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Old River Lane: East Herts Council leader confirms moves to cut Water Lane United Reformed Church Hall from development

The leader of East Herts Council has confirmed that Water Lane United Reformed Church Hall is set to be removed from plans for the Old River Lane (ORL) project.

The building, owned by the authority, was expected to be demolished along with Charringtons House as part of redevelopment of The Causeway.

The council’s development partner Cityheart withdrew its planning application to raze the buildings last September, along with its bid for outline planning permission for new shops, restaurants, offices and up to 225 homes, including 75 extra care units, on the former Causeway car park.

The Water Lane United Reformed Church Hall was built in the early part of the 20th century
The Water Lane United Reformed Church Hall was built in the early part of the 20th century

Proposals for a £15.5m stand-alone, cinema-led arts centre on the former Charringtons House car park have been shelved by EHC’s cash-strapped Green and Liberal Democrat administration.

However, it expects Cityheart to press ahead with the rest of the development. Leader Cllr Ben Crystall (Green, Hertford Bengeo) said a new application was anticipated “this calendar year”.

He was responding at a meeting of the full council to a question from Labour group leader Cllr David Jacobs (Bishop’s Stortford Central), who wanted an ORL progress report “with as much detail as possible”.

Cllr Ben Crystall (Green Party, Hertford Bengeo) is leader of East Herts Council
Cllr Ben Crystall (Green Party, Hertford Bengeo) is leader of East Herts Council

Cllr Crystall said: “Our primary aim this year is to get the development agreement with Cityheart signed so the scheme can proceed. Clearly, this has been ongoing for a number of years and we are currently in the process of making some final adjustments to the agreement to accommodate some additional changes.

“This includes amending the red-line boundary of the scheme to remove 1, 2 and 3 Old River Lane and Water Lane Hall from the development, along with plans for creating a public space until such a time that we have the funds for an arts centre or similar facility to be constructed.

“These changes are significant enough differences to the original scheme that we require independent legal advice before we can go ahead with including them in the development agreement.

“Our second aim, once the development agreement is signed, is for our planning team to work with Cityheart in order to get a good-quality planning application submitted. As we know, the previous application, submitted in December 2022, had a number of issues associated with it.

The original site plan for the Old River Lane project
The original site plan for the Old River Lane project

“Cityheart are aware of this feedback and will be required, under the terms of the development agreement, to meet the Old River Lane Board and provide updates on its proposals. We would also expect there to be an ORL master-planning steering group convened prior to any planning application being submitted.”

Cllr Crystall said that the council was committed to advancing plans for an “interim public square” and said pony riding and crazy golf events had already been lined up.

“We want to create a space which is flexible and accessible for a variety of people and activities, so we will be really interested to hear ideas from councillors and the community,” he said.

Charringtons House car park
Charringtons House car park

Earlier in the meeting, before Cllr Crystall confirmed the reprieve plans for the URC hall, Cllr Diane Hollebon (Con, Bishop’s Stortford South) had quizzed the executive member for financial sustainability, Cllr Carl Brittain (Green, Hertford Kingsmead), about plans to spend £170,000 on essential maintenance for the hall, a building set to be demolished to make way for replacement parking spaces for Waitrose.

After learning that it was set to be written out of the URL plans, with Cllr Brittain claiming “discussions are going well”, she asked if the spending was “value for money” and wanted details of the work required.

Cllr Brittain said: “£170,000 used on something like this is not a large amount of money in the overall scheme of things.”

He said there was “no realistic prospect of building an arts centre in the near future” and that the administration felt it was “beneficial” to keep the URC hall open while “opportunities are considered”.

*To see planning applications and other public notices for your area, visitpublicnoticeportal.uk.

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