East Herts Council approves multi-storey car park for Stortford again – despite conservation concerns
Concerns over the conservation area failed to convince East Herts district councillors to block plans for a multi-storey car park in Bishop’s Stortford.
On Wednesday evening (February 13), for a second time, members of the council's development management committee backed a scheme to provide 546 spaces over six levels at Northgate End, adding 197 bays to the town centre’s total.
East Herts Council's proposals for the former cattle market site also include a four-storey building with commercial use on the ground floor and 15 flats above, as well as surface-level parking for 27 spaces to the north of the site.
After the crunch vote, the council's leader, Cllr Linda Haysey, told the Independent: “We are delighted with the development management committee's decision to approve the revised plans for the Northgate End development in Bishop's Stortford, which includes a new multi-storey car park with residential and commercial space.
“Moving the parking from the Causeway to Northgate End is the first step in our plans to redevelop the Old River Lane site in the centre of the town, unlocking space for a range of new facilities.
"Proposals for the site include a brand new arts and entertainment centre, retail, housing, improved public spaces and better access to Castle Park.
"Following this decision, the next stage will be for us to appoint a developer and begin masterplanning the rest of the site.”
Approval for the application came after more than an hour of tense debate during which members quizzed officers about the legal wrangling which brought the planning application back before them.
As a result of High Court action by Yew Tree Place resident Clive Risby, the council quashed the permission granted last July and re-presented the plans, minus proposals for a multi-use games area (MUGA) for the neighbouring youth centre at Northgate End and with other, minor adjustments.
A judge backed Mr Risby’s contention that both the character and appearance of the conservation area had not been properly considered.
Before a full court hearing took place, the council “conceded to judgement” and returned the plans to the committee for a second look.
Once again, members were told critics were convinced the scheme would cause pollution, congestion and endanger pedestrians.
Cllr John Wyllie, the leader of Bishop’s Stortford Town Council and a district councillor, addressed the committee on behalf of Yew Tree Place residents and said sustainable transport rather than more parking spaces should be the priority.
He said: “This does nothing to address the real need for change.”
Cllrs Peter Boylan and Jeff Jones were sceptical about the impact on the conservation area. Cllr Boylan said: “It does not feel neutral.” Cllr Jones said: “We should be looking for something more positive for Bishop’s Stortford – it should be an improvement. Neutral or no harm is going backwards.”
The officer in charge of the application, William Richards, and East Herts Council's legal advisor, Simon Aley, both assured councillors that the conservation area had been fully considered to head off further court action.
Two consultants had concluded that the proposals do not result in harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area but are indeed “neutral”. In legal terms, this means they, therefore, do preserve or enhance its character and appearance.
Committee chairman Cllr Tim Page, a Bishop’s Stortford member, said before the vote: “There are exciting plans for Bishop’s Stortford and this multi-storey car park is critical to that.”