Bircherley Green Redevelopment – new proposals

30 November 2016

I have commented elsewhere on this site the devastating effect the death of our grandson in October 2015 had on my family and myself. I stepped down from my last remaining position in town and took no more than a passing interest in events.

Family and friends said this was not good for me. To get back in the swing of things I have migrated my old web site to here. It still needs a bit of work and tinkering but one of the things I wanted to do was to bring these posts up to date on events in town, especially the future of the Bircherley Green Shopping Centre.

Elsewhere in town the change of use from prime A1 retail units to bars, hairdressers and coffee shops goes on. At a  recent public meeting a few people kept mentioning the fact that Hertford was the County town. It is but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

The consultation regarding the rail link between Hertford North and Stevenage appears to be lurching to a situation after 2018 when even a replacement bus link may not be in place following the extra platform space at Stevenage being planned for the London/Cambridge link.

Hertfordshire County Council’s Transport Plan for 2025 sees no necessity to involve Hertford other than a possible by-pass either north or south of the town. The main centres or hubs are the other major towns such as WGC, Hatfield, Watford and even Harlow gets a mention. The county town is just another spot on the map.

I have already commented on the loss of the Magistrates Court, the Police Station and Tax Office. House building continues apace but no schools, doctors, dentists, hospitals, nurseries but plenty of bars and gyms.

So, the proposed redevelopment of Bircherley Green is back on the agenda. It was originally called ‘Regeneration’ but this has been discarded in favour of the lesser option. Which is?

Plans for Shopping Centre
Plans for Shopping Centre

Wrenbridge have presented new drawings and proposals for the Shopping Centre which bear only slight resemblance to those exhibited to Hertford in 2014. The anchor tenant is to be Premier Inns (coloured orange above)  – as I have mentioned before this was not in the original plans but did surface in the Hertford Design and Vision Strategy as proposed by Tibbalds in February 2016.

Bircherley Green riverfront
Bircherley Green riverfront

Instead of 124 accommodation spaces there will now be only 70 but there is only likely to be no more that 8 prime retail units for the high end destination High Street names. There are of course more restaurants proposed (as well as one inside the hotel) to make the river front more attractive.

This is all fine and in line with the evolving District Plan. However no one seems to have mentioned or complained that Waitrose do not figure in these plans at all. In fact at two public meetings Wrenbridge referred to Waitrose in the past tense. Waitrose have maintained their stance that Bircherley Green is not for them. When their license (not extended lease) expires in December 2017 where will they go?

They were optimistic that Van Hages would be submitting a new application but this has not been forthcoming and after the fiasco of the precious applications it is unlikely that an attempt will be made unless the Government has made a drastic alteration to its policy on Green Belt being released for commercial development.

Those who have followed events in Bircherley Green will remember the shock and outrage expressed in the media and on the social networks when Serendipity was refused permission to move next door in to the premises vacated by Going Places (now absorbed into Starbucks).

Now there is not even a whimper that this too may disappear.

The strangest thing about this ‘redevelopment’ is that East Herts Council are hoping that a boutique cinema and NHS Walk-in centre can be incorporated into the plans. The only thing that appears to be on most people’s minds judging by the amount of time they have taken up at meetings is where everyone living in the new flats, staying at the hotel, shopping in town and coming in for a drink and a meal are all going to park.

I have seen no sensible answer to any of these questions but I do know from experience that an application when it comes in will be backed by expert research into peak and off-peak parking needs and traffic flows. Not sure about the cinema and the drop-in centre as I wonder who could possibly imagine such things being squeezed into a very tight commercial development. But I stopped worrying about District Council a long time ago.

Today being 30 November was the last day Wrenbridge were accepting comments from the general public. Once they have been digested they hope to be able to submit a planning application in mid December at which time I too, will inwardly digest and report back on here.

When one door closes … another slams shut in your face !

June 13 2015

This is an update on events in Hertford over the past four weeks or so, from a very personal point of view. So, take a deep breath and read on.

Two weeks ago I popped into Colin Sykes’ jewellers shop to thank him for his friendship over the years and to wish him well for the future now that he is retiring and the shop is closing. He told me that he would still be around for a few weeks to tidy up etc but that another jeweller will be opening in his place (still empty April 2016 but finally occupied October 2016).

