Never send to know for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for Hertford

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.

Riverside
The Bircherley Green riverside as envisaged by Wrenbridge

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.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1561399170ebrab1561399170nhoj@1561399170tcatn1561399170oc1561399170

 

 

 

 

The Last Hooraah – 2 May 2019 – Bengeo Ward Election

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 1182 (E)
Alex DAAR 1034(E)
Sally NEWTON 929(E)
Linda Elisabeth RADFORD 853(E)
Sue DUNKLEY 820
Veronica Elizabeth FRASER 703
John William WIGGETT 631
Tracy Kim Martin TURNER 584
Alec TURNER 507
John David BARBER 259

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 lost Zach 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 Bob) 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 to Screaming 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.

But, the myth still persists of a network of tunnels under the town centre first published in the Hertfordshire Mercury in 2004. My book on The Tunnels of Hertford is available from Amazon and a brief summary on its own page on this site.

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?

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1561399170ebrab1561399170nhoj@1561399170tcatn1561399170oc1561399170

What future for Hertford now

1 November 2017

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.r1561399170ebrab1561399170nhoj@1561399170tcatn1561399170oc1561399170

 

Vale, adios, aloha, ciao, auf wiedersehen, au revoir and goodbye Waitrose

12 September 2017

So, the final act as been played out and the Hertford Waitrose is no more. Some might say this is a sad day for the town but more of that later. I am reminded of Marc Antony in Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Waitrose.

Waitrose closed doors
Waitrose closed

I have seen hundreds, perhaps thousands of comments on social media sites from posters who have accused everyone from Council (pick one from three) to Waitrose to John Lewis to Diageo and Wrenbridge and Planners in general for the closure.

Some of the comments have been at best uninformed and at worst pure fantasy. I do not claim to be completely ‘au fait’ with all the events leading up to today but if you read a selection of my posts on this subject (right) you will see that closure was inevitable and no one single person or company’s fault.

I have known Waitrose to have been a part of Hertford’s commercial and social life since 2001 when I first became involved in the town and right up to my retirement as Town Centre Manager in 2010.

They were one of the major sponsors of Hertford Fun Day. My abiding memory of the manager at that time Jim Brewin was seeing him in the middle of Old Cross standing by his collapsible chair, floppy hat on head, water bottle in hand directing the road closures.

Jim was Chairman of the Fun Day committee until 2005; he organised his staff to help man the road closures and act as stewards and as seen in the previous sentence led by example.

Waitrose provided some of the initial funding for the radios for Hertford Town Watch; a town centre security initiative that with 50 traders, licensees and venues with radios and 19 CCTV cameras became the envy of many other towns.

It might not have been that way had not a van parked in Salisbury Square on the morning of one Fun Day exactly where the stage was to be set up. The radio to CCTV control would not work and we discovered that when Waitrose closed at night and on Sundays as it did then, the power to the aerial was also switched off. Of course the aerial is now fully functional 24/7 and has been moved now that Waitrose has closed.

Along with Lloyds Bank Waitrose sponsored the food for the Hertford Town Watch members breakfast meeting at the Waterside until Michelle left. A free breakfast was extended to all town centre traders and you could get everything from a cup of coffee to a full English.

So it has always been. Nearly every organisation in town has cause to be grateful to Waitrose for a form of sponsorship or charitable donation; the Horticultural Show at the Castle, Hertford Food and Drink Festival and lunchtime Soundbites concerts at All Saints Church are amongst those too numerous to mention to have benefited and this does not include the monthly community matters also known as the green coin box.

As sure as night follows day the Hertfordshire Mercury has had an input in its own inimitable style – ‘Eleven things we will miss about Waitrose’.  I will mention a few.

First – Overheard in Waitrose – I was going to award an Oscar here but here are three contenders in reverse order; 3. When does the sale start? 2. I hear John Lewis will be moving in when you move out and my favourite of all time which would have taken the Oscar and the teatime biscuit 3. Wetherspoons have bought the whole of the shopping centre and there will be a bar on the ground floor and a beer garden on the first floor and be overlooked by the car park.

