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.r1561399663ebrab1561399663nhoj@1561399663tcatn1561399663oc1561399663

 

 

 

 

Balham, sorry, Hertford – Gateway to the South

It is a case of deja vu – waiting for the next boot to fall or in Hertford’s case, waiting for the gates to open.

This Road Traffic Order has been affixed to the notice board at the southern end of Bull Plain for a number of weeks.

What it says is that gates will be installed at either end of Maidenhead Street and only open before 9.30am and 5.30pm to allow free movement of pedestrians. So far no gates have materialised.

The notice goes on to say that the RTO will come into force on 13th May and that traffic will only be able to access Maidenhead Street from Salisbury Square .

To underline the reversal of traffic flow there are two ‘No Entry’ signs at the western end of Maidenhead Street. However if you are driving from Mill Bridge they are not highly visible. I would have thought that extra signage before Maidenhead Street saying ‘no left turn’ would be appropriate along with a similar sign ‘no right turn’ from Parliament Square.

Last Tuesday (21 May) travelling on the 390 bus to Stevenage we were delayed by a forty foot pantechnicon travelling through Fore Street from Parliament Square. The lorry then turned left along Maidenhead Street despite the large warning sign in place to prevent such access. When we finally made Mill Bridge ourselves that lorry was blocking Maidenhead Street.

So what you might say. But it was 11.15am and traffic is apparently banned from Maidenhead Street after 9.30am.

That was bad enough but on our return at 2.30pm a delivery van turned into Maidenhead Street from the wrong end.

So, where are the gates that are meant to prevent this.

What I have yet to discover is exactly who is responsible  for opening and closing these gates? And then ensuring that no-one or vehicle is locked inside. Answers on a postcard please.

Today there were two vehicles parked close to Honey Lane at 1.00pm.

I have no words left to say on the state of Bircherley Green. Why was the application not heard last night (22 May) by the Development Management Committee. Another three weeks at least (next scheduled meeting 19 June) will elapse and in the meantime time will stand still and nothing will happen in Hertford.

I could not blame Diageo, Wrenbridge, Premier Inns or Whitbread if they all walked away and left Hertford to its own devices. They won’t; but would East Herts Council really care if they did?

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1561399663ebrab1561399663nhoj@1561399663tcatn1561399663oc1561399663.

 

This is your home town

Son take a good look around
This is your home town.

Bruce Springsteen

I am tired of everybody telling me that Hertford is the county town. Maybe it is;  but on what grounds?  Look at this.

Access to salisbury square

This is the situation facing anyone walking through Maidenhead Street towards Salisbury Square. You have to turn left and cross Bull Plain. Try looking up Bull Plain from Folly Bridge:

looking south along Bull Plain

Traders are complaining about loss of trade, residents are completely baffled and if I were a first time visitor I doubt if I would want to return.

I know that parts (parts! all of it really) of the town needed resurfacing to make it safe for pedestrians. Those with a memory as long as mine will recall that it took a trip over cobbled stones by the then Mayor Cllr Richard Ovenden to have something done about the surface.

People are asking me why is it necessary to dig up one set of stones to replace them with another set, but of a different colour.

I answer that as far as I know it is easier to apply and receive a grant for capital projects than say for marketing or a tourist initiative. So you can get millions of pounds for new pavements but diddly squat to attract anyone into town to walk over them.

I know because I have been there. Are visitors really going to flock to Hertford just to marvel at our pavements? Fine, you can walk without tripping over but there is nothing here to spend your money on, apart from bars, nail bars and sandwich bars.

I walk through town most days and the only shops that seem to have any custom at all is Poundstretcher and the charity shops. This is a county town and this is the best we can offer!

The best laugh I had this week was this story in the incredibly shrinking Hertfordshire Mercury. It concerns the planning row over the proposed building of a Premier Inn.

I have written enough words on these pages, on this subject, to complete a small book so I will not comment further only to once again show a photo of the blank space now occupying a prime site in the county town.

