Strangely enough Folly Island is not a natural island. I always thought so until I was doing a bit of research using Rosemary Bennett’s excellent ‘Folly Island’ and discovered that until 1772 the island was connected to the mainland at Dicker Mill. A strip of land was dug out to make it easier for barges to navigate to the town centre.
In these difficult days living on a island should make it easier to self-isolate. Not so, obviously. See Google map below with arrows pointing to the bridges connecting us to various parts of the town.
The devil in me says we should demolish these bridges like a medieval Lord of the Manor pulls up the drawbridge and fills the moat with hungry fish. That would truly isolate us all.
Many many recall my failed attempt to stand for Hertford Town Council at the last local elections. If you were to read my manifesto it does offer a plan towards isolation and protection.
I am once again confirming to those who know me that I still lapse into flippancy and am often irreverent. I am guilty as charged.
Many people are doing their bit to help all those unfortunate to have to self-isolate for long periods of time. Smashwords, distributors of self-published eBooks are running a promotion from 20 March until 20 April called ‘Authors Give Back’.
Authors including myself are offering their books at heavily discounted prices to help readers indoors cope with the unfolding Coronavirus pandemic.
I have several titles concerned with local issues being offered at more than half price or even free:
The Mysterious Death of Sarah Stout – the true account of the daughter of a Quaker brewer found drowned in the River Lea in 1699 by what is now Priory Street; and Spencer Cowper, the man accused of her murder.
The Wicked Lady – Katherine Ferrers, was she really the highwaywoman of legend, or been harshly treated by history.
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.
Lab and Co-op 1
Lab & Coop 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.
In some of my more mischievous moments at the Hertford Transport Forum I would manipulate the conversation to be able to include Hertfordshire Highways, Folly Island and trees in the same sentence. I knew it would wind up some of the more streetwise Officers.
For those who did not know the Folly Island Residents Association was first formed in 1976 to oppose any attempt to reverse the traffic flow through the Island without the introduction of a Residents Parking Scheme.
This became rather secondary when one day without warning Hertfordshire Highways descended on the Island and chopped all the cherry trees down.
It is true that some trees were causing the pavements to lift up and create a walking hazard but it was like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Thanks to the efforts of residents, some of whom have passed on, the trees were replaced. They had to be protected with metal railings but once again in spring the blossom bloomed.
I took these photos last year(2018).
Last week (March 2019) Highways cut down trees again for roughly the same reason as in 1976. I understand from members of the Residents Association that they will be replaced but it takes time for saplings to take root, grow and produce the kind of colour you see above.
I know a lot of the residents who live in Old Hall Street and the problems they experience with overhanging branches that spew sap onto the paintwork of their cars, cut out daylight and obscure the night time lighting.
But the remedial work makes the trees and the avenue look ugly. Over time the trees will recover but the picturesque island panorama will be lost for a few years.
On the other hand you can now see all the way down to the allotments under blue skies and sunshine.
I suppose I will have to take some satisfaction from that but the romantic in me yearns for the cherry blossom again.
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.
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.
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.
It was with a wry smile that I read in the Hertfordshire Mercury that Hertford Town Council had voted unanimously to reject the planning application to redevelop Bircherley Green.
This would be fine if it wasn’t so wrong or, far from the truth. It was the Planning sub-committee that voted to reject the plans.
There are or were, eight members of that sub-committee. One has since resigned as his seat is now subject to a by-election. Of the remaining seven three left the meeting room owing to a conflict of interest. Comments were reported by the Mercury from three councillors so it can be extrapolated that the seventh councillor did not turn up as the vote was in their words – unanimous, with no one abstaining.
This was not a three man judging panel as found at boxing matches or a jury of twelve good men and women deliberating on a verdict at a High Court trial. It was three councillors on a reduced sub-committee taking a joint decision. It is taking the concept of democracy a bit too far.
Even so Hertford Town Council is not the Planning Authority. East Herts Council is. Hertford Town Council’s comments will have the same weight as anyone else who chooses to respond to the planning application whether for or against. The case will be assessed by a Planning Officer and whether recommended for approval or rejection will still be heard by the Development Management Committee at the earliest opportunity. This could be May but possibly as late as June or July before a final decision is made.
I do wish the Mercury could get it right sometimes.
Returning to the sub-committee I am pleased that Cllr Haddock has the interests of Folly Island at heart but I am sure the matter of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west was discussed with residents and later addressed by Wrenbridge with their consultancy team.
On the other hand I have known Cllr Ruffles for a long time. He has always been a good friend of Folly Island. I talk to him and ask his advice and opinion on all sorts of things from floods and local history to the state of the alleyway at the back of my house. Our paths have crossed at the many committees, forums and focus groups that exist in this part of the world.
He knows where I stand on all things political and once found great pleasure in leaving me alone in the middle of Salisbury Square on a particularly windy Saturday morning holding on to a very large Conservative Party umbrella whilst he went and collected something else from the Castle.
But on the matter of Bircherley Green I have to disagree with him.
I know Hertford Town Centre is a Conservation Area and that the majority of the buildings within its borders are Grade II listed as they of significant historical or architectural interest. I have the Department of Heritage bible to refer to but my 1990 version does not include Bircherley Green even though it was built in 1981.
