East Herts District Council (EHDC) bought the hall from the United Reformed Church (URC) in 2019. Since then it has been absorbed into the Old River Lane (ORL) development site. There is now a threat that the hall will be demolished to provide 50 ‘exchange’ parking spaces in return for Waitrose giving up 50 parking spaces to make a larger site for new housing and shops on the ORL site.
How Cityheart would take the heart out of ORL
The developer Cityheart will make a planning application at the end of November for new development at ORL. They propose demolition of the hall. These diagrams show how tarmac for parking trumps a 100 year community asset:
The left-hand plan shows Waitrose car park as is. Cityheart propose a ‘land swap’ with Waitrose, which would rearrange the car park while keeping the same number of spaces.
In the right-hand plan, the blue area is taken by Cityheart for development; the red area – site of the hall and adjacent site – is given back to Waitrose for their car parking.
Demolition is not yet a done deal – it is not yet settled. The planning guidance does not oppose demolition explicitly, but says that options are being considered. This is why we need to speak up.
Don’t blame Waitrose
Waitrose own their car park (leasehold) and are not involved in the ORL development. If Cityheart want a land swap, Waitrose, in their head office, say they do not want any loss of car spaces, and no loss of convenience to their shoppers. Waitrose is probably oblivious to the fact a valued public building would be demolished to rearrange their parking. But it is true, the hall might be demolished for Waitrose parking. The irony is acute: after a major strategy to release surface car parking for regeneration, they might demolish a community asset for surface car parking.
Oh, and planning policy says keep community buildings
Local plan policy includes policy CFLR8, which aims to prevent unacceptable loss of community facilities. Here it is:
Looking at each of these –
a) the Asset of Community Value designation confirms it can expected to continue in community use.
b) Proposals we have seen (for a five screen cinema with scope for live performance) would not replace with the hall a similar or better alternative, because the seating capacity would be less and the required support facilities would not be included, e.g. changing rooms, storage, and the flexibility for different activities. The church has applied to build some new community rooms, but they will be considerably smaller than the hall.
c) Car parking is not an alternative community facility. The need for this parking does not outweigh the loss of the hall.