Bishop's Stortford's BID believes development at Old River Lane can kickstart the town centre
Bishop’s Stortford’s new Business Improvement District (BID) board is backing development at Old River Lane as a chance to put the heart back into the town centre.
Chairwoman Karen Burton spoke out after reviewing a new report from parliament’s housing, communities and local government committee, following an inquiry which began last year.
The High Streets and Town Centres in 2030 document details the four systemic issues it believes are harming UK high streets:
Too much retail space;
Retailers’ high fixed costs: business rates and rent;
The committee concluded that ensuring town centres are focused on community and activity will ensure they remain viable in the future.
“We are convinced that high streets and town centres will survive, and thrive, in 2030 if they adapt, becoming activity-based community gathering places where retail is a smaller part of a wider range of uses and activities.
“Green space, leisure, arts and culture and health and social care services must combine with housing to create a space that is the “intersection of human life and activity” based primarily on social interactions rather than financial transactions.
Individual areas will need to identify the mix that best suits their specific characteristics, local strengths, culture and heritage. Fundamentally, community must be at the heart of all high streets and town centres in 2030."
Karen, who runs Karen’s Cakes at Northgate End said: “I believe we’ve reached a tipping point where shopping is becoming the secondary reason to visit the high street.
“This is why I also believe the East Herts Council has got it right with the art complex on Old River Lane, we just need to make sure that they get the mix of social and retail right.”
East Herts Council has just appointed a developer to realise its vision for the 2.1 ha (5.2 acre) site in the Causeway.
The plot has capacity for a 60,000 sq ft arts and entertainment centre, more than 100 homes and 20,000 sq ft of commercial space. A new multi-storey car park with 546-spaces at Northgate End has already been granted planning permission.
The town’s MP Mark Prisk has also reviewed the high street report and raised the issue in parliament in a question to Jake Berry, parliamentary under-secretary (housing, communities and local government) about the Future High Streets Fund which it also highlights.
Launched at the end of last year, it allows towns across the country to bid for a share of £675m to transform their high streets into modern vibrant community hubs.
Mr Prisk, a former business minister, said: “One of the main findings of the recent select committee inquiry into town centres was that strong local civic leadership is crucial. Given that, may I ask the minister to ensure that, when judging future bids to the fund, strong local leadership is a key criterion?
Mr Berry responded: “My honourable friend, an expert in this area, rightly points to the excellent select committee report on high streets. He will be aware of the recommendation of Sir John Timpson, one of Britain’s best-loved and best-known retailers, that local leadership should be key to driving forward the future of the high street, and we will certainly be looking at that as part of these fund applications.”