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.
I have already made some initial comments on the planing application recently submitted for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre (see right).
It is not going to win any awards but it does attempt to remove one eyesore from the centre of Hertford without putting another in its place. The Planning Statement comments: In summary, the wider area is of a generally mixed character with no particular prevailing building style or dominant materials. Whilst there are historic buildings throughout the Town Centre there are also a significant number of more recent buildings and developments.
The majority of Hertford’s buildings are listed in the Department of National Heritage List of Buildings of Special or Architectural Interest. Most are Grade II, a few such as Hertford Castle are Grade I but there is no place at all for Bircherley Green which was built in 1981.
The plans show the new Bircherley Green as three distinct blocks with retail premises supporting up to 70 apartments and Centurion House now a Premier Inn Hotel. The cleaner version from the Public Realm Statement is shown below.
The big break from the past is that these plans allow for free and unfettered pedestrian access through the new centre. Before the shopping centre was built the area was home to the bus station, a town centre car park and a few remaining dwellings on the banks of the River Lea.
The main spine is to be The Mall which runs from Railway Street down to the river edge. This is also accessed by a path from the bus station and a much improved river walk which allows people to walk between the bus shelter and Bull Plain.
This is of course a double edged sword. Whilst it fulfils much of the town vision statements even harking back to the Riverside Yards Project of 1998 it also adds to the potential for all sorts of odd behaviour.
At present Bircherley Green Shopping Centre is gated and the gates closed in line with Waitrose opening hours. The Mall would not exist nor would the walk from the bus station. The river edge is no more than a service road and because of the restrictions on use provided by the gates in Railway Street and Bircherley Street is rarely used as a major thoroughfare.
This new free access will enable the proposed wining and dining area along the river to flourish.
It will also mean that people will be walking through and around the centre all hours of day and night.
The residents of the new builds will be parking their cars in the car park or searching for space elsewhere.
As we know Hertford has a bustling, energetic and thriving night time economy. But it brings with it loud and oft times aggressive and drunken noise and behaviour. The centre will now provide all manner of short cuts across town and an oasis of rest with benches along The Mall and on the riverside. The restaurants will no doubt try and push their closing times to a later hour and the lights along the Mall and the river might not always be switched off when they are supposed to.
None of this may happen. Nights may pass without disturbance from carousing drunks or noise from the night time economy. You cannot oppose something that has not happened but I do hope that in their consideration East Herts Council may have some regard for those residents who live close to this ‘jewel in the crown’.
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!