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East Herts Council must find an extra £124k to realise £2.6m Castle Park vision

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Transformation plans for Castle Park in Bishop's Stortford. (11298634)
Transformation plans for Castle Park in Bishop's Stortford. (11298634)

A budget black hole has opened up in East Herts Council's £2.6m plans for Castle Park and now executive members must find a mound of cash to give Bishop's Stortford its crowning glory.

Next Tuesday (June 3), members of the newly elected authority's cabinet will hear Bishop's Stortford's Cllr Graham McAndrew, the executive member for environmental sustainability, explain a £124,000 funding gap for the scheme to transform Sworders Field and Castle Gardens - despite a series of economies.

At the start of the year, there was jubilation when a £1,939,700 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund was confirmed.

That followed a £250,000 grant in 2017 from the Parks for People programme (part of the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund) to enable East Herts Council, Bishop's Stortford Town Council and Herts County Council to develop an improvement programme.

After public consultation, they came up with a project to make grade I listed Waytemore Castle – a scheduled ancient monument – and the war memorial the focal points of the park.

The scheme also includes a new events area, cafe, toilets, community rooms, tennis courts and improved recreation space for teenagers.

Alongside the HLF grant, a £200,000 contribution from the town council, £50,700 section 106 funding from Redrow Homes for its development at Trinity Close, regular maintenance and management expenditure of £26,400, £30,000 from the new cafe operator and £130,000 benefit in kind from volunteers, East Herts expected to contribute £167,000 this year, but now needs to find £292,760.

A report to the cabinet from Cllr McAndrew says: "The budget was realistic but there were some unknown quantities. One of these was how to transform the tired buildings, crucial in the eyes of HLF to the success of the project, without adding disproportionately to the grant request.

"Another was to relocate the tennis courts, without losing support for the wider scheme and without attracting criticism from Sport England in our planning application. The improvements were carefully prioritised and designed to minimise cost."

It will cost £10,000 alone to remove Japanese knotweed as part of the £141,000 relocation of three courts.

The initial plans were a huge £1.2m over budget, but even by repurposing existing buildings, redesigning a bridge and trimming conservation costs, the council still needs more cash.

Cllr McAndrew said: "It is proposed that the additional £124,000 is allocated from the Priority Funding Reserve (previously New Homes Bonus)."

He argued that a revised council contribution of £292,760 unlocked overall improvements to the value of £2,667,800 "representing a significant return on investment".

He said: "Bishop's Stortford is undergoing rapid change and there is a need to ensure the park and its heritage capitalise upon this to become a central focus of the town. An expanding population means that there is an ever-increasing need for well-designed green space.

"There is an urgent need for conservation work to Waytemore Castle, which is at risk of irreversible damage due to vegetation growth and vandalism."

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