Residents to have say on new Stortford arts centre
Ambitious proposals to build a new arts centre for Bishop's Stortford are set to be unveiled before Christmas.
East Herts Council has earmarked a site in the Causeway, as part of its Old River Lane rejuvenation, for a cultural hub to replace Rhodes in South Road.
The authority’s leader, Cllr Linda Haysey, made it clear the initiative was a recognition of the town’s rapid expansion and the need for its facilities to be upgraded accordingly. A £23m rebuild of swimming and gym facilities at Grange Paddocks has already been announced.
Cllr Haysey said: “We are working with Bishop’s Stortford Town Council and Rhodes trustees about putting in a cultural centre. Rhodes has done a fantastic job of bringing arts into Bishop’s Stortford, but we need the ethos of Rhodes in a better area – which we can do at Old River Lane.
She said the new centre could be the “vibrant heart” of the town and added: “It’s a recognition that Bishop’s Stortford will grow from 42,000 to 50,000 population in the next five to ten years and we needed, as a district council to lead with what could and should be going there.”
Cllr Keith Warnell, a town and district member who is taking a lead in developing a joined-up planning strategy for Stortford, said the Old River Lane Delivery Board was determined to make the most of the Causeway site, which the district bought for £19.55m in 2015 after Henderson Global Investors abandoned its plans for a retail, residential and restaurant complex.
It is anticipated that the new arts complex would sit on the corner of the plot, where the Causeway office block was demolished earlier this year.
While much work remains to be done on the detail, including parking provision nearby and the future of the South Road site, Cllr Warnell anticipated residents would be asked to consult before Christmas.
He said the move was an ideal opportunity to upgrade what is currently on offer and attract star names by adding a bigger stage, scenery tower, rehearsal space and even a recording studio to a new venue.
As a town resident for 30 years, he was in no doubt that Bishop’s Stortford deserved the investment as it faces a challenging decade of growth.
He said: “The downside of development is this town is going to be a building site for the next seven to ten years – that’s the reality.”
The first Rhodes Memorial Museum and Commonwealth Centre opened in 1963 and rapidly became a popular music venue.
It followed the foundation of the Rhodes Memorial Museum three decades before in the birthplace of Bishop’s Stortford’s most famous son, colonialist Cecil Rhodes, who founded Rhodesia.
In 2005, a major refurbishment was carried out.