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.

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.r1561399147ebrab1561399147nhoj@1561399147tcatn1561399147oc1561399147





Pedestrianisation of Bull Plain

Bull Plain - artists impression 1965

The above is an artist’s impression of what Bull Plain would look like if it was pedestrianised.

Unfortunately this drawing was made in 1965 and was found in  a publication called Mercury Remembers, published by the Hertfordshire Mercury invoking ‘Memories of yesteryear in Hertford, Ware and surrounding areas’.

Below is a drawing of Bull Plain made in 2016 as part of the Hertford Town Centre Urban District Strategy.

Bull Plain Urban Design Strategy 2016

There are some similarities mostly the trees in the middle of the road.

I had a good look today and could not find any greenery. This is possibly a good idea as trees growing out in the middle of the road would make it quite difficult for brewery drays to reach Popworld, the Hertford Club and the Old Barge.

However it would solve another problem; that of access to Folly Island by vehicles that should not be there. With or without trees it would be a much more visible and authoritative location to place ‘cul de sac’ signs and other warnings for large vehicles to avoid the Island.

This is how Bull plain would have looked on any Saturday in the 1930’s.

bull plain 1930's

Photo from the same publication.

Speaking of which.

I took a stroll around town for an hour or two around eleven o’clock hoping to find the political parties actively campaigning from market stalls or handing out leaflets. There was not one.

This was a good time to be out and about – a sunny morning, residents with an equally sunny disposition and the workmen gone leaving brand new paving in their wake. A good time you might think to let the voters of Hertford what your policies are, what your views on local issues are and how you see the future of Hertford shaping up.

But there was none of this. Elections in Hertford seem as boring as ever. I was out and about though because I thought that was what candidates standing for local councils ought to be doing. Perhaps I am wrong.

I suppose I will have to wait until next week to make the acquaintance of my political opposite numbers. As it was I managed to nod and wave at a few people and hopefully they might even vote for me on May 2.

You can contact john Barber here: moc.r1561399147ebrab1561399147nhoj@1561399147tcatn1561399147oc1561399147

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.r1561399147ebrab1561399147nhoj@1561399147tcatn1561399147oc1561399147

At the end of a perfect day

Sunset by Anne-Marie Barber
Sunset by Anne-Marie Barber

I make no apologies for featuring another of my daughter’s photographs, taken on the way home from school.

When she emailed this to me I instantly thought of a vinyl LP we used to play quite often.

At the End of a perfect Day by Ralph McTell.

You can see the similarity in the sky and the title sums it up completely.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1561399147ebrab1561399147nhoj@1561399147tcatn1561399147oc1561399147

Starting out on Life’s Journey

Starting out on life's journey
Starting out on life’s journey by Anne-Marie Barber

This photograph was taken by my daughter Anne-Marie. The little boy is my grandson Archie, on his way to school in Rushden, Northants.

I love this photo. I have tried to keep this blog to all things Hertford but every now and then something more interesting comes along.

So this is Archie setting out on his journey; ahead of him, school and his future.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1561399147ebrab1561399147nhoj@1561399147tcatn1561399147oc1561399147