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Old River Lane: East Herts Council leader defends decision to go with cinema-led arts centre rather than auditorium

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In the latest in her regular series in the Indie, East Herts Council leader Cllr Linda Haysey updates readers on the authority's flagship Old River Lane project in Bishop's Stortford after a crunch meeting with a controversial outcome...

Given the huge impact of Covid-19 on the council, it is right that we reviewed the business case for Old River Lane. At a meeting of the full council in January, recommendations put forward by the Old River Lane Board for an arts centre that is more financially viable were also agreed.

The proposed large auditorium in the arts centre will now be replaced by a number of flexible performance spaces that could be used for some live arts events along with a gallery foyer space, café and high-end cinema screens with larger, wider seats as well as other, more luxurious fixtures and fittings.

Temporary car park, Old River Lane, Bishop's Stortford. Cllr Linda Haysey. .Pic Vikki Lince. (45380821)
Temporary car park, Old River Lane, Bishop's Stortford. Cllr Linda Haysey. .Pic Vikki Lince. (45380821)

I know that an arts centre without an auditorium comes as a disappointment to many, but the challenging and uncertain financial position that all local authorities now face, combined with increased capital costs, the required continuing 30-year revenue subsidy and changes in our ability to borrow money from the Government, meant that we had to make this very difficult decision.

I understand why people asked us to defer making a decision or put the project on hold. Sadly, the only certainty we have seen during the pandemic has been uncertainty and we do not foresee this situation changing, so deferring this decision was not an option under consideration and would only increase the £15.5m cost of the project in the long run.

The work our project team has done behind the scenes to review the business case shows that this project has great benefits to Bishop's Stortford socially and economically, and I am confident the scheme will be of benefit to our communities now and for generations to come.

Old River Lane. (45380896)
Old River Lane. (45380896)

As the business case has now been agreed, we can start to bring forward planning applications for the project, which, alongside the arts centre, could bring forward an attractive public square, a mixed development of around 150 new homes and retail and commercial spaces.

Before any final decisions are taken, the project will need to go through the planning process, when there will be an opportunity for people to comment on the applications.

We recently adopted a new cultural strategy for East Herts district. This strategy marks the beginning of our new cultural journey that will involve identifying all of the great physical and human assets of the district, seeking out those who currently are not able to access the arts and exploring ways to increase the cultural engagement for all of our residents.

Whether in Bishop's Stortford or other parts of the district, we want this strategy to evolve and grow over time, so if you would like to know more then please visit our website for details of how to get involved or contact our community wellbeing team at environmental.health@eastherts.gov.uk.

Artist's impression of how the new arts centre could look (45641117)
Artist's impression of how the new arts centre could look (45641117)

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