1558378466ebrab1558378466nhoj@1558378466tcatn1558378466oc 1558378466

Large hole appears in Hertford

15 January 2019

You may remember that when I last posted on this blog on 19 March 2018 I said that it would take a momentous event to encourage me to return. Something like Waitrose slipping into the River Lea.

That hasn’t quite come to pass but Diageo have now lodged an updated planning application for Bircherley Green Shopping Centre. My own comments are published on the previous post.  Objection.

The documents and drawings can be read and/or downloaded from here.

Those who have been following this may know that planning permission was granted last year but subsequent attempts by Diageo to amend the exterior design of the proposed hotel during 2018 have been thrown out by East Herts Council.

Therefore things happening on site might make an interested observer question exactly what is the situation vis-a-vis planning, Diageo and East Herts.

This is how we all fondly remember that corner of Bircherley Street.

Lloyds Bank
Lloyds Bank on the corner of Railway Street and Bircherley Street

This is how the site of what was Centurion House now looks like.

Centurian House razed to the ground
Centurion House razed to the ground

As you can see; a large hole in the landscape has appeared.

Now this begs the question. When building starts will it reflect the design of the original application or the new one which as we know has not yet been approved, nor has there been a date set for the application to be decided by East Herts?

In the meantime other events have taken place. Bircherley Green car park and the toilets in the bus station have both been closed.

I can understand that there is a risk to persons and property to allow access to the car park and toilets if demolition work is taking place, but planning permission has not yet been given.

Demolition and redevelopment was going to be done in three stages; the site of the new hotel being stage 1. Now it appears that all that remains of Bircherley Green will now be demolished in Stage 2 in one foul swoop of the wrecking ball.

In the meantime it seems that more people are using Sainsbury’s car park but where can you use a public toilet (if not Sainsbury’s). The only public toilet available is that at Wetherspoons although from my own observations most people in need of relief use the toilets upstairs.

This is just out of order. As people never tire of telling me: this is the county town. That may be so, but we have no public conveniences.

In 2010 East Herts asked me to come up with five schemes that were inexpensive but ecologically advantageous to town and public. I recommended the introduction of a Community Toilet Scheme whereby bars, pubs and hotels would be recompensed by East Herts Council for the public to use their facilities.

Of course, despite the amazing number of bars, pubs and hotels that trade in Hertford town centre this scheme was not adopted BUT a trial scheme was introduced in Ware. We need one in Hertford now because it is going to be a number of years before the new bus station with all amenities including toilets arises from the rubble.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1558378466ebrab1558378466nhoj@1558378466tcatn1558378466oc1558378466

Objection to latest Bircherley Green planning application

14 January 2019
As I wrote last year there has not been much to write about in Hertford. Then as if by magic new proposals have been submitted regarding the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre. The full application along with drawings can be read or downloaded from here:

The deadline to lodge comments whether in favour or objecting has passed  but here is what I uploaded to the comments page.

I wish to register my objection to the planning application on the grounds that this will hasten Hertford’s decline into a town reliant on the service industry particularly the night time economy, and lessen its profile as a mixed economy.

I refer to Document 3-18-2210 Full A3 frontage 1294242 of the Planning Statement which delineates the proposed A3 stores. This frontage appears to take up the majority of the centre’s perimeter. This leaves Units R4, R5, R7, R8 and R9 as those intended for A1 prime retail use.

One of the problems Hertford has faced over the years is that as a medieval town with buildings of architectural or historic interest it is not able to accommodate modern retailers who desire much larger selling space than is available.

The units described above fall short of what a major High Street chain would expect. Units R6 and R7 when let as one unit to Waitrose was considered too small even for them to continue trading in a modern retail climate.

Therefore to attract a major player these units would of necessity have to be merged. However this will severely reduce the number of major stores that the centre can hold. This option has always been stated within each planning application but also as with this one the opportunity to divide units to accommodate smaller stores.

But this might appear to conflict with the applicants own statement in section 3.2 of the Planning Statement when describing the current site as: ‘an over-supply of smaller and poorly configured units which are not suited to the requirements of national retailers’.

The previous site contained over 25 retail units which although including kiosks and similar small outlets did offer a diverse shopping experience. However the majority of residents always enquired of myself as to when a major player such as River Island or Next would be coming to Hertford. I realise that the retail world is in a state of severe flux at present but the town is short of a good reason to come here.

In fact Hertford is dramatically short of key attractors. The following information is based on my database of 2007 which I researched when Town Centre Manager and updated in 2015 for an independent third party.

