Solum and East Herts Council ponder solution to vital pedestrian access at Bishop's Stortford railway station
Steps are being taken to save a vital pedestrian access in Bishop's Stortford town centre.
The south-facing ramp from Station Road down to the railway station forecourt is set to be removed to make way for offices as part of planning permission for developer Solum's Goodsyard regeneration plans for the area.
If it goes ahead it means there will be no step-free access to the station – or the bus interchange and the southern end of the town centre – from London Road for people in mobility scooters or wheelchairs and parents with pushchairs.
Able-bodied pedestrians can access the station via its rear entrance off London Road, between Aldi and the Three Tuns pub, but the eight steps up to the ticket barriers force disabled people round to the slope down to the front entrance. If that disappears, they will be faced with an extra journey along London Road to Hockerill, down to Dane Street and back along to the station.
Liberal Democrat members of the town, district and county councils belatedly mobilised to oppose the move with a 'live' petition and online campaign.
Both East Herts Council and Solum – a partnership between Network Rail and Kier Construction to build a £200m complex of around 600 homes plus car parks, shops, offices and a hotel on the site – told the Indie they were looking for a solution.
A spokesman for Solum said: "Currently, this footpath remains open for use and we will continue to maintain our conversations with Hertfordshire County Council and East Herts Council on all highway-related matters."
A district council spokeswoman said: "The council has raised the issue with Solum and Network Rail and understand that several options are being explored in order to provide alternative access. We will continue to monitor progress."
The Lib Dems launched their bid to reverse the closure plans with a show of strength at the slope, where they collected signatures from passers-by. Almost 950 people have also signed an online version.
The party said: "At the moment this is the only access for people in wheelchairs or for people pushing buggies if they're coming from the London Road area.
"This access is by means of a smooth, gently-sloping pavement, and it is used by hundreds of pedestrians every day.
"It is also used by bicycling commuters, who leave their bikes in safe storage at the station. They use the path as a quick route to the main road instead of having to cycle all around the town.
"The fact that this vital access path could be lost was buried in the huge planning application for the Goodsyard redevelopment which was submitted in November 2017.
"We admit that we failed to notice this at the time of submission, but, now that we have noticed, we wish to do everything possible to persuade Network Rail and Solum to change their minds."
Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation first sounded the alarm to East Herts Council in December 2017.
BSCF president John Rhodes said: "We raised it again at the public meeting in March 2018 at which planning permission was granted, but officers assured the development management committee they were confident an alternative would be found.
"Since we have seen no sign of an alternative we have been raising the issue with the council’s planning department at regular intervals ever since, without receiving a satisfactory response."
Mr Rhodes said that BSCF's understanding is that the proposed office block was required by the council.
"Given the impact of the Covid pandemic on the demand for commercial property, the continued suitability and viability of this part of the development must be open to question and there is no guarantee that the developers will ever build it," he said.
"If the planning permission were to be amended to remove this part of the development from it, that would also resolve the access problem. Perhaps the council could encourage the developers to submit a revised planning application to enable them to take the office block out."
To sign the online petition against loss of the ramp visit https://www.change.org/p/solum-don-t-remove-step-free-access-to-bishop-s-stortford-town-centre.