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.

New horizons and new skyline in Hertford

One of my regular on-line contacts emailed me yesterday to let me know that the George Robey pub in Finsbury Park has been demolished; gone.

You may not know but George Robey was a star of the music hall and it is quite something to have a pub named after you. I mentioned George Robey in my article on The Old Bedford Music Hall which once stood in Camden High Street. All the big names appeared there such as Marie Lloyd and my mum and dad were two of many who flocked there to see performers such as these. Of course Music Hall is dead now and the splendid architecture of the variety halls with it.

The pub was a welcome sight as you left Finsbury Park station. It was once a popular venue for punk music in the 1980’s. More here. Across the road was the Astoria. It had one of the most amazing auditoriums I have been in. You left the box office, walked down the red carpet past a huge fountain and into the stalls. The screen was set into a Saharan desert fort surrounded by palm trees and when the lights went out you could really imagine being somewhere in North Africa.

Of course the final days of the cinema also came to pass. It was turned into a rock venue called The Rainbow. I saw Ike and Tina Turner there supporting the Rolling Stones. Then it too went into almost terminal decay and is now the home of a religious group.

My mates and I used to get a bus here and then walk the hundred yards or so to Highbury to watch Arsenal; me to support the other side. The road takes you over what used to be the Finsbury Park Empire, now also gone. I saw Lonnie Donnegan here playing pantomime, then doing a half hour performance and us kids up in the gods watching.

You may well be asking what has all this got to do with Hertford.

We went shopping the other day to Tesco (a rare event) and walked through Bluecoats Yard. As Mrs B and me stood waiting at the crossing we looked over at Hertford East Railway Station. This is a Grade II listed building, built in 1888 of orange-red brick.

Hertford East Railway Station
Hertford East Railway Station

The station is still there but it sort of merges into the flats built behind it in Mead Lane. It is not a station to compare with St Pancras but it has its merits. It has been listed alongside some of Britain’s biggest and best-known stations in Simon Jenkins’ newly-published Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations .

The thing is, now you can’t appreciate it as it does not have its own silhouette. It just blends in with a modern building that will never get a mention in any architectural Hall of Fame. Well from one side anyway and that is bad enough.

I am lucky to live on Folly Island. You could stand on Folly Bridge looking west and at night see St Andrews Church all lit up. It doesn’t matter which God you support but it was a wonderful view. It was. That view has now been lost because of the new builds on Old Library Lane where the bascule bridge was going to be built. Now all you can see is the tip of the church spire.

It is the same looking east. You can just make out the top of St John’s Church.

A few months back I stood by the statue of Samuel Stone in Mill Bridge and looked across at the Seed Warehouse. When I was Town Centre Manager my office was there. Wonderful building; like a Tardis. It is a point of a triangle in Mill Bridge but if you walk through the yard you will appreciate the size of the place.

However at that time a new building was being constructed in Adams Yard. The developers/architects had designed it so that it matched the sloping roofs of the Seed Warehouse and the new flats on top of the new Library but they had pinched a few more feet. It was higher than the rest. You can’t see this from the Folly Bridge side.

I am writing all this because I have noticed over the years how the Hertford skyline has changed so much. Where you could see our historic buildings you can’t anymore. They haven’t gone the way of the George Robey pub or the Finsbury Park Astoria but they all seem to be overshadowed now by new builds. Old views have been lost. Mine with them.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1531979690ebrab1531979690nhoj@1531979690tcatn1531979690oc1531979690

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.

When one door closes … another slams shut in your face !

June 13 2015

This is an update on events in Hertford over the past four weeks or so, from a very personal point of view. So, take a deep breath and read on.

Two weeks ago I popped into Colin Sykes’ jewellers shop to thank him for his friendship over the years and to wish him well for the future now that he is retiring and the shop is closing. He told me that he would still be around for a few weeks to tidy up etc but that another jeweller will be opening in his place (still empty April 2016 but finally occupied October 2016).

He has been trading in Hertford since 1980 – I remember his shop being in Maidenhead Street which became Artico and is now a bar dispensing milk shakes. This is 35 years trading in the town. There are not many left who can boast of that longevity. I refer to the remaining traders as ‘Last Man Standing’ when I see one. Soon, one might well be.

Last week I bought a wedding present from Ashleys in Maidenhead Street. I always refer to the lady there as Mrs Ashley. She tells me she just works there but I often pop in for a chat. They have been trading there since 1992 – 23 years! I didn’t know that. It seems to be one one those shops that is always there. But not for much longer. The shop will close at the end of June 2015.

