Old River Lane project: Lib Dems press for public consultation as amended plans are set to be unveiled
Confidential plans for the transformation of Bishop's Stortford's Causeway car park area will be revealed at an extraordinary meeting of East Herts Council (EHC) next week.
However, the press and public will be excluded from the debate about how the authority's Old River Lane (ORL) project must change in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The council's Liberal Democrats, led by Bishop's Stortford's Cllr Mione Goldspink, want residents to be reconsulted before any decisions are made, amid speculation that the redevelopment scheme's main focus will be on providing a cinema rather than a theatre.
Original plans for the site, owned by the council, included a £30m 544-seat theatre, cinema and performance space – to be built in partnership with the town council – plus 150 homes, retail and commercial accommodation, kick-started by a £16m, 546-space, six-level multi-storey car park being built at Northgate End. The blueprint also featured a public space called Waytemore Square and a new woodland area.
In addition to ORL, the council's £122m capital spending programme includes a £20m leisure centre at Grange Paddocks and a £20m revamp for Hertford Theatre, including three 'first release' cinema screens.
An EHC spokesman said yesterday (Tues): "The Old River Lane project will be discussed by councillors at a full council meeting on Wednesday January 13. Due to the commercially sensitive information within the paper, the item will be discussed in [private] part 2 of the meeting, but the council will share an update with residents over the coming weeks."
Last month, EHC leader Cllr Linda Haysey warned tough decisions were ahead: "We know that coronavirus has had a significant impact across the country and East Herts is no different. What was right for the district previously may not be right at this point in time, and we can't press ahead at Old River Lane without taking everything into account."
She said every element of the scheme was being reviewed but stressed: "My enthusiasm and excitement for Old River Lane is unwavering, but I want to assure residents that we will continue to question and scrutinise everything we do to make sure the decisions we make are right for our communities."
Cllr Goldspink told the Indie that Cllr Haysey must talk to the town's residents again and has written to the Conservative leader.
She said: "I asked her to set up a full public consultation with the people and business owners of Bishop's Stortford, to ask them about the future of the Old River Lane site, the present Causeway car park.
"I felt that the people of the town deserved to have the opportunity to say what they would really like to see on this important site. Cllr Haysey replied to my request, saying that the council had already undertaken a detailed public consultation and so there was no need for a further one."
Cllr Goldspink is demanding further details and said: "If the evidence is not convincing, then my request for a full public consultation will still stand."
She has been backed by the town's Labour and Green parties and a 600-signature petition.