Local News

Public Meeting Discusses Bircherley Green

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Over 100 local residents attended a packed public meeting organised by newly formed pressure group We Are Hertford to discuss potential options for the Bircherley Green shopping centre.

Bircherley Green and the associated 173 space car park closed last last year after Waitrose left, followed by the remaining retailers in the centre. Part of the site was levelled before work came to a halt. The scheme was then abandoned when owner Diageo Pension Trust sold the site to Chase New Homes, a Welwyn Garden City based housebuilder with no experience of retail development.

The meeting took place at St.Joseph's Church Hall in St.John's Street on Tuesday evening (22nd October) and was hosted by Hertford Civic Society.

The We Are Hertford group is a grassroots, non-political campaign, designed to give local residents a genuine voice in the reconstruction of their town centre. The group seeks to provide the unfiltered forum for local people to express their thoughts on Bircherley Green that they believe is vital to the reconstruction of Hertford’s town centre. It also seeks to provide an unbiased partner to the community to take their concerns forward to the relevant decision makers.

Introductions from We Are Hertford’s Josh Dean and Hertford Civic Society’s Terry Betts were followed by retired architect David Adams, who highlighted some of the potential uses that had been suggested for Bircherley Green, including shops, a market, bus station, community uses, housing, offices, parking , entertainment and leisure, or simply an open space.

Others present at the meeting suggested that the development needed to include space that was flexible and responded to both short term and long term changes.

Many in the audience commented on the interim use of the space whilst planning permission was being sought by the new owner. The early re-opening of the car park was a recurring theme.

One attendee asked if it was possible for the local authority to place a Compulsory Purchase Order on the site. Another asked how much leverage the meeting or pressure group had, given that the town centre site is privately owned. The Civic Society’s Terry Beets responded by saying the power of the meeting was in “the power of ordinary people”. He added that that the site had been offered to the council but a price could not be agreed.

Martin Berry, chair of the recently formed traders association Hertford Hub, spoke from the floor  to say that the association was part of a recently formed steering group that included all three local authorities and the developer, and that he had seen initial proposals for the site and was optimistic. The plans included more retail, more homes and a 600sq,ft medical centre. A planning application i expected in the first week of December.

There were notes of caution from some members of the audience, highlighting the fact that the council and residents have little influence due to the private ownership of the site. Anything provided on the site would need to be commercially viable. Another audience member highlighted that any planning application would take time to determine and even with approval, there would be a period of time for conditions to be agreed. This could mean that any building work may be some way off - maybe years. Josh Dean for We Are Hertford acknowledged that the town had to be realistic about what might come from the site but that it would be “wrong not to try” to influence the owners.

Other issues within the town were also raised, including redevelopment of Hertford Theatre, parking, public transport, the bus station and the redevelopment of Hartham Leisure Centre. Concerns were raised that three major redevelopment projects could run concurrently, negatively impacting the town through the temporary closure of all three facilities.

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