In 2007 Hertford had seven key attractors as listed by GOAD and this has now been radically amended as follows:

There are five stores which could be considered as key attractors in 2019. W H Smith, M&S is a food store only, Boots Opticians is separated from the main store which itself has been substantially downgraded and moved from Bircherley Green; and finally Sainsburys and Tesco who often are considered and consider themselves as being ‘out of town’.

The other side to this coin is the continuing rise of the food and drink sector. In 2007 there were 51 outlets that provided coffee, alcohol and food (not including take-aways). In 2015 this had risen to 65 being 41% of the total retail outlets in town.

Recently this figure has again risen dramatically. We have lost the following mixed use stores: Cake supplies (now Serendipity coffee shop although this unit has moved from Bircherley Green), Plumbing Centre (now a coffee bar), Artico (now a milk shake bar), Colormax (an estate agent with coffee shop in-house), Hertford Framing (a bar), Clintons (a coffee shop), Sun Studio (a wine bar), Macdonalds (now housing the Post office with in-house coffee bar), Slades (a café) and The Decorated Room (restaurant).

Alongside this there has also been a significant increase in the hair and beauty sector. Together with the above they make up over 66% of all retail based outlets. A trend that is accelerating with more hairdressers and nail bars being opened; and the figure does not include the number of take-aways.

The planning application under consideration will hasten this change of Hertford’s profile towards being a place to eat and drink but not a lot to offer the shopper. Greater consideration should be given to the impact this will have on the town’s economy and what kind of town Hertford deserves. Efforts should be made to ensure that the tenants that take up the units are those that will attract custom from the hinterland and beyond and not be solely a contributor to the night time economy.

I would also like to remind the applicants and the Planning Officers of my previous objection to an area around Unit R1 being given over to Community events.

Over the last 30+ years no one has attempted to stage an event here. There is a sound reason for this. Pedestrians, cars and water do not mix.

Unless a permanent barrier is erected as close as possible to the river edge there is always going to be a risk that a visitor to an event will fall into the water. A risk that will certainly have to be covered by some form of Public Liability Insurance.

Although the outside seating areas especially on the River Lea are well defined there is no indication as to how this arrangement will be policed. Is there to be an appointment of a Centre Manager to ensure that the noise from the al fresco drinkers and diners will not overspill onto the service road and cause disturbance to the residents opposite?
I have made further comments on these proposals together with other alarming developments on the site in my following post –Large hole.

Retiring the Blog

19 March 2018

You may have noticed that not much has happened on these pages since 1 November 2017. Not much has happened in Hertford either!

I suffered a very strange virus infection from the beginning of January this year. This is not the place to describe the symptoms; suffice it to say you wouldn’t raise the problems in polite company.

I am now fully recovered and have taken a few tentative steps around town.

Bircherley Green is almost totally boarded up and looks more like Dead End Street. It was never an attractive view looking over at the back door of Waitrose and the car park when crossing the footbridge by Folly Bridge. Now  the grim painted boards around  Starbucks has added to the scene of despair.

‘Those in the know’ thought that all the shops would be empty by the middle of April and the site totally demolished  before regeneration began.

Some traders will remain in place for some time yet and rumours still circulate around the final destination of Boots and the siting of a new GP surgery. I have no answers either.

From our bedroom window we get a full view of the bus station. Over the months since Waitrose closed its doors more and more buses come into town with fewer passengers; and fewer shoppers leave.

I noticed a few other things. Popworld has succeeded The Stonehouse but I am advised by many of the younger generation that it is too cheesy even for ageing juveniles like me.

I noticed that Audio Hi-Fi in St Andrew Street remains dark and Beckwith’s is still up for grabs. Peter and Susan Brown have retired and some of the office space looks abandoned.

So it goes on. Old established businesses have closed. Long standing friends in the town have retired, made redundant or just left. It is a constant theme of these blog posts.

So I have decided to retire again; posts here may be fewer and far between unless something really amazing happens; like Bircherley Green falling into the River Lea.

I have retired a few times before so watch this space.

Contact John Barber: moc.r1558378466ebrab1558378466nhoj@1558378466tcatn1558378466oc1558378466

What future for Hertford now

1 November 2017

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.r1558378466ebrab1558378466nhoj@1558378466tcatn1558378466oc1558378466


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

12 September 2017

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.r1558378466ebrab1558378466nhoj@1558378466tcatn1558378466oc1558378466

The decline in Hertford’s retail offer – Part Three

23 August 2017

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).


I 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.


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.r1558378466ebrab1558378466nhoj@1558378466tcatn1558378466oc1558378466

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

26 June 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.