Second – Free coffee – yes, it was great to pick up your morning boost of caffeine at no charge along with the Daily News but as I have mentioned elsewhere Waitrose became part of the problem. Small coffee bars in many English towns suffered a significant loss of trade with this initiative. So now Hertford’s own independent coffee shops may see a small upturn in trade, along with the newsagents with newspaper and Lottery sales and even the dry cleaners.

Third – Employees own the business – they do not. Owners of businesses are not made redundant. ‘Partners’ as they are called have a contract of employment like any other company employee, they have to fight for their holiday entitlement against each other, they get disciplined for breaking company guidelines like anybody else and many are paid just above the National Average Wage.

The company will claim that they offer a competitive wage which when the annual bonus and staff discount are taken into account brings the salary up to the level of the National Living Wage. That may be so but the level of profit sharing has been dropping over the last few years and with the supermarket pricing wars raging staff discount does not always compensate for the slightly higher pricing structure at the stores. This is not ownership.

To continue my theme of mentioning the good it should be noted that all staff that expressed a desire to remain with the company have all been found suitable employment within the group. Those that wished to leave have done so with a very good redundancy and/or retirement package.

Throughout this experience since closure was announced in February there has been constant consultation and support from many Head Office departments for all the staff and you cannot say fairer than that. There is sure to be many a tear dropping from eyes when four o’clock chimes.

I don’t know if this will be the case throughout the town. Everyone who knows about these things knew that Waitrose lease expired in 2016. For many years previous County, District and Town Council members and officers have all stated that Hertford will collapse and die if and when Waitrose should leave. No one has done anything to lessen the impact such closure will now have. Retail units are already starting to become vacant.

A huge sum was spent on the Hertford Town Centre  Design and Vision Strategy. That did not offer any proposals either other than a rather extensive appendix as found in Rollercoaster Tycoon or Sim City to illustrate the varied and wonderful designs of street furniture that could be installed in Hertford Town Centre. They were a little light on where the finance was coming from.

I know that the fall out from the closure of Waitrose will be painful and will continue to talk about it here.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1561399170ebrab1561399170nhoj@1561399170tcatn1561399170oc1561399170

The decline in Hertford’s retail offer – Part Three

23 August 2017

During my time as Town Centre Manager it was easy to promote Hertford, a different but amazing kind of town full of independent traders; a town where you could still find a haberdashery (since closed), ironmongers and diving school (closed since December 2016 and premises still unoccupied). That wide retail offer continues to decline since my first post on this phenomenon in November last year (see below).

Beckwiths

I walked along St Andrew Street and the first thing I noticed was that one of the most iconic buildings in town was ‘To Let’ – Beckwiths, once home to an equally iconic antiques business.

It was also home for the stone man that was decapitated a few years back. He was restored but the damage means he is not so tall and does not fit so snugly underneath the eaves.

A little further towards Old Cross ‘Audio Hi-Fi’ remains empty as it has done for more years than I can remember. The business moved around the corner opposite the old Library but it was soon sold to a competitor who then closed it and Deli Italia moved in only to close as well a few months back. The premises remain empty. A few more yards along Bob Hill Motorcycles remains dark.

All is not lost in St Andrew Street as Fingertips have moved in where the Il Vino coffee shop was but this has left a hole in Fore Street of which much later.

Ashleys

On to Maidenhead Street and the sad frontage of what was Ashleys – see my earlier note.

The last time I looked in there was an empty space full of concrete debris and a JCB that had fallen into a pit.

 

 

A few weeks back Planning Department nailed a notice to the hoarding for the owners to replace the hoarding with something more befitting the town. It was pushed through the letterbox and nothing more has happened.

 

Halifax now closed

To the right and along Honey Lane is the similarly empty and boarded premises of the Halifax.