Quite a few years back they applied for permission to change the premises from retail to a coffee shop. The application was refused on the grounds that Maidenhead Street was coloured red in the 2007 and 2013 District Local Plan (starting at Mill Bridge and incorporating amongst others Salisbury Square and Railway Street and of course Bircherley Green) designating it as only for prime retail.

Fair enough but it did not stop Rose Opticians from becoming Cafe Nero just a few months previous. On the basis so I was told that they turned over more take away coffees than were drunk in the shop. Mind, it did take six months to work that one out by which time the enforcement notice was conveniently ignored as all such notices have been ignored by all the coffee shop chains the length and breadth of the British Isles. I looked it up at the time. Now we have Costa Coffee, a milk shake bar, a Turkish restaurant and a coffee bar.

I do not know what will happen to the shop once Ashleys leave (empty and boarded up April 2016). It may join the long list of empty premises such as MacDonalds, Bob Hill, Marquee Centre, Michaels Jewellery and so on. It may become a ‘drinking establishment’ going by the bright lemon yellow planning sticker on the window of the old picture framing shop in Fore Street next to Deja Vu. Boy, do we need another drinking establishment. Obviously.

I once attended an East Herts Council Community Matters session at which I asked one of the Officers that ‘all things being equal’ if I wanted to open another bar, pub or drinking establishment was there anything in the rules that said I couldn’t. His reply was a resolute ‘No’. I recall Councillor Russell Radford and myself being quoted in the Mercury calling for a Local Plan for Hertford where it might be possible to limit pubs or hairdressers or nail bars to a certain percentage. So many years on and a Local Plan is still not even a dot on the horizon.

Anyone who has read any of the previous pages on this thread will know that I have been going on about the decline in Hertford’s retail offer and as a County town for some time. I was hoping that one of the candidates in the May local elections would knock on my door so that I could ask what they intended to do about it. No one did. In fact we have lived here since 1996 and not one candidate has even knocked on my door looking for my vote. Perhaps there is a secret chalk mark warning them off.

And so as sure as night follows day we move on to Waitrose. I do not know what is happening here. I throw my hands up in the air. The application by Van Hages to build a superstore – believed to be Waitrose – was approved by the Management Development Committee as the last act of a Council at the end of its term. It was a bizarre sort of meeting. Why would a senior councillor propose quite strongly that the application be approved knowing it was counter to his own planning officer’s recommendation, national planning policy and by default would be called in at a mammoth cost to council. No question mark. I don’t know.

Even more bizarre was that on the day before the vote all Councillors received an email from Wrenbridge laying down the pros and cons of approving or not the application. It concluded by saying that if the application was approved Wrenbridge would walk away from any future investment in Hertford.

As you may recall Wrenbridge are the lead consultants in a plan to regenerate Hertford and Bircherley Green in particular. This involves bulldozing the whole of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre along with over two dozen shops, kiosks, offices and the bus station and replacing them with eight new retail units and 125 units of accommodation. And a restaurant; for which Hertford is gasping. I do not understand how this represents ‘regeneration’.

Since that night no more has been heard of Wrenbridge or their regeneration scheme so perhaps they meant what they said. I check Google every so often and at the time of writing the Secretary of State has still not called in this application.

Councillor Jane Sartin has started an on line petition requesting that The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government calls in this application. The petition is slowly creeping to her target of 500 signatures. However on reading the comments it appears that most of those who have signed this seem to think that by calling in this the planning approval will be overturned. This is not how it works. I also noticed that many of the signatories don’t even live here. A sample page throws up these geographical locations; Cranfield, Oxford, Northampton, Coventry, London, Weybridge, Silverstone and Ketsch in Germany. What do these people know about the local economy?

I know that on many message boards you can state your country of origin when you first join and some wags will confirm residency of the Shetland Islands or Upper Volta. Or are all these signatories people who have a bee in their bonnet about supermarkets and troll every petition in which the word appears?

It works like this. The Secretary of State decides if there are grounds to refuse the application and if so will refer the planning approval to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol. They will appoint an Inspector and set a date and place at which the application will be discussed. Both sides employ the services of very expensive barristers and three months later the Inspector will announce his decision.

This is what happened with the Sainsburys application and after months of legal wranglings the approval was upheld. Calling in a planning decision guarantees nothing, for either side.

