What future for Hertford now

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.r1531979538ebrab1531979538nhoj@1531979538tcatn1531979538oc1531979538

 

Town councillors vote 3-0 to throw out Bircherley Green plans – No!!

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.

Waitrose from the river
Waitrose from the river

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.

Bircherley Green planning application

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. This is the ‘back of house’ now.

Waitrose from the river
Waitrose from the river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is how it was presented to residents in 2016.

Waitrose from river as proposed 2016
Waitrose from river as proposed 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

As presented in the Planning Statement 2017

Waitrose from river 2017
Waitrose from river 2017

 

 

 

 

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).

dophin yard
Dophin yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

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