This was part of the Lloyds Banking Group and Lloyds Bank in Bircherley Street must surely be a casualty of the Bircherley Green Redevelopment.

The space is required for the new Premier Inn – if planning is approved

Speaking of which Halfords are going early and have announced that they will be leaving their present site on September 19 and moving across the road on September 26 beneath the gym at the old Marquee Centre. This will increase the empty space in the shopping centre as Freedom Australia moved out some time ago; and The Luxury Soap Company and Hobs Hairdressers have also departed.

A few short steps from Halfords the Ruby Room annexe shop is also empty again, Retail Therapy having moved some time ago to St Andrew Street.

four seasonsI have mentioned Fingertips above as having moved from Fore Street but that is just the beginning of the story.

The Oak Room and Creative Sanctuary both have ‘To Let’ signs above and will be closing at the end of the summer period.

 

Four Seasons gift shop is in the final days of a sale before closure and Emma H the bra shop is also empty (owing to lack of support – sorry, couldn’t resist that awful pun).

Out of curiosity I checked a few estate agents on-line to see what retail premises were available and saw a few not mentioned above and will not mention here as there are no visible signs of the incumbents wanting to vacate premises. The obvious signs are there; that Hertford is seeing a slow and gradual loss of retail outlets.

It is not all doom and gloom. Two vaping shops have opened in Market Street and St Andrew Street and Hertford Wine in Maidenhead Street.

The last time I updated my database the vacancy rate in Hertford was slightly over 3%. I am informed that it is now just over 5% but does not include the recent and imminent closures above.

Let us not forget that Waitrose will close on 12th September and that a date for a decision to be made on the planning application for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green has yet to be set. Until such time as a decision is made I cannot see how anyone can have any confidence in opening a shop in Hertford – of course I could be wrong.

Contact John Barber here: moc.r1561399170ebrab1561399170nhoj@1561399170tcatn1561399170oc1561399170

The decline in Hertford’s Retail Offer Part One

The decline in Hertford’s Retail Offer Part Two

 

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

16 March 2017

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

1 March 2017

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.

Waitrose from the river
the rear of Waitrose from the river

 

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

 

Waitrose from river 2017
As proposed in planning application 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!

Another nail in the coffin – Claydons gone

16 February 2017

Looking back over these posts they all follow a similar pattern. One of closure, redundancy and retirement.

John and Judy Workman called in at Waitrose the other day and told my wife that they had retired.

John is better known incorrectly as John Claydon – the fishmonger. They had a shop – Claydons – in Railway Street for many, many years. they were a fixture in the town. A throwback to the old days of retailing where you sold produce from the window. Theirs was always half open so you could see the fish on display and choose your dinner.

On the first Fun Day I organised John set up a sea fish stall. So popular! Many locals had forgotten what simple pleasures you can get from life by eating cockles, mussels and whelks in the middle of town with a pint of local beer and a local band playing.

There was a period of uncertainty for a while when the shop lease was terminated. However they returned with a customised chiller trailer and continued to sell fish from the counter and became a similar fixture in Salisbury Square.

I had an electrical point placed near Cafe Nero so that the chiller would work. Some time later a power socket was placed by the Council outside the White Hart and there they traded on every Saturday – and on Fridays and Tuesdays in Ware as well.

They were happy days. A Town Centre Manager has to have his fingers and ears in many pies and I enjoyed John’s company and local knowledge which he dispensed from the front seat of his van. We also used to stand in the middle of Salisbury Square with Mick Wentworth who ran the fruit and veg stall and sometimes Colin Sykes the jeweller, and occasionally Charlie who ran Wigginton’s for Roy Roberts until he passed away.

They’ve all gone now. Hertford will be a quieter and sadder place now. No local colour, no local knowledge, no old men chewing over the gossip. This is what some media people like to call the local business community. Perhaps they are right and I am cynical but it wasn’t that – it was just friends chatting, joined by the various traders and residents who walked by and had a few minutes to spare.

