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.
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.
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:
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.
‘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.
Sometimes I think I am living in a different universe from everyone else. Apart from a message on Hertford.net no one else seems to be the slightest concerned that the planning application for Bircherley Green Shopping Centre has been withdrawn.
So now we await an approach from Chase Homes regarding their proposals for the site which may or may not include a hotel, NHS surgery, prime retail space or hot food take-away premises.
It might appear that East Herts Council have missed an opportunity to invest in the town. All I have heard since moving to Hertford in 1980 and all through my years as Town Centre Manager is the same refrain: ‘Hertford is the county town’ followed by a list of things that should have been done, or hasn’t been done, or has been done, that has added nothing to Hertford.
Towns and cities had to bid for the £95m funding, which was first announced in May.
“Our nation’s heritage is one of our great calling cards to the world, attracting millions of visitors to beautiful historic buildings that sit at the heart of our communities,” said Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan.
“It is right that we ensure these buildings are preserved for future generations but it is important that we make them work for the modern world.”
Maybe an application was doomed to fail but you have to try.
Hertford is the county town. Nearly all of the buildings in the town centre, which is considered a Local Conservation Area in its own right, feature in the Government’s list of buildings considered to be of architecturally or historic interest.
“Under the scheme, districts of our size were limited to one bid so we had to select the town with the best chance of success.
“In submitting the bid, we knew that by most measures within the scheme (e.g. vacancy levels) none of East Herts’ towns are in the ‘failing’ category.
“The principle vehicle for improving Hertford town centre is the Bircherley Green redevelopment which is not owned by the council so the basis of a bid would not have met the HSF criteria.”
No council at any level gave any support to the Hidden Hertford project which sought to attract visitors to the county town. Well, not until I had already raised over £32,000 towards the project. The aims and results of the Hidden Hertford project can be viewed here.
In 2010 East Herts Council paid me to produce a report to provide a series of environmentally sound projects at minimal cost with maximum benefit to the community.
After a lengthy consultation with a wide range of businesses, traders and organisations which had an interest in the town I suggested the following, amongst others, based upon the success of what had already been achieved with Hidden Hertford (see above):
Tenants of listed buildings should be responsible for their maintenance
New town centre signage and visitor maps
More benches throughout the town
More salt bins in vulnerable places
Using litter bins to take recycling products in place of anonymous bollards
Bikes for hire at bus and rail station
Community toilet scheme
The motive behind all the above was to attract more visitors to Hertford and to make their stay as enjoyable as possible whilst improving the local economy.
Not surprisingly none of the above were introduced.
Since it was announced that Chase Homes intended to buy Bircherley Green the newspapers, message boards and pubs have been full of hopes, plans and wish lists. Unfortunately the planning process does not work that way.
I have lived in Hertford since 1980 but was born and grew up in Camden Town. On Saturday morning I was dragged along by my mother to do the weekly shop. I hated shopping then and still do now. Ask my wife!
However back in those far off days of the early 1950’s shopping was a far different experience from what it is now.
We started at Allens Newsagents in Camden Road to pay the paper bill and to pick up my copies of Beano, Dandy, Lion and sometimes Topper. Then across the road to the butcher. From there to Camden High Street. Our first call was Talbots the Fishmongers. They had a large metal tray outside the shop in which several eels swam. Once chosen the evening meal was taken to the back of the shop and beheaded and sliced into ….. slices.
Next the Greengrocers. I think it was called ‘Greens’. Anyway my mum had an excellent relationship with one of the proprietors, Chic. They weighed everything on large scales with weights. I doubt if the measures were ever correct but once weighed the potatoes and larger items such as cauliflowers were tipped straight into my mother’s shopping bag. Fruit tended to be shoved into a large brown paper bag and then into mum’s bag.
Our final routine call was to Biroths the Bakers. Bread was always freshly baked; always a wonderful smell wafted out on to the street. They were open for a a few hours only on Good Friday to sell hot cross buns. Once gone, they shut. My mum was always an early bird then, bringing home freshly baked and still warm hot cross buns.
There were of necessity some days with other routine stops such as Pages the general store for all things household such as needles, cloth, knicker elastic etc.
These were easy going days. My mum knew all the traders by name and vice versa. Such as Montagu Saxby the leather goods man who sold cases, satchels and handbags. We all bought our sweets from Pugh’s – which for some reason my mother and all her friends and acquaintances called Puckies.
She had a Christmas club everywhere so we ate and drank well in the season to be merry.
Now they’ve all gone – the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. I’ve never met a candlestick maker but he is up there with the best of them.
As Bruce Springsteen once said: ‘these jobs are going boys and they aint coming back’.
People in Hertford are hopeful of a return to those good old days but at the risk of repeating myself: they’ve gone. Shopping and the High Street have changed forever.
You cannot demand that River Island, Next or Harrods open a store in town; or even Bircherley Green Shopping Centre. You can try but they will not come.
