Committee to consider plans for multi-storey car park and Castle Park transformation in Stortford
Two key schemes for Bishop’s Stortford town centre are set to be approved by East Herts Council tonight (Wednesday, February 13).
Its development management committee will determine proposals to use £2m lottery funding to transform Sworder’s Field and Castle Gardens into a new public space called Castle Park and look again at plans for a controversial multi-storey car park at Northgate End.
Planning officers have recommended that councillors give the go-ahead for both projects, which are critical to the district council’s plans for a cultural quarter at Old River Lane, connected to upgraded leisure facilities next to the river.
The Castle Park project, which has been broadly welcomed, includes:
- conservation work on Waytemore Castle mound, which is a grade I listed, scheduled ancient monument
- new paths
- removal and replacement of bridges
- demolition of garages
- relocation of the tennis courts
- expansion of the teenage recreation space
- riverbank regrading
- relocation of a Victorian drinking fountain
- changes to trees and shrubs, and
- a new lighting scheme.
The existing Markwell Pavilion and Elsie Barrett Room will be partially demolished and converted to a cafe and community space with a terrace and toilets. The existing unused public conveniences will become a meeting room.
The officers’ report advises: “The proposals will result in significant improvements to the setting of the scheduled ancient monument and will enable the history of this important site to be more readily understood; in addition, the development provides for improved community facilities and accessible toilet facilities close to the town centre.
"Landscape and ecological enhancements will improve the biodiversity within the park, and outdoor play facilities and tennis courts will be improved.”
In July last year, at the second attempt, the committee approved the multi-storey car park plans, but this permission was quashed following a High Court challenge by residents of neighbouring Yew Tree Place, who argued the council had ignored conservation area concerns.
Provision of a multi-use games area (MUGA) for the youth centre at Northgate End has now been dropped from the scheme – but the council still wants to build a six-storey car park with 546 spaces, plus surface-level bays for another 27 vehicles to the north of the car park and a four-storey building with commercial use on the ground floor and 15 flats above.
Despite continuing objections from residents and a call for a rethink from the town council, the officers’ report concludes: “The benefits of the proposals remain substantive (increased parking, new residential development including affordable units, new commercial floorspace, efficient use of land, enabling wider public benefits through redevelopment of the ORL [Old River Lane] site and the improvements to the character of the area that may result, and improvements in the character of the area in its own right)."
It adds that the benefits "do clearly outweigh the harm and therefore very special circumstances exist”.
The council has made it clear that plans for a new Old River Lane arts centre, including a 500-seat theatre, cannot proceed until extra parking is provided.