Whilst this process takes place we creep inexorably towards 2016 when it is believed that Waitrose lease in Bircherley Green will expire. I have heard from a very good source that the lease expires in 2017. But never mind. Waitrose have made it very clear that they do not view the proposals as set out by Wrenbridge as suited to their requirements and have no intention of staying. If you care to look at the recent expansion and building projects undertaken by Waitrose who are the only group actively developing you will see that they prefer to own their own land not rent, stores built to their own specifications and an abundance of parking on the flat. Bircherley Green does not fit this vision.

In the meantime the Council that approved the application has now changed personnel. A new executive, a new Committee and an absolute majority. There is no opposition; there are 50 seats and 50 Conservative members. What will the future hold? More of the same I guess.

As it happened when the application was due to be heard by the new Committee Asda in Ware objected on the grounds of incursion of the Green Belt and the application was withdrawn.

Footnote April 2016. Waitrose is still there but are still optimistic that Van Hages will apply and receive planning permission to relocate there. There has been no news from Wrenbridge. The highly expensive Hertford Vision and Design Strategy carried out by Tibblads on behalf of East Herts Council has been published but has not yet entered the public domain despite nearly everyone in Hertford presenting their views by visiting the exhibition or writing in.

I do have a copy but all it has done is revisit everything that has been discussed and argued over through very committee and strategy group that I know and have attended and come up with nothing new or workable.

Election fever grips Hertford

April 16 2015

Election fever in Hertford is like a clammy hand snaking around your vital organs whilst you lay in bed on a winters night dreaming of a shimmering and sun-drenched Caribbean shoreline.

There are four political wards in Hertford which will be returning District and Town Councillors along with an MP on Election Day 2015 which is 7th May 2015.

These Wards are Bengeo, Castle, Kingsmead and Sele. Nominations for all Wards have now been published by East Herts Council and this is how the they reflect the parties interest.

The parties have submitted nominations for District Councillors as follows.
Bengeo Ward declares three (3) and the nominations are:
Conservative 3; Labour 3; Green 1, UKIP 1.

Castle Ward declares three (3) and the nominations are:
Conservative 3, Labour 3, Green 1, Independent 1.

Kingsmead Ward declares two (2) and the nominations are:
Conservative 2, Labour 2, Libdems 1, Green 1.

Sele Ward declares two (2) and the nominations are:
Conservative 2, Labour 2, Green 1.

Out of 50 seats at East Herts Council during the last administration 46 were Conservative councillors. There is likely to be little change in this make-up; or of voting in an effective opposition owing to the inability of the other parties (apart from the Labour group) to field the maximum number of candidates.

(All 50 seats returned Conservative members – one is now an Independent)

There are also the Town Council elections and nominations for Hertford Town Council are as follows.
Bengeo Ward declares four (4):
Conservative 4, Labour 4

Castle Ward declares four (4)
Conservatives 4, Labour 3

Kingsmead Ward declares four (4)
Conservative 4, Labour 3, Libdems 1, Green 2

Sele Ward declares four (4)
Conservative 3, Labour 4

Given that at the last election Hertford Town Council had 15 Conservative and 1 Labour Councillor this is not likely to change much either.

(It didn’t owing to Sele Ward having only 3 Conservative candidates.)

The truth of the matter is that this part of the world has been voting blue for the last three elections and with all parties finding it difficult to find candidates willing to stand we are unlikely to see any significant change at any Council level. Or for that matter Parliamentary Member – Hertford and Stortford Constituency (Mark Prisk MP) is one of the safest Conservative seats in the country.

The decline in Hertford’s retail offer – Part Two

Where in Hertford can you buy a pair of shoes, ladies underwear or a baby’s potty?

The answer is that you can’t; not if you like your foot to be measured, are a lady of a certain age or have searched all the obvious places like chemist shops. I found the latter item in Messages where you’d least expect to find a baby’s potty. There are no shoe shops left in town and unless you are a young lady with a svelte like figure places to find those essential pieces of clothing are far and few between.

I have just completed an up to date database of the town’s business premises. I last wrote a similar report in 2007 and the town centre profile has changed quite dramatically. There is now almost a total reliance on the service sector. People used to comment that all Hertford had to offer was estate agents, charity shops and hairdressers. In the past it was easy to refute these claims but now the facts are quite stark.

There are 269 retail outlets including Banks of which there are 8. Of those 159 retail premises offering services, 39 are in the health & beauty sector (hairdressers, nail bars, salons etc) and 65 are in the food and drink sector (Bars, coffee shops, takeaways etc). These two sectors alone account for 66% of all service sector businesses. In 2007 this was 55%.

