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Halt Old River Lane: Labour, Lib Dem and Green parties launch petition to block Conservative East Herts Council's flagship development in Bishop's Stortford

Opposition parties have launched an online petition to block Conservative-controlled East Herts Council’s flagship scheme for Bishop’s Stortford – a cultural quarter at Old River Lane (ORL).

The district council wants to transform the Causeway with preferred developer Cityheart and create an arts centre with a 544-seater theatre, cinema and performance space, 150 homes, retail and commercial accommodation alongside a 597-space, multi-storey car park currently being built at Northgate End. The investment will also feature a public space called Waytemore Square and a new woodland area.

East Herts’ Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties want the Tories to call a halt to the project, resume public consultation and publish a business case before sanctioning any further progress.

United in opposition to Old River Lane (42581467)
United in opposition to Old River Lane (42581467)

They argue the scheme will cost millions of pounds which would be better spent on social housing or other services and also claim it will damage other town centre traders.

Calvin Horner, chairman of Bishop’s Stortford Liberal Democrats, said: “Many of the district council’s capital projects are having to be reassessed because of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. So it would be wise and responsible for the council to halt the ORL project so that a full re-evaluation can take place.

“Such a pause would be an opportunity for consultation with the whole community, to find out whether the development has the support of all residents and meets their needs.”

Artist's impression of Waytemore Square in the Old River Lane project
Artist's impression of Waytemore Square in the Old River Lane project

Elif Toker-Turnalar, chairwoman of Bishop’s Stortford Labour Party, agreed: “The plans to develop a new arts centre for Bishop’s Stortford in the Old River Lane area are misconceived and need to be re-examined in the light of the dramatically different circumstances we now find ourselves in.

“Bishop’s Stortford already has an arts centre – South Mill Arts (SMA) – and there is no evidence that the town can support two such centres. The development of Old River Lane will likely sound the death knell for SMA and probably the Anchor Street cinema as well. The planned development is in the middle of a conservation area; the council has approved a series of poorly designed developments in recent years – for example the Goods Yard car park – and we are concerned that ORL will be another modernist monstrosity.

“I am delighted that this petition has the support of all three progressive parties in the area, which so far as we can tell is unprecedented.”

Alex Daar, chairwoman of East Herts Green Party, added: “It is vital that at a time of such change we stop and take stock. This development is going to be with us for a long time and has to work for our future needs too.”

The petition is online at www.change.org/HaltOldRiverLane . The petition was launched on Saturday October 3. By 6pm on Friday (Oct 9) it had attracted 214 signatures.

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