These big firms known all about demographics, return per square metre of selling space or in plainer terms – footfall.
However there is one aspect of shopping in those days which is so, so far ahead of today’s world. We knew all about recycling and carried it out.
Milk bottles were washed and left out for the milkman the next day, along with a note asking for just one pint to cut down on waste. Bottles from the Off Licence were returned for the small deposit. Yesterdays newspapers were given to the fish and chip shop. There was a minimum of plastic packaging as everyone used their own shopping bags and if you did get a bag from the shopkeeper it was usually a plain brown one given a bad reputation by purveyors of ‘glamour magazines’.
We weren’t wealthy and neither were the bunch of kids who I knocked around with. If we wanted a new football we knocked on doors and took all the newspapers we could cram into a an old pram and took them to the rag and bone man under Camden Road railway bridge for a few pennies. We did our bit!
So, what future for Bircherley Green? One with no butcher, baker and the other one. That’s for sure.
You can contact John Barber here:
The two black and white photos come from a booklet called ‘The End of One Story – A Souvenir of the Borough of St Pancras’. There is a page of photo acknowledgements but they are not referenced to page numbers. The booklet was issued in 1965 when the boroughs of St Pancras, Hampstead and Holborn were merged to form the London Borough of Camden.
So, the powers of conservatism in Hertford have finally won. The developers have pulled out of the second phase of the Bircherley Green redevelopment scheme.
This is a Pyrrhic victory at best. We are left with a shopping centre with empty and boarded up shops and grass growing through every crack like a town in a Hollywood Western.
This all began in 2014 or even earlier. In 2013 perhaps I was invited to a workshop to discuss the introduction of what was to become the Hertford Town Centre Urban Design Strategy (HTCUDS). I was flattered to be invited to this as I had only just retired as Town Centre Manager and the invite was on the basis that I knew more than most what actually went on in town. I should not have been surprised to find that I was the only person at the meeting at Wallfields not employed or connected to any Council; County, District or Town.
One thing not discussed was the need for another hotel in town. I was surprised to find that in the first submission by Wrenbridge there were plans for a new hotel – a Premier Inn. I thought this even odder when the first draft of the HTCUDS also contained reference to a new hotel.
The redevelopment proposals came about as Waitrose had strongly indicated their intention to leave Hertford as early perhaps as 2010. Despite numerous plans suggested by the owners Diageo and managing agents Savills over the previous years there was no way that the store could be extended to meet Waitrose’s requirements.
Once the die had been cast the net was spread but no other group wanted the premises as they all insisted on having parking on the flat. I am told that shoppers would rather walk to their car in the rain than use a lift! Of course Waitrose plans to move to Van Hages also met with strenuous dissent and they were constantly rejected.
Enter Wrenbridge who organised a series of public exhibitions to explain their plans. See bircherley-green. From here on in Planning, Council and Councillors, not to mention interested groups in town and other concerned residents launched campaigns and legal moves to thwart any development at all.
In my mind if someone came along with £40m and offered to regenerate the shopping centre I would have bitten their hand off – but this is conservative Hertford.
It was said that Bircherley Green was part of the Hertford Conservation Area. True, but the whole of Hertford is. Bircherley Green was built in the early 1980’s and has no special architectural or historical merit to deserve preserving and enhancing.
There is not enough space to list all the objections but one was that there were no tenants to fill the proposed retail units. Of course not. Even Premier Inn only signed up to the scheme on the understanding that planning permission was forthcoming. Who is going to commit to a unit that would not be ready for another three years, knowing as we do the machinations of our local councils.
So for the next three years Wrenbridge submitted plans, revised plans and new plans. All of which were poked over like a diner in a new restaurant presented with the chef’s specialty and testing to see if it was still alive.
It is surprising that it too so long for the developers to walk away. I would have walked a long time ago. If Council did not want a new shopping centre with retail units, restaurants, coffee shop and upgraded bus station then I would raise two fingers and put my money where it is wanted.
Meanwhile in Stevenage (from BBC News, 14 March 2019):
Britain’s first new town is set to get a £350m revamp inspired by some of Europe’s most thriving cities.
The regeneration of Stevenage includes new shops, bars, restaurants, 600 homes, a park and a council building.
The borough council said it had studied successful examples from the continent in designing the mix of residential, retail, office and leisure uses.
The SG1 project will take up to eight years to complete in phases and it is hoped work could begin in 2020.
But this is Hertford and nothing ever happens in Hertford. We just slide into anonymity. People still tell me that this is the county town – with no County Court and no shops. Just the place to come to.
I have sat in workshops with traders from Hertford and along with counterparts from Ware have all stated. ‘We do not want to shop in Harlow, Welwyn, Stevenage or Cambridge but the state of shopping in our own town leaves us no choice. We have to travel or use the internet.’
So what happens now? No idea!