He has been trading in Hertford since 1980 – I remember his shop being in Maidenhead Street which became Artico and is now a bar dispensing milk shakes. This is 35 years trading in the town. There are not many left who can boast of that longevity. I refer to the remaining traders as ‘Last Man Standing’ when I see one. Soon, one might well be.

Last week I bought a wedding present from Ashleys in Maidenhead Street. I always refer to the lady there as Mrs Ashley. She tells me she just works there but I often pop in for a chat. They have been trading there since 1992 – 23 years! I didn’t know that. It seems to be one one those shops that is always there. But not for much longer. The shop will close at the end of June 2015.

Quite a few years back they applied for permission to change the premises from retail to a coffee shop. The application was refused on the grounds that Maidenhead Street was coloured red in the 2007 and 2013 District Local Plan (starting at Mill Bridge and incorporating amongst others Salisbury Square and Railway Street and of course Bircherley Green) designating it as only for prime retail.

Fair enough but it did not stop Rose Opticians from becoming Cafe Nero just a few months previous. On the basis so I was told that they turned over more take away coffees than were drunk in the shop. Mind, it did take six months to work that one out by which time the enforcement notice was conveniently ignored as all such notices have been ignored by all the coffee shop chains the length and breadth of the British Isles. I looked it up at the time. Now we have Costa Coffee, a milk shake bar, a Turkish restaurant and a coffee bar.

I do not know what will happen to the shop once Ashleys leave (empty and boarded up April 2016). It may join the long list of empty premises such as MacDonalds, Bob Hill, Marquee Centre, Michaels Jewellery and so on. It may become a ‘drinking establishment’ going by the bright lemon yellow planning sticker on the window of the old picture framing shop in Fore Street next to Deja Vu. Boy, do we need another drinking establishment. Obviously.

I once attended an East Herts Council Community Matters session at which I asked one of the Officers that ‘all things being equal’ if I wanted to open another bar, pub or drinking establishment was there anything in the rules that said I couldn’t. His reply was a resolute ‘No’. I recall Councillor Russell Radford and myself being quoted in the Mercury calling for a Local Plan for Hertford where it might be possible to limit pubs or hairdressers or nail bars to a certain percentage. So many years on and a Local Plan is still not even a dot on the horizon.

Anyone who has read any of the previous pages on this thread will know that I have been going on about the decline in Hertford’s retail offer and as a County town for some time. I was hoping that one of the candidates in the May local elections would knock on my door so that I could ask what they intended to do about it. No one did. In fact we have lived here since 1996 and not one candidate has even knocked on my door looking for my vote. Perhaps there is a secret chalk mark warning them off.

And so as sure as night follows day we move on to Waitrose. I do not know what is happening here. I throw my hands up in the air. The application by Van Hages to build a superstore – believed to be Waitrose – was approved by the Management Development Committee as the last act of a Council at the end of its term. It was a bizarre sort of meeting. Why would a senior councillor propose quite strongly that the application be approved knowing it was counter to his own planning officer’s recommendation, national planning policy and by default would be called in at a mammoth cost to council. No question mark. I don’t know.

Even more bizarre was that on the day before the vote all Councillors received an email from Wrenbridge laying down the pros and cons of approving or not the application. It concluded by saying that if the application was approved Wrenbridge would walk away from any future investment in Hertford.

As you may recall Wrenbridge are the lead consultants in a plan to regenerate Hertford and Bircherley Green in particular. This involves bulldozing the whole of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre along with over two dozen shops, kiosks, offices and the bus station and replacing them with eight new retail units and 125 units of accommodation. And a restaurant; for which Hertford is gasping. I do not understand how this represents ‘regeneration’.

Since that night no more has been heard of Wrenbridge or their regeneration scheme so perhaps they meant what they said. I check Google every so often and at the time of writing the Secretary of State has still not called in this application.

Councillor Jane Sartin has started an on line petition requesting that The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government calls in this application. The petition is slowly creeping to her target of 500 signatures. However on reading the comments it appears that most of those who have signed this seem to think that by calling in this the planning approval will be overturned. This is not how it works. I also noticed that many of the signatories don’t even live here. A sample page throws up these geographical locations; Cranfield, Oxford, Northampton, Coventry, London, Weybridge, Silverstone and Ketsch in Germany. What do these people know about the local economy?

I know that on many message boards you can state your country of origin when you first join and some wags will confirm residency of the Shetland Islands or Upper Volta. Or are all these signatories people who have a bee in their bonnet about supermarkets and troll every petition in which the word appears?