Since I wrote the report the premises once occupied by Clintons Cards is now being rebuilt as a Turkish restaurant, Slades is a restaurant/cafe, East Herts Electrical is a Mens hairdressers, Artico is a smoothie bar and The Decorated Room is to be another smoothie bar (now an Italian restaurant).

There are long standing traders who are about to close. Colin Sykes will retire in May, Michaels Jewellery is to close at the end of February and I know of at least another two long standing traders who are on the point of closing or moving.

What will come in their place? Answers on a postcard.

The revised application by Van Hages for a food store presumed to be Waitrose is due to be considered by Planning Department shortly and we await with breath bated the application from Wrenbridge for the regeneration plans for Bircherley Green. As I have said before either Waitrose will leave for Ware or close its doors for good in 2016; and if Wrenbridge succeed there will be a big hole in Hertford for at least eighteen months – probably more.

In the meantime where is everybody going to go for essential everyday items? Not Hertford. Possibly Harlow, Stevenage or Welwyn Garden City. No one wants to shop out of town but given the lack of depth in Hertford’s shopping offer does anyone have a choice any more?

There is a need for a Local Plan but where is that going to come from? There is an election in May but I doubt if any of the local issues found in this blog will be addressed. At the heart of the matter everyone seems quite happy living here – and that is the real problem. Good schools, good transport links, low crime rates etc etc. At night there are plenty of bars and eateries to suit all tastes but no one is here during the day and no one seems bothered about how the town will look in another 8 years.

 

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.

Why doesn’t the 724 run on time

7 November 2014

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

Why doesn’t the 724 run to the timetable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Bircherley Green Regeneration

10 September 2014

I went out today at about 3.00pm to visit the Post Office. Fortunately I was walking. A Boots delivery van was badly parked on the corner of Railway Street behind the delivery bay. A 310 double decker bus was unable to complete a turn from Market Street resulting in a queue of traffic down Market Street, along both sides of Fore Street and into Parliament Square. There was nowhere for any vehicle to go apart from waiting for the obstruction to clear. In that congestion was a fire appliance fortunately I hope, not on a call.

What has this to do with the Bircherley Green Regeneration plans you ask?

Wrenbridge, working on behalf of Cordeo-Savills have had some preliminary consultation meetings with Councils, residents and also set up a stand in Bircherley Green on 30/31 August 2014. The plans which at this stage are no more than artists impressions lack any real detail as to measurements, materials or size. There have been comments both positive and negative on the proposed siting of a new anchor food store and the provision of 124 town centre apartments.

The main area of concern for those who attended the consultations was the removal of the bus station from Bircherley Green and the provision of a number of enhanced bus stops along Fore Street. .

Under the new proposals all buses would have to enter the town along Fore Street from the roundabout; and exit through South Street, turning either right or left. There are no lights at the South Street exit where it joins the main roundabout.

Fore Street is one way and at best restricts traffic to one lane only as on the north side there are already marked out bus stops and the the south side has allocated parking spaces and delivery bays for traders. Even so, there is not a lot of room for two large vehicles to pass.

In effect all buses will be circling the town along Fore Street, through Market Street and out again through Railway Street; along with all other traffic. At present when buses are early or catching up with the timetable they wait at the bus station. Sometimes there can be up to six or seven buses standing there idle, as well as patient passengers. There will be no room for any of this if the move to Fore Street goes ahead.

It is worth mentioning here that Hertford is an ancient market town full of buildings of historical or architectural interest; the roads were not built for, nor intended for heavy modern traffic. The impact of so many extra buses along roads not constructed for their use may well break up the surface and cause uncertain damage to the historic structures all around.

The pavements at Fore Street are quite narrow and there is not much space for all the schoolchildren waiting for a bus at 3.30pm. In addition this is the site for the Taxi Marshalling Scheme on weekends and the present taxi rank is located on the north side of Railway Street.

Most people to whom I have spoken cannot see how this can work. There are a lot of bus routes which use the current bus station and they all have to be accommodated. For many people in Hertford the bus is the only means of travel. It is a worrying state of affairs at best.

You may now understand why I began this post with the traffic problems this afternoon. The driver returned to his van and the traffic moved again. It was not a long hold-up. However it only needs one broken bus, minor traffic incident or a badly parked car to gridlock the whole town in a matter of minutes and remain so for hours.

I think Wrenbridge and their fellow consultants may have to dramatically re-think their strategy.