What i do know is that the planning application due to be heard on 19th June has now been withdrawn in total. This means that the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater and a new planning application will have to be submitted, approved and heard by the Development Management Committee at the next available date which could be July or even August.
In the meantime this is the view of the hotel site.
The hoardings have been painted a deep shade of black; very nouveau.
With acknowledgements to Laurence Sterne and ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’.
He also left a page blank to insert your own image of a beautiful young lady. We are a long way from that in Hertford; a beautiful hotel that is.
I failed to get elected to Hertford Town Council for the Bengeo Ward. I would like to thank the other 258 electors who did vote for me.
I would also like to thank all those people who took time to read my election manifesto page which showed a healthy amount of hits according to my web logs. I must also thank the Hertfordshire Mercury for their coverage of my ‘Independence For Folly Island’ Campaign. This was the first time in 19 years that I have appeared in print wearing a collar and tie and not my usual ‘smart but casual look’.
Here is the full result for Bengeo:
Peter Alan RUFFLES
Linda Elisabeth RADFORD
Veronica Elizabeth FRASER
John William WIGGETT
Tracy Kim Martin TURNER
John David BARBER
It is not surprising given the percentage of voters living in Bengeo proper and the successful campaign resulting in the Secretary of State agreeing with the Government Inspector that planning permission be refused for a quarry to extract gravel. It is good to see that the Green Party came a very creditable second to the evergreen Cllr Peter Ruffles.
So why did I bother to stand for election. Often sanitised for TV is this:
It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. Lyndon Johnson, as quoted in The New York Times (31 October 1971).
For the best part of nineteen years it has been me pissing in.
Then in 2015 we lostZach our three year grandson to brain cancer. I could not go on bashing my head against the establishment’s brick wall and I withdrew from all my involvement in the town. I did not understand how the life of an innocent young boy could be so cruelly ended and I cannot understand it now, almost four years on. This blog has been my way of clearing my head of all the stuff that has happened in those nineteen years, most of which I do understand, but not necessarily agree with.
In the space of the last three months I have lost three good friends who I met as drinking partners in the White Horse when I first moved to Hertford in 1980.
I know that this is the order of things as your grow older but even though you expect death and other losses to increase with your own age it does not make it any easier to bear.
Despite my well known eccentric and often bizarre take on Hertford’s political and social life I have worked closely with most of the past Mayors on various projects. Councillors too (all Conservative); and although I have never hidden the fact that my political leanings are well left of centre it has not stopped us becoming good friends. Some have died, some moved away and others retired from the fray.
The same with Officers from Hertfordshire Highways with whom I argued at the Hertford Transport Forum but shared a convivial drink in the pub afterwards. The Mercury always came to me for news and never gave me a bad press and Hertbeat fm (now Bobfm) were a constant voice at the other end of the phone for quotes and an interview of what was happening in town.
I worked very closely officers from the Police Community Teams on Town Watch and Pub Watch and they too have moved on to pastures new and hopefully greener.
I could go on but you will appreciate the network that I had built up that had slowly dissolved for many reasons by about 2009. I could spend a day walking the streets talking to traders and passing their views back to Councils, all of which were ignored.
It made the job of Town Centre Manager always pleasant when you knew you had the trust of the community at large but the town centre is not the same any more as anyone reading these blogs will know.
Some may consider my election manifesto a trifle flippant if not bordering on the completely daft but to explain.
Folly Island is a Local Conservation Area; one designed to protect and enhance. Next time you walk over Folly Bridge you will notice the damaged brickwork in places where it has only just been repaired from previous incidents of being hit by vehicles that have got lost down Bull Plain.
As past Chairman of the Folly Island Residents Association and as Town Centre Manager I have argued at the Hertford Transport Forum (which does not now exist) for more to be done to prevent forty foot pantechnicons and ‘the big six-wheeler, scarlet-painted, diesel engine, ninety-seven horsepower omnibus’ (see Flanders & Swann) from being able to travel further than Salisbury Square. In other words large delivery lorries and the lesser-spotted and increasingly rare species the single decker bus.
I, my predecessors and current committee have argued for larger and more visible signage in the town centre to prevent these vehicles who have no business here accessing the Island. Nothing has ever been done.
If you cannot prevent such vehicles from driving through Folly Island then it is only right that they are liable to pay for any damage to fabric of the bridge and the local streets.
The idea of a large treadmill to power free electricity for Folly Island owes everything toScreaming Lord Sutch and the first election manifesto of the Official Monster Raving Looney Party.
On the other hand the idea of a tunnel under the Lea is a result of my wife’s manager at W H Smith offering to make her journey to work easier beneath the canal and the barges. I pointed out to him that these craft are houseboats and it is the Lea Navigation and not a canal.
Part Two of this post will look at the improvements to Maidenhead Street and beyond and ask the question: who is going to be responsible for opening and locking the gates at either end of Maidenhead Street to protect the pedestrianisation between 9.30am and 5.30pm?
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.