Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation warns East Herts Council against 'municipal vandalism' over new car park
Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation (BSCF) has called on East Herts Council to avoid an act of "gratuitous municipal vandalism" and put the brakes on building a new multi-storey car park (MSCP).
The group, which represents residents' associations across the town, argues that construction at Northgate End should not begin until the council clarifies its plans for a cultural quarter at Old River Lane (ORL).
The 546-space, six-storey car park is the key to unlocking EHC's vision for The Causeway, including a £30m arts centre – incorporating a 500-seat theatre and multi-screen cinema – as well as shops, offices, homes and a public square for events.
The car park on the former cattle market at Northgate End should have been nearing completion by now, but construction has been delayed for more than a year by legal challenges until a judge ruled in the council's favour just before Christmas.
The project also includes a four-storey building – with commercial use on the ground floor and 15 flats above – as well as a further 27 surface-level spaces.
Federation president John Rhodes has written to the district council's chief executive, Richard Cassidy, about how the two developments dovetail and potential conflict between the authority's dual roles of planning authority and site sponsor.
His key concern is a date for publication of a supplementary planning document (SPD) which will inform the master planning of the ORL site and a planning application.
Mr Rhodes said: "We believe it would be wholly inappropriate for the planning permission for the car park to be exercised in advance of the adoption by the district council of the SPD for the ORL site. To start work on the car park in advance of an adopted SPD which demonstrates the need for it will simply be seen by residents in the town as an act of gratuitous municipal vandalism."
He asked when the SPD would be the subject of formal public consultation and how long it would last, and called for a strategic environmental assessment and a traffic and transport assessment considering both the MSCP site and ORL to be an integral part of the process.
Mr Rhodes argued that as the "sole purpose" of the MSCP was to release the ORL land for development by replacing the parking in The Causeway, the council could not be sure the current car park design was appropriate without the SPD.
He said: "We do not know what that development will be, what the overall impact on the road network will be or whether infrastructure or other constraints will make a less ambitious development unavoidable.
"This, in turn, might make the multi-storey car park either unnecessary or at least capable of being reduced in size."
The civic federation also has concerns about the financial viability of some of the options for ORL and said: "We hope therefore that, in parallel with publication of the SPD by the plan-making function of the council, the promoters of the development will publish the business case for their aspirations, so that the public is able to form a view at the same time about the potential costs and benefits to taxpayers."
A council spokesperson said: "We haven't yet received the letter but as soon as we do we will consider it and respond in due course."