Bircherley Green Shopping Centre is not something I would wish to preserve or enhance. It has no historical or architectural interest at all. The rear of Waitrose is far from being a welcoming feature to anyone coming into Hertford by boat, or walking through Folly Island. Any premises built today would be river facing.
There is no one to take Waitrose space. It has been offered to every other supermarket chain (and other retailers) and they have all turned it down for one overriding reason in that it does not have parking on the flat. Without a main A* tenant Bircherley Green will dissolve into a black hole.
The only chance Hertford has of attracting High Street names is to offer space that is suited to their modern day requirements. People used to ask me why can’t we have a River Island or a Next or so on etc etc. The reason is that you can’t go knocking listed buildings about just to make space to accommodate a name.
Having a vibrant centre with all the famous names in one place might make Hertford a place to visit again and once shopping is done enjoy the bars, restaurants and pubs and perhaps stay overnight in one of the many hotels. Leaving Bircherley Green as it is will ensure that many shopkeepers comment that ‘there is nothing in Hertford to come for’ moves even closer to the truth and what was a ‘challenging’ environment will be one that will enter its final death throes.
A more detailed version of the above will form part of my own letter to Planning Department to support the application along with a host of other observations made during my years as Town Centre Manager.
Finally after many months of bated breath a planning application has been made for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre. Both are long overdue.
If you cannot wait any longer this is the link to the the appropriate page: https://www.publicaccess.eastherts.gov.uk and enter 3/17/0392/FUL into the search box. There are pages and pages supporting the application but the Planning Statement, Public Realm Statement and Heritage Statement are the best places to start.
My first impression is that the new design is at best utilitarian (something that is useful or functional) rather than ‘a jewel in the crown’ as some have recently tried to market it. It will make no difference what I think as the plans have been well battered having been tossed between Wrenbridge and East Herts Council for some time so I expect that it is something upon which they are all agreed and can be approved.
The Planning Statement says: 163. The starkly visible, hard and uninviting ‘back of house’ landscape along the north is replaced with a new, high quality, pedestrianised public realm, active frontages and a distinctive ‘feature’ pavilion. Rather than turning its back on the river frontage, as the existing centre, the proposed development marks the new key nodal point and celebrates the new riverfront square. This aspect of the proposed development constitutes a considerable enhancement and it is exactly the kind of exciting, vibrant redevelopment referred to as desirable in the draft Hertford Conservation Area Appraisal.
This is quite true.
The Statement goes on to say: 162. The proposed development is a non-traditional form of development which does not attempt to mould modern building types into traditional forms. Instead the development takes the form of modern buildings. However, the rhythm picks up on the traditional street grain and the use of compatible materials subtly references to the traditional materials in Hertford, combined with modern materials—something which can be seen in many modern buildings in the conservation area.
However recent developments along the river have maintained a uniform style, although modern they pick up on the traditional features of sloping roofs found in historic buildings such as the Seed Warehouse, the new Hertford Library and Lombard House (the Hertford Club – out of shot below).
A feature that the old Waitrose building carried forward. It may be ugly but it did at least try to blend in with the existing riverfront scene.
Any comments on these plans may be made on-line using the link above or in writing no later than 30 March 2017.
So at last things have started to move in Hertford. Things that have been mentioned in previous posts (see right) are mentioned again here with no comment from me whatsoever.
Following the publication and acceptance of the Vision and Design Strategy as developed in consultation with Tibbalds and others one or two of their proposals were taken up by the three Councils. On 7 September 2016 the Hertfordshire Mercury reported that:
Improvements in Hertford town centre to the tune of £1million look set to be on the way after councillors agreed to fund half the project.
East Herts District Council’s executive committee agreed to put £500,000 towards key improvements to The Wash, Maidenhead Street and Bull Plain. Hertford Town Council is looking to contribute £300,000 to the project, while Hertfordshire County Council has also given its backing.
Resurfacing roads and improving pedestrian access are among the key proposals, which the authorities believe will better public space and traffic flow.
The district and town council will now seek further funding for the project.
Then on 1 February 2017 they also reported that: A £225,000 government grant will help build new health centres and regenerate town centres, according to County Hall.
The money will be given to Hertfordshire County Council by central government under the One Public Estate model.
The council did not reveal which projects would benefit from the funding.
In the Planning Statement it mentions that negotiations are still on-going with the North and East Herts Trust for a NHS walk-in or GP surgery to be sited in the new development. If talks are successful then space could be made available in the office space now vacant within Centurion House.
On Friday 24 September some residents of Folly Island (most probably those most affected) received notice from East Herts Council under the Town and Country Planning Act of the application for the development of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre.
On Saturday 25 September my good wife and I took a stroll through our home town and from Folly Bridge, through Bull Plain, Maidenhead Street, Mill Bridge and to Old Cross the pavements and roads were covered in lines and squiggles of every colour in the style of a modern Jackson Pollock.
At first these seemed quite confounding but we decided that these were markings by Highways for the improvements to the public realm as mentioned above. So, there is a fairy godmother after all!