The Great Wen

But what is to be fate of that great wen of all? The monster called … ?
William Cobbett (1762 – 1835) Rural Rides, 1822.

You may ask what William Cobbett has to do with modern day Hertford. In Cobbett’s time the Great Wen, the monster, was London. Today the great wen (or sore) in the middle of town is Bircherley Green –  no more deserved of being called a shopping centre.

Finally Chase New Homes has submitted a planning application for Bircherley Green and the plans have now been published for comment by East Herts Council.

All the documents relating to this case can be viewed and/or downloaded here on the Council Planning pages.

I cannot find much to commend this application and I will post my full letter of objection at a later date here.

This is the riverside view which appears to have been stretched:

Bircherley Green Riverside

My initial reaction is that these apartment blocks A & B, being retail premises with four storeys of apartments above will tower over everything else in the vicinity.

Chase believe that it will not completely overpower the existing skyline. I have news for them. It will hang over Folly Island and cast its shadow deep. At night the lights from all the apartments together will detract from the night sky, the stars and the transition of the moon.

This is not what we should expect of a county town where private developments are allowed to overpower the town’s heritage.

Hertford Town Centre can be defined to the north, south, east and west by the River Lea, Gascoyne Way, South Street and North Road respectively. With very exceptions all buildings within this boundary which is the Hertford Town Conservation Area, are mentioned in the Department of National Heritage Revised List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest (1996).

The overwhelming majority are Grade II but Hertford Castle, The Friends Meeting House and Shire Hall are all Grade I. With help from the Home Office, the County Council restored the building during 1988-90, and the project was Commended by The Civic Trust in 1992.

Shire Hall

‘A threat of wholesale re-development blighted the core of Hertford for more than twenty years. Once that threat was removed in the late 1970’s the town blossomed, and the new buildings which have appeared generally rest easily, in scale and detail, with their mature neighbours.’

Russell Moye, Project Architect, Shire Hall. Writing in ‘The Restoration of Shire Hall Hertford, 1990’.

No more do they rest easy; now we have the great wen, William Cobbett’s monster.

In line with previous planning applications this one fails to address the problem of parking. There will be 100 apartments (38 one bedroom and 62 two bedroom) and the hotel will have 68 rooms. Bircherley Green car park has only 188 spaces, of which 40 spaces will be dedicated to residents, 5 car club and 143 Pay and Display.

The new apartments will bring to the centre of town an extra 100 – 150 new residents along with occasional visitors who will need to park their cars; the hotel will need parking even for overnight guests, the patients attending the proposed surgery will also need to park along with all those tourists, visitors, shoppers and leisure seekers who will be coming to this destination (Chase’s word not mine).  How can a lego brick be a destination? Then factor in the increase in internet deliveries. It is folly to think that all this traffic will fit in to the town centre. The maths do not add up.

The application does not state how many of the apartments will be affordable; but does explain why the emphasis is on younger, mobile, socially active couples and not much in the way of facilities for the disabled.

Permission is being sought for a NHS super surgery and another large retailer (no names, no pack drill) before they can go ahead to let premises. Retail premises could be large, small or any size anyone wants by adjusting the available space.

There is a new bus station waiting room but not much on a new ‘as it happens’  information board, small catering facility or toilets; although there appears to be three doors on the site plan where the existing ones are now.

With more residents crammed into the centre of this medieval town with few parking spaces, an increase in bars and restaurants and a hotel as well, there is little in the application to explain how other issues like late night noise from traffic and revellers will be addressed. No mention of CCTV or licensing terms.

Enough for now.

I will post my objection in full on this site but in the meantime read the application and all supporting documents and see what you think.

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By John Barber

John Barber was born in London at the height of the UK Post War baby boom. He had careers in Advertising, International Banking and the Wine Industry before becoming Town Centre Manager in his home town of Hertford. He has been writing professionally since 1996 when he began to contribute articles to magazines on social and local history. His first published book in 2002 was a non-fiction work entitled The Camden Town Murder, a hitherto unsolved murder case from 1907.