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Town council agrees challenge to East Herts Council approval of 233 homes at Bishop's Stortford High School

Bishop's Stortford Town Council is preparing a roadblock after plans for 233 homes it fears will contribute to traffic congestion were approved.

East Herts Council's development management committee followed officers' recommendation and passed the scheme for The Bishop's Stortford High School (TBSHS) site after more than two hours of debate and fierce objections from opponents last Wednesday (Nov 4).

On Monday (Nov 9), when the town council's planning and development committee convened, chairman Cllr Keith Warnell asked colleagues to back a challenge: "There may be some procedural errors in this process because it seems that this council's role in consultation, as a key stakeholder... we were not consulted properly."

Stortford mayor Cllr Keith Warnell, chairman of the town council's planning committee
Stortford mayor Cllr Keith Warnell, chairman of the town council's planning committee

Newly elected as mayor, Cllr Warnell – who lost his seat on EHC in the May 2019 local elections – also spoke at last Wednesday's meeting and accused the district council of "undemocratic" behaviour which breached its own policies.

Cllr Bob Taylor said: "It seems to me to be a total dereliction of duty by the district and the decision-making is totally wrong in this instance."

Cllr Shane Manning added: "It feels too often like our views are disregarded."

The Bishop's Stortford High School off London Road
The Bishop's Stortford High School off London Road

Development of the London Road site for housing – subject to a new TBSHS being built on the St James' Park estate off Whittington Way – is part of the approved East Herts District Plan 2018, albeit for around 150 new homes. This principle was confirmed in a master plan confirmed by EHC in January.

On Tuesday (Nov 10), town council chief executive James Parker clarified the committee's concerns: "The town council has no record that it was asked to appoint representatives to the master planning process. It appears that one or more individuals who happen to be town councillors may have been present, but it is unclear in what capacity or how they were appointed. The district council has been asked to confirm who they consider was present to represent Bishop's Stortford Town Council and how they were selected."

Like Thorley Parish Council, Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation, Old Thorley and Twyford Residents' Association and dozens of residents, the town council objected to the 233-home estate, citing congestion and air pollution.

Opponents were horrified when Herts County Council's highways department appeared to disregard predictions of gridlock, telling EHC it did not object to the building because "there aren't inherent safety issues with London Road that would be exacerbated by traffic of the proposed development".

Artist's impression of the St James' Park development off Whittington Way
Artist's impression of the St James' Park development off Whittington Way

A new secondary campus is part of developer Countryside's plans for 750 homes at St James' Park, which also includes a new primary school. Objectors fear the cumulative effects of both housing plans.

At the meeting, Herts Highways confirmed its view that congestion is best addressed by changing priorities: "Pedestrians first, cyclists second, public transport third, other motorised traffic last."

Cllr Terence Beckett, a Liberal Democrat town and district councillor for the All Saints ward and a member of the development management committee, was banned from adding his objections at the meeting because of a legal warning.

An East Herts spokeswoman told the Indie on Tuesday: "Members of the development management committee (DMC), and indeed all EHC members taking part in the planning process, are bound by the members' planning code of good conduct.

"Cllr Beckett was advised by the council's monitoring officer not to take part in this agenda item due to a concern of perceived predetermination, to which Cllr Beckett agreed."

Cllr Beckett has denied prejudging the application but agreed that councillors' conduct had to be beyond reproach and that he had to abstain from voting.

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