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Old River Lane: Young versus old as East Herts Council reveals results of consultation



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A generation gap has opened up in Bishop's Stortford with the town's younger residents supporting plans for an arts centre at Old River Lane.

East Herts Council (EHC) has revealed the results of a public consultation on its controversial plans to transform the Causeway site into a cultural quarter.

In July and August, the district authority questioned residents on how they would use the five cinema screens and performance spaces proposed.

Artist's impression of the arts centre at the heart of the Old River Lane scheme (51902961)
Artist's impression of the arts centre at the heart of the Old River Lane scheme (51902961)

Originally, EHC planned a £30m arts centre with a 544-seat theatre auditorium. However, earlier this year it announced a £14.5m cut in its budget because of Covid-19 and a new focus on film.

The revised scheme includes a 150-seat cinema with the facility for small acts on a raised stage, an 80-seat cinema/multi-use auditorium, another 80-seat cinema and two 50-seat screens, plus a gallery space, café bar and outside space for open-air theatre, music, screening of live sport and leisure activities like ice skating.

More than 500 people responded online or in person. The main findings showed support from younger age groups, particularly those under 30, but lower levels of support from older people, who said they would be less likely to visit and make use of the new facilities.

Example of outdoor café for Old River Lane (51902975)
Example of outdoor café for Old River Lane (51902975)

There was also a clear division between those questioned in the street – who voiced support – and those who used the online option and were far less enthusiastic.

In all, 88% of all 16- to 18-year-olds and 84% of 19- to 30-year-olds agreed they would visit the main cinema. The least support came from the 61-plus age group, where just 11% agreed or strongly agreed they would do so. The result across all age groups was 47%.

Just over half – 51% – of respondents agreed or strongly agreed they would visit the smaller cinema, rising to 88% of those aged 16-18 and 80% of 19- to 30-year-olds. This compares to just 17% of respondents aged 61-plus.

More residents – 57% – agreed they would visit the main screen for a staged event. Of the 19-30 age group, 75% agreed or strongly agreed, dipping slightly to 72% in the 31-45 age group and plummeting to 28% of those aged 61 and over.

Example of cinema for Old River Lane (51902978)
Example of cinema for Old River Lane (51902978)

The most popular staged event would be comedy/stand-up shows, followed by music and drama. Some 67% of all respondents would attend an event in the outdoor performance space.

Cllr Eric Buckmaster, EHC's executive member for wellbeing, said: "The regeneration of Old River Lane will breathe new life into Bishop's Stortford town centre, creating a vibrant, attractive space for our communities to enjoy for generations to come. That is why it is so encouraging to see such strong support from younger people in the town.

"I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to share their views. Your feedback will be listened to and reflected in our proposals as designs develop."

Old River Lane. (51902981)
Old River Lane. (51902981)

Further consultation is expected later this year when the project team has progressed detailed designs for the centre. The process to develop a supplementary planning document (SPD) to guide development for the whole site starts this month, led by an independent chair.

Meanwhile, construction on the Northgate End multi-storey, which unlocks space for wider regeneration, continues. Scheduled to open in May 2022, the new car park will provide 564 spaces and, crucially, release land for regeneration of the Causeway.

Example of a café bar area for Old River Lane (51902971)
Example of a café bar area for Old River Lane (51902971)

Once it is complete, the temporary car park built in 2017 on the site of the former No 1 The Causeway building will shut. It currently provides 100 long-stay bays; half are available to the public on weekdays and 75 at weekends. The other spaces are reserved for tenants of Charringtons House, including the council's Launchpad centre for small businesses and start-ups.

The Indie understands it will be at least two years before East Herts' development partner Cityheart needs vacant possession of the building. It is planning 137 homes, 90 "senior living" apartments, shops, restaurants and offices on the site.



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