Who owns the land?
Chase New Homes. East Herts Council does not own any of the land or the car park or toilets.
What is the background?
The council granted planning consent to Wrenbridge for the re-development of Bircherley Green in January 2018 under planning reference number 3/17/0392/FUL. It followed a development management committee meeting in October 2017 which approved the application.
The consent was for a mixed-use redevelopment, including partial demolition of existing buildings, to provide up to 4,694 sqm retail floorspace (Use Classes A1 to A5), an 86-bed hotel (Use Class C1), 70 flats (Use Class C3), refurbishment of the car park to provide 188 spaces - 143 pay and display spaces, 40 residential spaces for the flats and five for a car club - improvements to the bus station, new public spaces and landscaping to the riverside, and associated works and improvements.
The planning permissions can be described as having two phases - phase 1 for the hotel and phase 2 for the shops, flats and other works.
Once planning permission was granted in January 2018, the Diageo Pension Fund/Wrenbridge could have gone ahead and developed the project. However, in November 2018, they chose to submit a new planning application which altered the mix of development. This new application was due to be considered by the council's development management committee (DMC) on 19th June 2019 and had been recommended for approval. However, the owners withdrew the application on 10th June 2019.
Council staff had been working closely with Wrenbridge on this planning application in order to be able to recommend the application for approval to the committee.
Prior to this application, Wrenbridge submitted a number of non-material amendments to the existing planning consent relating to phase 1, the hotel. However, the council did not consider the changes to be non-material given the extent of the changes and advised that a S73 application should be submitted.
The Diageo Pension Fund put the site up for sale and it was bought by Chase New Homes.
What are the new owners planning to do?
Chase New Homes have recently submitted a planning application for the redevelopment of the site. When the application has been validated it will be advertised for public consultation, allowing people to comment on the proposals.
What is the council doing about the rest of the site - the shops and flats?
We have commissioned Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design to update two of the evidence strands regarding retail and property market conditions in order to inform considerations going forward. The outputs of these update reports are due to be considered by the Council’s Executive on 21st January.
When will the car park re-open?
Chase New Homes have been asked to consider this however we have no control over when the owners of the site will choose to do this. The car park is served by lifts that no longer work and are in need of a major overhaul, which is complicating matters relating to access to it. However, it is understood that Chase New Homes are intending to reopen the car park as part of its proposals for the site (or earlier if possible) and, In the meantime, we are considering options for alleviating parking pressures in council owned car parks.
When will the toilets re-open?
Chase New Homes have been asked to consider this through their application. In the meantime, Hertford Museum is happy to offer a community toilet facility while the Bircherley Green conveniences are closed.
Why did the council allow the closure of shops?
As Bircherley Green is privately owned, the council has no authority to require the shops to remain open. The council believed that previous owners (before Chase purchased the site) had closed the shops in order to start the re-development of the site.