It works like this. The Secretary of State decides if there are grounds to refuse the application and if so will refer the planning approval to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol. They will appoint an Inspector and set a date and place at which the application will be discussed. Both sides employ the services of very expensive barristers and three months later the Inspector will announce his decision.

This is what happened with the Sainsburys application and after months of legal wranglings the approval was upheld. Calling in a planning decision guarantees nothing, for either side.

Whilst this process takes place we creep inexorably towards 2016 when it is believed that Waitrose lease in Bircherley Green will expire. I have heard from a very good source that the lease expires in 2017. But never mind. Waitrose have made it very clear that they do not view the proposals as set out by Wrenbridge as suited to their requirements and have no intention of staying. If you care to look at the recent expansion and building projects undertaken by Waitrose who are the only group actively developing you will see that they prefer to own their own land not rent, stores built to their own specifications and an abundance of parking on the flat. Bircherley Green does not fit this vision.

In the meantime the Council that approved the application has now changed personnel. A new executive, a new Committee and an absolute majority. There is no opposition; there are 50 seats and 50 Conservative members. What will the future hold? More of the same I guess.

As it happened when the application was due to be heard by the new Committee Asda in Ware objected on the grounds of incursion of the Green Belt and the application was withdrawn.

Footnote April 2016. Waitrose is still there but are still optimistic that Van Hages will apply and receive planning permission to relocate there. There has been no news from Wrenbridge. The highly expensive Hertford Vision and Design Strategy carried out by Tibblads on behalf of East Herts Council has been published but has not yet entered the public domain despite nearly everyone in Hertford presenting their views by visiting the exhibition or writing in.

I do have a copy but all it has done is revisit everything that has been discussed and argued over through very committee and strategy group that I know and have attended and come up with nothing new or workable.

The decline in Hertford’s retail offer – Part Two

Where in Hertford can you buy a pair of shoes, ladies underwear or a baby’s potty?

The answer is that you can’t; not if you like your foot to be measured, are a lady of a certain age or have searched all the obvious places like chemist shops. I found the latter item in Messages where you’d least expect to find a baby’s potty. There are no shoe shops left in town and unless you are a young lady with a svelte like figure places to find those essential pieces of clothing are far and few between.

I have just completed an up to date database of the town’s business premises. I last wrote a similar report in 2007 and the town centre profile has changed quite dramatically. There is now almost a total reliance on the service sector. People used to comment that all Hertford had to offer was estate agents, charity shops and hairdressers. In the past it was easy to refute these claims but now the facts are quite stark.

There are 269 retail outlets including Banks of which there are 8. Of those 159 retail premises offering services, 39 are in the health & beauty sector (hairdressers, nail bars, salons etc) and 65 are in the food and drink sector (Bars, coffee shops, takeaways etc). These two sectors alone account for 66% of all service sector businesses. In 2007 this was 55%.

Since I wrote the report the premises once occupied by Clintons Cards is now being rebuilt as a Turkish restaurant, Slades is a restaurant/cafe, East Herts Electrical is a Mens hairdressers, Artico is a smoothie bar and The Decorated Room is to be another smoothie bar (now an Italian restaurant).

There are long standing traders who are about to close. Colin Sykes will retire in May, Michaels Jewellery is to close at the end of February and I know of at least another two long standing traders who are on the point of closing or moving.

What will come in their place? Answers on a postcard.

The revised application by Van Hages for a food store presumed to be Waitrose is due to be considered by Planning Department shortly and we await with breath bated the application from Wrenbridge for the regeneration plans for Bircherley Green. As I have said before either Waitrose will leave for Ware or close its doors for good in 2016; and if Wrenbridge succeed there will be a big hole in Hertford for at least eighteen months – probably more.

In the meantime where is everybody going to go for essential everyday items? Not Hertford. Possibly Harlow, Stevenage or Welwyn Garden City. No one wants to shop out of town but given the lack of depth in Hertford’s shopping offer does anyone have a choice any more?

There is a need for a Local Plan but where is that going to come from? There is an election in May but I doubt if any of the local issues found in this blog will be addressed. At the heart of the matter everyone seems quite happy living here – and that is the real problem. Good schools, good transport links, low crime rates etc etc. At night there are plenty of bars and eateries to suit all tastes but no one is here during the day and no one seems bothered about how the town will look in another 8 years.

