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Blunt message from Bishop's Stortford Town Council to St James' Park developer over community centre





Ownership of a community centre for the new St James' Park estate in Bishop's Stortford is a bone of contention.

Initially, Countryside Partnerships, the developer of the 750-home estate off Whittington Way, asked Bishop's Stortford Town Council (BSTC) to consider running the facility and suggested it could have the freehold. Then, town councillors were told, the housebuilder downgraded the potential deal to a leasehold offer so the building could be shared with a business such as a gym.

The town council was told Countryside cited East Herts Council (EHC) planning stipulations that the new community centre should be two storeys for the change in terms.

Bishop's Stortford Town Council leader Cllr John Wyllie, right, and his deputy Cllr David Snowdon
Bishop's Stortford Town Council leader Cllr John Wyllie, right, and his deputy Cllr David Snowdon

Cllr John Wyllie, the town council leader, who is also a member of the district council, said: "It's unacceptable for a developer to build a community asset that, in theory, in 100 years goes back to the freeholder. If it's a community asset, it belongs to the community."

He said the council would tell Countryside, now part of the Vistry group, that only a freehold offer was acceptable in return for BSTC taking on the start-up and running costs of the centre.

He added that the town council would check any conditions imposed by EHC for the building of the centre to ensure they were adhered to.

The 750-home St James' Park estate off St James Way and Whittington Way is also bordered by Thorley Street and Obrey Way
The 750-home St James' Park estate off St James Way and Whittington Way is also bordered by Thorley Street and Obrey Way

A district council spokeswoman told the Indie: "The planning permission for St James' Park requires the delivery of a community centre up to 200 sq m (2,152 sq ft) in size and between one and three storeys in height, depending on its location.

"The detailed design for the centre requires separate planning permission and is likely to come forward as part of a wider application for the neighbourhood centre, which is yet to be submitted.

"The legal agreement for the original planning permission requires details of the long-term ownership and management arrangements for the community building to be submitted to the council.

"No details have been received to date, but it is understood that the developer has begun discussions with potential interested parties. It's anticipated that further details will follow over the coming months."

Havers Community Centre is one of three the town council is buying from East Herts Council
Havers Community Centre is one of three the town council is buying from East Herts Council

A spokeswoman for Countryside Partnerships said: "As part of the St James' Park development, Countryside Partnerships is committed to providing a community centre within the land allocated for this purpose and to find a suitable end user to take on the management and operation of the centre.

"As such, we are starting to liaise with all parties who have expressed an interest so far. This aspect of the development is still at a very early stage and no planning application has been submitted. We will take on board all interested parties' proposals for the use and operation of the community centre in the coming months."

The town council has already brokered a deal with the district council to buy Bishop's Park, St Michael's Mead and Havers community centres to safeguard their long-term future.

It will also run the new community building at Castle Park, to be named the Markwell Studio. The converted toilet block will replace Markwell Pavilion, which is being repurposed as a café.



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