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Labour calls on East Herts to consider college for Stortford town centre

Bishop's Stortford's Labour Party has called for the Old River Lane site in the town centre to be used for a further education college.

Last week, Cllr Linda Haysey, the Conservative leader of East Herts Council, confirmed her administration's plans for a cultural quarter in the Causeway were being reviewed.

The coronavirus crisis has left a black hole in the authority's finances and prompted further scrutiny of its £122m capital investment programme – including a £30m ORL arts centre for the town.

Plans for Old River Lane
Plans for Old River Lane

The 544-seat theatre, cinema and performance space project – to be built in partnership with the town council – is a key part of the rejuvenation project, which also includes 150 homes, retail and commercial accommodation alongside a £16m, 546-space, multi-storey car park being built at Northgate End.

Although Cllr Haysey stressed that no conclusion has yet been reached on the future shape of the scheme, she admitted: "What was right for the district previously may not be right at this point in time, and we can't press ahead at Old River Lane without taking everything into account.

"As the leader of East Herts Council, my enthusiasm and excitement for Old River Lane are unwavering, but I want to assure residents that we will continue to question and scrutinise everything we do to make sure the decisions we make are right for our communities."

Bishop's Stortford.Cllr Linda Haysey by the new multi storey car park site. .Pic Vikki Lince. (43535147)
Bishop's Stortford.Cllr Linda Haysey by the new multi storey car park site. .Pic Vikki Lince. (43535147)

The council's Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties want her to go further and call a halt to the scheme until full public consultation enables local residents and businesses to share their views alongside publication of a full business case for the project.

A spokesman for Hertford and Stortford Labour Party welcomed Cllr Haysey's review but said discussions must not be held behind closed doors.

"A full public consultation will allow stakeholders to establish whether or not the scheme has widespread support in the community and if it meets the needs of the people who will live and work in and around Old River Lane.

"Hertford and Stortford Labour welcomes and supports plans to invest in the infrastructure of Bishop's Stortford, however they are clear that any future vision for Old River Lane must be properly scrutinised, provide real and tangible benefits to the community and be consistent with the vision and priorities set out in the East Herts Corporate Strategic Plan.

Artist's impression of Waytemore Square (43535139)
Artist's impression of Waytemore Square (43535139)

"The Labour Party's vision for Old River Lane is for the site to be developed as a community resource. It should include green spaces, making the most of the site's location next to Castle Gardens and at the historic heart of the town.

"They would also like the council to investigate whether there is scope for the site to be used for a further education facility for the town, which at the moment has no provision beyond the sixth form."

Bishop's Stortford is the biggest town in the country without a further education college.

East Herts' Conservative cabinet is expected to reveal its recommendation for Old River Lane's development at a meeting of the full council in January.

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