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Silenced over our opposition to Northgate End multi-storey

By Jill Goldsmith

Northgate End car park ramps
Northgate End car park ramps

Jill Goldsmith, a member of Bishop's Stortford Climate Group and an opponent of the plan to build a six-storey car park at Northgate End, writes on how the town's residents were under-represented at Wednesday evening's East Herts Council planning meeting..

At its meeting in Hertford on Wednesday evening, East Herts Council’s development management committee granted planning permission for the authority’s proposed multi-storey car park at Northgate End.

Residents had no voice at that meeting. At the previous development management committee meeting, on June 20, it was explained that a consequence of the committee deferring its decision on the scheme then would be that there would be no potential for the public to address the resumed meeting.

The council’s letter of July 5 announcing its amendments to its proposals advised that comments could be submitted by July 17 (Tuesday) and that people could contact their local district councillor to make them aware of their views.

A group of concerned residents decided that if we could have no voice at the committee we would set up an online petition so that townspeople’s views could be heard.

There wasn’t sufficient time to set up the petition through the council’s process, so we finalised it online after England crashed out of the World Cup, and so far more than 850 people have signed to say no to the multi-storey. We sent the results to members of the development management committee.

We also hoped our elected representatives would speak for us at the committee meeting last night. The town council objected to the proposal at its March 26 planning and development committee meeting, expressing similar concerns to those of townspeople who have signed the petition.

Few of the town council’s concerns were discussed in detail at EHC’s June 20 meeting – in particular there was little consideration of traffic congestion and air pollution or of alternative parking arrangements, such as park and ride.

There was discussion as to whether the car park could become a white elephant if the Old River Lane development did not proceed, but no discussion of the impact of construction on the town from the scheme progressing so quickly, potentially at the same time as the railway station Goods Yard development.

Despite the town council’s own concerns, we had no confirmation that our town councillors would be representing residents’ views. The mayor and the leader of the town council, Cllrs George Cutting and John Wyllie, are conflicted due to their roles on the Old River Lane delivery board and as members of the district council.

At the committee hearing, our voice was less well represented than normal as one of the three Bishop’s Stortford councillors, Cllr Keith Warnell, is conflicted by his engagement on the Old River Lane delivery board.

So, we were left with the hope that councillors from other parts of the district would join with the remaining two committee members from Bishop’s Stortford to properly test their leader and fellow district councillors’ proposal against the whole range of their own planning policies, which the proposal challenges.

Most particularly, we hoped they would delve into the traffic modelling figures and establish whether they have confidence that the proposal will meet their District Plan commitments to reduce congestion and carbon dioxide emissions to improve air quality and health benefits for the district’s residents and visitors.

It’s a good job that we didn’t hold our breath.

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