You don’t cultivate a local network by attending meetings about meetings and drinking tea in dark committee rooms. You have to get to get out there. That’s what I learned. I can’t do it any more – nor do I want to – because Hertford town centre is not like that any more.

I doubt if John or Judy will read this but I wish them a long, peaceful and healthy retirement.

So to end on a more topical note. I see that Which? has awarded Waitrose the top awards in the supermarket customer appreciation surveys.

Not the Hertford branch of Waitrose obviously because that will shortly ‘go dark’. But an ironic release considering that the day after it was announced that the Hertford, Waitrose store was set for closure the Consumers Association (Which?) stated that it was selling its Hertford site to Aldi to build a new supermarket.

Now we await publication of Wrenbridge’s planing application for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre. It’s like London buses – they all come at once.

Hertford Waitrose closing in September 2017

9 February 2017

That thud on the doormat was not the daily delivery of junk mail, nor the latest manuscript submission to a publisher rejected for the second or third time but the other boot finally falling.

That boot is of course the confirmed closure of Waitrose in Bircherley Green in September 2017. It was the only outcome of a process that began in 2014 and should surprise no one. It will of course. It will anger and outrage and ‘Disgusted of Hertford’ will fill the letters pages and message boards for weeks to come.

The Hertford store was always too small for a modern supermarket. It did not have space for all the products that fight for prominence elsewhere; it could not support a coffee bar, sushi bar or wine bar such as other Waitrose stores do. The lifts (nothing to do with the company) were frequently out of action and the car park (once beloved of East Herts Council and now in private hands) was a constant source of complaint. The toilets of course were unfit for human habitation. None of that was Waitrose fault or for the staff to repair.

They said in 2014 that the plans for Bircherley Green as designed and presented by Wrenbridge were not viable for their needs. Their stance never wavered. They wanted their own space, car parking on the flat and access routes.

Waitrose were outbid for the McMullen site that now houses Sainsburys. Despite being Planning Department’s preferred option for Ware the Council Executive plumped for Asda who most conveniently blocked the final application by Van Hages to extend their Ware Garden Centre to accommodate a food store (Waitrose never mentioned).

That site would have suited Waitrose. It would have meant that they could have doubled their floor space to about 26,000 sq ft, incorporated toilets and a cafe and offer parking on the flat. There would have been improved vehicle access for ‘click and collect’ and for the in house delivery teams to deliver orders.

Instead the people of Hertford signed petitions to plead with Waitrose to stay in Hertford even though they had constantly said they did not want to. Finally Asda broke cover and invoked the Green Belt. There are no lambs frolicking through the green grass amidst the piles of timber and paving slabs in Van Hages outdoor selling areas and no combine harvester with lights glaring moves silently at night to bring food to our tables.

The net result is that we have the worst of all worlds, especially if you are a Waitrose customer. No store in Hertford, no store in Ware, you may have to drive to Welwyn or Bishops Stortford and an uncertain future as to what kind of national chain will inhabit the space in the projected designs which will be presented by Wrenbridge shortly as part of the Bircherley Green redevelopment project.

It is often said: ‘be careful what you wish for’. This is what happens when you fail to read the big picture. It is unlikely that the Government will allow for any piece of Green Belt to be re-designated and for commercial building to take place on it. It is likely that it may occur for housing and given that the Gilston Garden Town, previously known as Harlow North will become a reality there ought to be somewhere for people to shop.

Perhaps more effort ought to have gone into persuading government advisors to allow for Van Hages to build on their Green Belt and we might then have a Waitrose supermarket close by with all the product ranges and facilities of a modern store. But this will not happen.

However there is a bright side in all this doom and gloom. When Waitrose finally closes its doors customers may buy their morning paper and Lottery ticket from the independent newsagent, their breakfast coffee from an independent coffee shop and get their dry cleaning done at an independent dry cleaners. Hertford still has a strong independent bias of which newsagents, coffee shops and dry cleaners make up a significant proportion.