Centurion house demolished

Do the Officers and Members at East Herts Council sincerely believe that they know what is best for Hertford. There has been no progress on this application for years. It is likely to remain a pale imitation of a post-war NCP car park last seen in Passport To Pimlico [1949] – DVD from Amazon – and that was a bomb site!.

There was a time when local councillors either lived or ran a business in the town that they represented. I don’t think that is true any more because what person who had a personal or financial interest in Hertford would allow this fiasco to continue, or even begin.

Have those Officers and Members actually walked around town lately. To the east of the site is Bircherley Court, painted in primary colours and looking like nothing else in town. Halfords across the road is painted black and yellow and Anytime Fitness in the same revamped Marquee Centre has its name back lit with violet neon.

Yes I know that the old Bircherley Green Shopping Centre was situated in the Hertford Conservation Area but it was built in 1981 and there was nothing of architectural or historical interest in it to preserve or enhance.

Friends Meeting House
Friends Meeting House in Railway Street

The Friends Meeting House is what those that know best say they are trying to protect. I may hold a very minority view but an old, interesting building in the middle of a sprawling modern development has an even deeper charm.

It seems to me that East Herts Council is just trying to score points by claiming that it holds the high moral ground over architectural design when in fact, by throwing out every application by Diageo, have been delaying a development that holds the key to Hertford’s future.

Anyone who has tried to maintain trade in the face of sustained road works or a major redevelopment outside your shop knows that in the long term once you have lost customers who are fed up with the disruption, they never come back. The longer the disruption the deeper the cut to income and with it the chances of retaining your customer base.

I noticed years ago that during the week Hertford town centre was only filled with the elderly, young mothers, the unemployed and the economically disenfranchised. This is not the basis for a thriving economic community. There are no shops selling normal goods and even traders who have been here a long time, and they are getting fewer, will agree with long term residents that: ‘there is nothing in Hertford to come here for’.

The Saturday charter market is shrinking, the Farmers Market is showing less affinity with local farming and the number of outlets offering food and drink is rapidly increasing.

What does Hertford offer that make people believe it should still be called the county town? There is no court, no police station open all hours if at all, no tax office and a town where even pedestrians cannot cross the road in a straight line.

There is no political opposition worth talking about, the local paper is a pale imitation of the one that I remember splashing local issues on the front page; and there are no town centre organisations fighting the town’s corner.

As T S Eliot said; ‘this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper’.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1561399663ebrab1561399663nhoj@1561399663tcatn1561399663oc1561399663

Hertford Waitrose closing on September 12 2017

26 June 2017

Finally the second boot has fallen. It has been announced in black and white (well dark Waitrose battleship grey and white) that the Hertford branch of Waitrose will be closing for the final time at 4.00pm on Tuesday September 12 2017.

This will come as no surprise to many – those who have been closely following this blog for instance – or a complete shock to those who thought that this could never happen. The latter still believe that either the Partnership will change its mind at the last minute and stay; or hold to a view quite prevalent in town that Waitrose will upsticks and move a few miles up the road to the Van Hages site in Ware. Once again these points have been explained in great detail on these pages so there is no need to repeat them.

So what will the Waitrose shopper do from September 13 onwards? There are of course various options which have escaped scrutiny. There is a store quite close in Welwyn Garden City, almost next to a John Lewis. The 724 Arriva bus route runs almost every hour.

But there is no need to travel.

There is a Sainsburys store on the edge of town at Hartham. This has parking on the flat, a coffee shop, toilets and spaces for disabled and mother and child parking.

There is a Tesco slightly out of town in Mead Lane. This also has parking on the flat, a coffee counter, toilets and disabled spaces along with mother and child parking.

Not so large is Marks and Spencer which not surprisingly has parking on the flat.

You will see a pattern emerging. Waitrose have consistently stated that the Bircherley Green site before or after redevelopment does not offer them a viable alternative. The Waitrose site has been offered to all and any interested party who have to a man turned the offer down as the site does not offer parking on the flat. The man or housewife on the Clapham omnibus would rather walk to their car in the rain than take an unreliable lift.

