2019-Bircherley Green

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.

This application has since been withdrawn and a new application submitted by Chase New Homes. My stance has not changed much so ignore what is written here and follow this link to my objection to the latest application of February 20120.

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.

All my previous posts archived here:

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.