 

The Old Barge Public House

This being World Cup time we recorded an episode of Morse. A little way through ‘The Infernal Serpent’ from 1990 Mrs B and me both said: ‘I recognise that pub’. It was of course the interior of the Old Barge public house on Folly Island where we live.

We often have this kind of moment, usually when watching Morse, or Lewis, or Midsomer Murders or Rosemary and Thyme and often remark how good that pub looks and wonder where it is, because the name always seems to have been changed to fit the plot.

These are photos of the Barge from the 1990 episode of Morse to the present day and the distant past. Just click on one photo and it will expand and start slideshow.

Read more about Folly Island here.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1529417241ebrab1529417241nhoj@1529417241tcatn1529417241oc1529417241

A short history of brewing in Hertford

Traditional maltsters
Traditional maltsters

What made Hertford so famous for brewing?

Hertford’s wealth was founded on the brewing industry. The main crop was barley which thrived in the light well drained soil that surrounded Hertford. It produced the short, plump, thin-skinned variety that every maltster desired. Hertford’s pre-eminence was born out of a simple geographic alliance.

Barley was brought in from the fields to the maltings where it was soaked in water to convert the starch into sugar and then heated to arrest germination before the addition of yeast to produce alcohol. The temperature is controlled to give either a pale malt or roasted to produce the dark malts for stout and porter – particular favourites of Londoners.

Londoner’s had always drunk beer; it was healthier than untreated water from the Thames. This demand was met by the brewers who had traditionally sourced malt, the raw material for beer, from three main areas; Surrey, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

The second natural advantage of Hertford’s ascendancy was the river Lea. It flows straight from the centre of the town until running in to the Thames directly into the heart of London. Here the great brewing names such as Whitbread, Perkins and Coombe built riverside warehouses to accept the continuous barges of malt.

Almost as soon as the Navigation Acts were passed in the middle of the eighteenth century allowing for the improvement of barge transport into Hertford, events were occurring elsewhere that were to threaten Hertford’s pre-eminence as a malting and brewing centre.

The decline of Hertford as a centre for brewing

East Anglia was establishing itself as a major source of barley and barges using the sea route from Norfolk to London’s Bear Quay were accounting for a higher proportion of London’s malt imports. The big brewers were establishing their own maltings and factoring houses not just in Hertford but in the newer territories and their dependence on local supplies was diminishing.

Local malting was dealt a mortal blow by the new industrial age – and in particular, the coming of the railways. The railway opened up the Midlands and its fields of barley. Burton soon became the new centre of the malting industry and as overseas exploration cast light on dark corners of the globe, it was Burton ales such as the eponymous IPA (India Pale Ale) that was shipped to the colonies.

Ironically beer in bottles such as IPA lasted the journey better; a discovery said to have been made in Hertfordshire by a parson from Much Hadham, Alexander Nowell. On one of his frequent fishing days he accidentally left a bottle of home brewed beer on the riverbank.

It was his custom to put a stopper in the bottle to prevent the contents being spilled and on his return a few days later he found that the beer in the stoppered bottle had improved greatly – and thereby, so tradition has it, invented bottled beer.

 

The Quaker Henry Stout and malting

The dark brown beer called porter was said to have been invented by a Londoner. If this is so then it is safe to assume that the malt used to produce porter was developed in Hertfordshire, for this area was famous for its brown malts.

The invention of stout was first mentioned in 1677 and accredited to Henry Stout. This is now doubted as Henry Stout was actually a maltster and stout is a reference to any dark, strong ale. He owned property in and around Hertford and also ran the White Lion in Fore Street.

Quakers of which Henry Stout was one, became involved in the brewing industry as this was one of the few professions that were still open to them following the restoration of Charles II.  Quakers were penalised for not taking oaths in courts of law or standing for political positions. Henry Stout was penalised in 1662 and 1664 for non-attendance at church, similarly William Fairman. He was sentenced in 1677 to be deported to Barbados. It is thought that he served his sentence in this country as in 1687 he provided liquor to the assizes to accompany the judge’s meal of ‘boyle beef, porch, rost beef and cheese’.

Modern day Hertford

Henry Stout’s White Lion has disappeared but Fore Street was a popular venue for anyone with a thirst. Numbers 41 – 49 now all retail units, was a brewery and number 42, the Turk’s Head Coffee House had a brewery in the yard and was situated in what is now known as Brewhouse Lane; numbers 72 – 74 was known as the Falcon between 1727 and 1731 and now houses a firm of solicitors. The Red Lion had a brewery behind the bar as long ago as 1621. In 1731 it was called the Half Moon and early in the 1800’s became the Dimsdale Arms. It is now the Pizza Express.