Of course if you do have an uncontrollable wanderlust then there is an Asda and a Tesco in Ware as well as a Little Sainsburys. A little further along the A10 is Broxbourne with an Asda, Sainsburys, Iceland, Adi, Lidl and Morrisons. Almost spoilt for choice. And a Waitrose 1.6 miles away in Broxbourne.

Now all we have to wait for is the outcome of the Bircherley Green Redevelopment Planning Application which will be discussed by East Herts Council Development Management Committee on July 19th. Whatever their decision the Waitrose site in Bircherley Green will be dark for a very long time.

July 2017 – This application does not appear on the agenda for the 19th July meeting. I assume that there has been a significant amendment to the plans which would involve another period of consultation and hopefully a recommendation one way or the other to the DMC. Watch this space.

A walk through Hertford 2017 style

5 June 2017

Wrenbridge have just submitted the final plans for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre after months of discussion between themselves and East Herts Planning Department, local groups, residents and more than enough statutory consultant bodies such as the Environment Agency and the Canal and River Trust that you can throw a blueprint at.

If you really must read all about it then follow this link to the planing page and read as many documents as your brain will allow: Documents relating to application.

Bircherley Green Shopping Centre is located in the town centre bordered by Railway Street to the south, the River Lee (Lea) to the north, Bircherley Street to the east and Bull Plain to the west. This map explains it all:

Aerial view of Bircherley Green
Bircherley Green in blue (top centre) within Hertford Town boundaries

This small piece of real estate almost lost in the middle of twentieth century expansion has consumed the minds of the good and great since 2014. It is contained within the Hertford Conservation Area but as everyone admits it is not the most attractive group of buildings to grace this ancient, market town.

So why has it got everyone defending it and wanting to counter any change? Because Hertford is an ancient English market town. I doubt if anyone who has contributed to any report listed above has bothered to walk the streets recently. They might have a different opinion if they had; so I will save you the trouble of visiting the town yourself and explain how Hertford fits into this mind set.

Hertford has seen a return to the old traditional crafts of tattooing, vaping, nail polishing and video gaming. Many shops have adopted a simple Dark Ages colour scheme of black or dark battleship grey eschewing the more modern trend towards hand painted signage above the door applied with mahlstick and sable brush.

The inns and taverns that were found in almost every house the length of Fore Street and Back Street (now Railway Street and Maidenhead Street) have been replaced by bars and venues serving ‘craft’ beer from metal kegs and poured from bottles containing ales and stouts that were never brewed anywhere in the county or for that matter, the country.

The old coffee shops have given way to transatlantic coffee shops with even stranger sounding names where no face to face commerce takes place apart from a Wi-fi link and where a cup of coffee costs more than a pack of Java beans from a supermarket shelf. Thank Heavens for Rose Cafe which stands by the traditional methods and where you can still buy a traditional cup of Nescaff for under a pound and it is brought to your table with saucer almost as soon as it is ordered.

Unfortunately many staple mid seventeenth century meals such ‘boyle beef, porch, rost beef and cheese’ have been replaced by a growth of restaurants with a distinctive Italian flavour and a slight hint of Turkish. This type of Continental fayre is thought to have been brought over to this country by the growing number of Italian students eager for a sight of their Shakespearean heritage behind the modern facade of estate agents and charity shops.

Do seek out the commercial sector, many of the inns and stores that sold these hot and cold vittals are still there. Many are seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings; one or two are thought to be sixteenth century. The timber framing and plaster boarding have been protected for posterity by the application of twentieth century concrete. You cannot see the original design or view the interior as they are mostly private offices but they are all to be found in the Department of Environment List of Buildings of Historic or Architectural Interest being at least of Grade II standard.

As befits a medieval town the road system is all that you could wish for. The town centre layout has not changed much since the early seventeenth century as Spede’s map of 1611 shows.

Spede's map of 1611
Spede’s map of 1611

Fore Street and Back Street mentioned above can be plainly seen leading from Hertford Castle in the centre to the town’s eastern boundary.

Not only is the road system exactly the same as it was over four hundred years ago, so are the roads. The cobbles have no mortar to bind them, broken slabs on the pavements catch the unwary lady with high heels and pot holes peer though the thin tarmac on the surface of the roads to laugh at motorists.

