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Bishop’s Stortford Business Improvement District keen to explore pedestrianisation of North Street

A regular column for the Indie by Bishop’s Stortford BID (Business Improvement District) chair and interim manager Karen Burton

One thing is for sure - mention pedestrianisation of the high street and a debate will ensue between those who love the idea and those who absolutely hate the thought!

From a BID perspective, it’s an interesting proposition we would like to progress, but, possibly controversially, our focus will be on North Street rather than the more widely imagined South Street.

North Street is undeniably the heritage part of our linear high street. Many of the buildings are listed and have had multiple incarnations, even in living memory. It’s a part of our town that should be celebrated and enriched.

Imagine, for instance, if one of those future incarnations involved the soon-to-be-vacated Barclays building being transformed into a boutique hotel, fronting onto a car-free street, with outdoor dining among other new and old businesses, all enjoying a rejuvenated streetscape.

If this road becomes traffic-free, its width will provide opportunities for al fresco dining, pop-up markets, street entertainment and cultural events, which are not currently possible. It would provide a much-needed ‘hub’ and gathering space, which is currently lacking in the town centre.

The Bishop’s Stortford BID (Business Improvement District) is keen to explore pedestrianisation of North Street
The Bishop’s Stortford BID (Business Improvement District) is keen to explore pedestrianisation of North Street

The BID believes that by creating a more inviting atmosphere for pedestrians, there is the potential to attract new footfall and increase dwell time in an area of town that is currently suffering due to the closures of the Causeway and Charringtons House car parks and the uncertainties around the Old River Lane development.

It is also important to remember that, at some point, Old River Lane will be completely closed off to the public once demolition and building works start. By investing time now to establish a desirable space on North Street, not dependent on the finished new development, is a must.

The power of a BID lies in a board discussion about possible weekend closures that would still allow access to Water Lane and Barrett Lane. We know that early deliveries for businesses with no rear access can be arranged. This concept was trialled back in 2012, spearheaded by the then mayor Colin Woodward, in an attempt to relocate the market to its former home on North Street.

However, even then, footfall in that area was in decline, making the opportunity for market traders unpopular, and the scheme was quickly shelved. Nonetheless, it did prove that many of the hurdles around highway issues are easier to overcome than a closure of South Street.

Unlike a town council initiative, which understandably has slightly different goals and monetary restraints, BID funding will enable us to run a couple of initial trial events to gauge how the space functions and its effect on the businesses and residents of the area.

A lot now hinges on meaningful engagement with our businesses, stakeholders and the broader community, which are key to the success of any urban intervention. Again, something a BID is able to facilitate, assuming all parties are willing.

As other towns and cities grapple with similar challenges, we will learn what works for us in Bishop’s Stortford and look forward to igniting some more debate over the coming weeks.

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