The leaving of Hertford

There is very little talk in Hertford at the moment other than when will Waitrose be leaving. This is no doubt in response to the Hertfordshire Mercury edition of 6 November in which they used the headline and caption – Waitrose confirms it will be moving out of Bircherley Green, Hertford – Waitrose will pack its bags and move out of Hertford town centre.

This is of course slightly misleading. It is true that Waitrose have indicated their intention to relocate from Hertford. Previous applications are referenced in my blog of 20 October 2014. They have also stated that the Bircherley Green Regeneration Plan is not viable for their purposes within correspondence attached to the application as below – Ref: 3/14/1708/FP (since refused).

A planning application has been made my CPRE on behalf of Van Hages Garden centre for the demolition of some buildings and provision for a food store. There is no mention of Waitrose in the application but the wealth of supporting documentation has been prepared by Waitrose so it can be extrapolated from this that it is their intention to move to Van Hages. All things being equal.

However as the poet said: ‘there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip’.

Further comments on this application be it in favour or against were closed on Thursday November 13. The application will now go to East Herts Council Planning Department who will determine this application based on current planning regulations and not because some vocal people in Hertford do not like the idea of losing a store in a shopping centre in a heightened state of disrepair and unable to carry the full range of products required of a modern supermarket.

Planning Department may recommend that the application is refused. Even so when the case is heard by the Development Management Committee they can accept this advice or overturn it. If refused Van Hages and Waitrose can resubmit their proposals or appeal up to the Office of the Home Secretary. It is a long journey.

In a statement to the Sunday Telegraph Managing director of Waitrose Mark Price said out-of-town supermarkets in Britain will have to reinvent themselves to survive a surge in popularity in convenience stores, online and discount retailers.

If we count the Van Hages site as being ‘out of town’ then what are we to make of Waitrose’s intentions? Mark Price added: “The more space that is put down from this point on, the more you have to worry about the economics of the industry. So, I think it is no surprise that a number of players are saying they are not opening any more space or they are opening only limited space, because every new bit that opens makes the economics harder and harder.”

The future is by no means certain. It appears that they might be leaving Hertford some time in the future but not yet; or perhaps not until their lease expires in 2016. It is not even certain that they could see out this lease for as Mr Price told The Sunday Telegraph it is “incredibly hard to call” whether all of Waitrose’s will survive.

Who knows what is going through the corporate mind at present. One thing is sure, no one in Hertford has a clue.

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By John Barber

John Barber was born in London at the height of the UK Post War baby boom. He had careers in Advertising, International Banking and the Wine Industry before becoming Town Centre Manager in his home town of Hertford. He has been writing professionally since 1996 when he began to contribute articles to magazines on social and local history. His first published book in 2002 was a non-fiction work entitled The Camden Town Murder, a hitherto unsolved murder case from 1907.