Why not sample some of Hertford’s historic brewing heritage with a visit to one of its pubs found in Camra’s Good Beer Guide 2018. For those wishing for a wider knowledge of Hertford’s historic pub scene you can do no better than Les Middlewood’s ‘One for the Road – a History of Hertford Pubs’. This was a limited edition print but copies are still available from Hertford Museum, priced £11.00.

Modern street names such as Barley Croft, Brewhouse Lane and The Maltings remain as a reminder of Hertford’s strong association with brewing.

All evidence of a once thriving industry has all but vanished but on days when the wind is in the right direction the smell of hops still drifts over Hertford from McMullens brewery, the last remaining independent brewer in the town.

© John Barber. First published Hertfordshire Countryside, April 2001

Contact John Barber: moc.r1529417241ebrab1529417241nhoj@1529417241tcatn1529417241oc 1529417241

John Barber, Author

A little bit about John Barber.

This feature published by the Hertfordshire Mercury on December 7 2007 gives you a brief flavour of the man behind the site but for a more detailed background, read my biography.

Getting to know you

Name John Barber
Age Just collected my bus pass
Where are you from Folly Island, Hertford
Job Hertford Town Centre Manager
Hobbies Writing.

Favourites
Film

Goodbye Mr Chips
Terminator One

Book
Three men in a boat by Jerome K Jerome
Life and Times of Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne

TV Programme
Spooks

Song
Bat out of Hell

Food
Any curry, stronger the better

Claim to fame

Bob Monhouse
Postcard from Bib Monkhouse

Bob Monkhouse rang me from his holiday home in Barbados to offer me his memories of Leslie Welch, the Memory Man who was a famous variety act in the 1950/60’s. He talked for about half an hour and I always thought that a wonderful and kind gesture from such a celebrated stand-up comedian and TV host to a little known writer (and who remains so to this day!).

What famous person would you like to be stuck on a desert island with
Becky Mantin
Becky Mantin, the ITV weather girl. This kind of interview was a regular feature in the Mercury who asked various politicians and traders their likes and views. When asked who they would like to be stuck on a desert island with most replied with: William Shakespeare, the Pope, George Bernard Shaw, Henry the Eighth and various reality TV stars such as Bear Grylls. I took the view that if I had to be marooned on a desert island then I would prefer my companion to be an attractive female. At the time of this interview I always knew that it was going to rain because Becky would do the whole of the weather forecast with a smile. So much better than discussing the end of the world with Wittgenstein.

Views on Hertford
What does it need
A cinema
What would you change I like it as it is
Favourite pub/restaurant Old Barge, White Horse, Salisbury Arms
Favourite place The Old Barge pub on Folly Island
Where do you like to shop Waitrose
Best thing about Hertford The traders and the people.

When Zach my grandson passed away in 2015 there was little left in Hertford for me. I originally placed the following on his own page but they belong here.

I had hoped that the Hertford Town Centre Urban Design Strategy would breathe some life into the town. All it produced was another list of everything that has been discussed, argued over and beaten into pulp by every possible combination of town centre committees and seminars. If I have copies of all these then someone else must have too at Council level and saved us all £100,000 to hire a team of consultants to regurgitate it.

As we near the end of 2015 the position regarding Waitrose in town is as unclear as when negotiations started in 2013.

The ex-Mayor Colin Harris once told me that I had been punching above my weight for far too long. Trying to form an opposition to the established pattern of things in this town has become more like punching my fist into thin air.

However I can look back over the past fifteen years and know that some good things were achieved; not always by myself but with the help of so many good friends and colleagues. In some chronological order:

Chairman of the Folly Island Residents Association
5 Fun Days
1 Hertford Music Festival
1 Continental Market
Hertford Town Watch
Hertford Pubwatch incl Behave or be Banned
Farmers Markets
New Christmas Lights and much needed infrastructure
Christmas Fayres
Taxi Marshal Scheme
Hidden Hertford – AV Tours
Training Courses
New businesses in town
Business database
Editor of Ward Times

I have missed a few but it is exhausting just listing that lot and remembering the time and effort spent by all those who were also responsible.

Thank you for those 15 years.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1529417241ebrab1529417241nhoj@1529417241tcatn1529417241oc1529417241