Last night (Monday 5th February) Bishop’s Stortford Town Council discussed a Labour Group motion on the Old River Lane project. The motion proposed a series of constructive proposals carefully designed to get the project back on track.
Sadly the Liberal Democrats and Tories combined to vote down the Labour Group motion. In response the Lib Dems had nothing positive to offer, arguing that ORL should be left in the hands of the District Council officers and the secretive Delivery Board who are managing the project and who can be trusted to make the right decision when the time comes.
The obvious failings of this approach will be apparent to anyone living or working in Stortford. The ORL site remains a desolate waste ground despite over £4m already having been spent on the project since 2019. Charringtons House stands empty, losing the council hundreds of thousands of pounds in rent each year. Cityheart demonstrably failed in their original planning application and we have very little confidence in their ability to do better on their next attempt. The arts centre element of the project has been effectively cancelled despite extra money being poured into the new theatre in Hertford.
Bishop’s Stortford deserves better than this.
The full text of the Labour motion is below:
Council notes that
a) at its special meeting on 7th September 2023, it resolved to “re-engage with the Old River Lane project, acting as a critical friend to the development”. This resolution included a decision to “do as much as we reasonably can to achieve the best development for Bishop’s Stortford”.
b) Charringtons House was cleared of active tenants in 2022 and is therefore not contributing at all to the economic life of the town centre: it cannot be demolished until there is full permission for new development.
c) The developer Cityheart remains the preferred partner of EHC (as landowner) but a contract/development agreement has not yet been signed.
Since 7th September the circumstances have changed significantly:
Cityheart has withdrawn their outline planning permission and are not doing any further design work on the main ORL development scheme until the development agreement is in place.
East Herts Council have announced that due to funding constraints the arts centre element of the project will be put on hold for the foreseeable future. A temporary public square is now proposed, pending development on the arts site.
£170,000 will be spent on repairs to Water Lane Hall which suggests it will not be demolished in the short term and will remain in use.
The lease for Water Lane Hall to the URC has been extended to further review in September 2024.
Council therefore reconfirms its commitment to do as much as we reasonably can to achieve the best development for Bishop’s Stortford and resolves to:
1) invite the appropriate EHDC officers and project manager to attend the next convenient meeting of full council to provide an urgent update on the project;
2) provide practical assistance in getting more community groups to use Water Lane Hall, especially for arts activities, while recognising the URC’s needs and objectives as tenant.
3) analyse all constructive options for the hall including possible transfer of ownership.
4) support an assessment of the possible reuse of Charringtons House while it remains standing empty.