Hertford was built for the horse and cart and this is still the best form of travel through town although there are now no inns to stable your horses which is a bit of a stinker. But fear not, you can still park your car – for a fee – before the Beadle catches up with you.

Did I mention Hertford Castle? It did exist but the unwary visitor may find it hard to find. All that remains is the grassy mound on which the original Norman motte was built. What we call ‘the Castle’ is actually the gatehouse rebuilt by Henry VIII in the early sixteenth century and then parts of it were blown up by the Duke of Devonshire in the nineteenth century.

No medieval town could be without its castle; or its market. There is a Charter Market on Saturdays which struggles to fill the available space. No longer are cattle herded down Fore Street to be sold at market behind the old inns that stretched to All Saints churchyard at the rear. I suppose this might be a good thing as they might wander along Gascoyne Way and cause traffic to snarl up all along the A414 east and west, which of course never ever happens at all in these more enlightened times.

This is why report after report from agencies as diverse as Historic England and Waste Services have been damning the application to redevelop Bircherley Green Shopping Centre in a bid to protect Hertford’s heritage and architectural beauty from the ravages of the Twenty First century – and urge us all to continue to embrace the legacy of the Saxons, the Norman Conquest, the Plague and the Poor Law.

It is now all in the hands of the East Herts Council Planing department – we await their decision.

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.

More thoughts on Bircherley Green Shopping Centre plans

8 March 2017

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.

Bircherley Green Shopping Centre

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 will the hotel guests if the car park is full.

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’.

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!

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.

Everything changes, nothing changes

2 January 2017

Welcome 2017. Me and Mrs B took a stroll around town last Saturday (31st December 2016) and discovered a few things.

In Depth Diving School in Bull Plain has closed. This was quite unexpected. I always highlighted them in reports as one of three independent traders that were unique to Hertford. The other two being Margaret Hart’s haberdashery shop (Harts of Hertford) once of Bull Plain but later Fore Street; and Botsfords the ironmongers.

Around the corner in Maidenhead Street the shop that was once Ashleys is now boarded up and has been for some while. The last time I looked the innards had been completely removed and a mini JCB was just visible over the rim of a very deep hole at the entrance.

What was Mr H the fashion outlet is now a shop which buys and sells and swaps computer games, games consoles and everything else in the gaming world. The Tourist Information Centre is now firmly ensconced in Mill Bridge and we enjoyed a very pleasant coffee and calorie busting cake there on the MacMillan Cancer Big Coffee Morning Day.

Our mini tour took us into Fore Street and a new Champagne and Cocktail bar has opened where the Sun Studio Tanning Salon once was. The old Bollywoods Indian restaurant is now a magnificently furnished Mediterranan restaurant.

Doubling back to Railway Street there was a small gathering of market traders and shopkeepers. Two young men with guitars on their backs asked me if they needed a license to start busking in town. I pointed them in the direction of the Tourist Information Centre who do issue licenses for such things.

Why is this is relevant? After so many years after having left the post of Town Centre Manager a local shopkeeper who had been asked the same question by our hopeful buskers saw me approaching and uttered those immortal words: ‘I don’t know but here comes a man who does’. Just like old times. It gave me a small sensation of utter job satisfaction to know that I was still considered the man to go to.

So Hertford goes on as it always has, shops close, new traders open new shops, old businesses fade away and new ones open with bright hopes for the future. But one large black blot still hangs over the rim of the horizon and the question is –

What is happening to Waitrose and when will Wrenbridge be submitting their application for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green? Actually that is two but they are totally entwined. As I have said before Wrenbridge mention Waitrose in the past tense so we must assume that some in the not so distant future if the planing application is successful Waitrose will actually leave Hertford.

Of course the planning application might not be approved and the ball thrown back into Waitrose’s court. However as we now stand with very wobbly feet on the first few days into the birth of a new year we await Wrenbridge’s next move; a move that was promised to happen about three weeks ago.

As I have said so many times in this blog; will someone somewhere please tell the people of Hertford what is going on.