Hereford Times Opinion Piece
The Society’s Chair, at the invitation of the Editor of the Hereford Times contributes an occasional “Opinion Piece” for Herefordshire’s principle weekly newspaper of record.
Publication dates for 2022 will be:10th March;
28th April; 14th July; 1st September;
In case you missed his previously published articles, here they are:
10 March 2022
Herefordshire Council is in the process of revising the County’s Core Strategy (currently to 2031). It is being extended/ updated to cover the period 2021-2041.
On January 17th, Herefordshire Council launched a Strategic Spatial Options Public Consultation, including a vision/ aspiration for Herefordshire in 2041. The consultation was assisted by a series of very helpful recorded sessions explaining the consultation process. To meet the Council’s zero carbon goal, the strategy depends on an expansion of public transport. The recent withdrawal of some bus services is of course taking us in the wrong direction.
A target to build 850 dwellings a year is proposed. Over the twenty years to 2041, a total of 17,000, which will increase Herefordshire’s current housing stock by around 20%. The consultation required the completion of an on-line questionnaire with a number of prescribed options seeking comments on where these 17,000 houses should be built.
Each option broke down the additional housing target between Hereford, each of Hereford’s five market towns and a total for rural areas/ settlements. In addition, an option for a new market town which John Bothamley, my predecessor as chair of the Hereford Civic Society proposed in similar broad terms in 2015 and more recently in a Hereford Times article (24th February 2022 edition, One Planet section, p4).
As part of our response, we questioned the housing target. Although outside the remit of the consultation, we felt account had not been taken of the current moratorium on the construction of new housing in north Herefordshire or of the need for action to address phosphate levels in the river Wye. This includes discharges into water courses from storm drains, much allegedly originating from domestic properties in rural areas.
The consultation lasted six weeks, closing for comment on February 28th. We just managed to lodge our response in time but we are aware others are dismayed at the limited time available.
Links to Herefordshire Council’s consultation document, the proposal for a new market town and Hereford Civic Society’s response to the consultation can be found on our website.
23rd December 2021
Over many years, Herefordshire Council has commissioned a number of reports and designed a number of schemes to encourage walking, cycling for short journeys, particularly within Hereford. The majority of these reports await implementation including the Hereford and South Wye Transport Packages, Phase 2 Holme Road cycleway, St. Owen Street cycle contraflow, improvements in the city centre.
I’m saddened that money for the Station Transport Hub and improvements to Commercial Road, New Market Street and Blue School Street was used to fund overspends on the Link Road. These investments were the tools that would have enabled car-free journeys both within the city and further afield (bus interchange for local journeys and to Herefordshire’s market towns and for destinations further away, by train). These investments should have been the priority rather than regarded as an afterthought.
The Link Road of course formed part of the abandoned Edgar Street grid project that included an inner-city urban village, with town houses overlooking a reconstructed canal basin, the line of the canal having been protected under the Council’s Core Strategy. Instead of the planned vibrant inner-city community, all we currently see are fenced abandoned areas in the heart of the city with no co-ordinated planned future.
On a more positive note, I applaud Connexus Housing for transforming the former John Venn’s Hereford Working Boys’ Home and Industrial School buildings in Bath Street into much needed centrally located affordable housing. This housing is adjacent to the city centre and within walking distance of schools, shops and transport: a much more sustainable carbon-aware location than the new houses under construction in Holmer and currently proposed for Three Elms.
4th November 2021
The society’s October meeting at the Kindle Centre was our first face-to-face meeting in eighteen months, as during that time all of our monthly meetings were held online. Much to our surprise, the online meetings attracted an average attendance of over twice the number who used to attend our face-to-face meetings. Now that we have returned to the Kindle Centre, we will continue to use Zoom/ record meetings, enabling members not wishing to venture out on a dark/ cold evening, to participate from the comfort of home.
Walking around High Town and the city centre, I’m encouraged by the many signs of optimism. Yes, there are a number of empty shops and of course, several famous High Street names have disappeared but do we really miss them?
Optimism, where is the evidence? I give some examples. The TLC that has been given to commercial buildings in Audrey and West Street. NMITE receiving its first year’s intake and the opening of student accommodation by the station. The conversion of empty space above shops in the city centre to residential accommodation. The reopening of Booth Passage to East Street and the readying of Booth Hall for reopening. The planning application under consideration for Bastion Mews. They all demonstrate the business community’s confidence in Hereford’s future. I must not forget the greening of High Town with the tree planters and their adjacent seating that encourage us to linger and enjoy our surroundings. Thank you, Herefordshire Council.
My only concern is that Commercial Street has attracted a number of additional takeaway food outlets, evidenced by an increase in discarded food containers/ wrappers on the ground and in the evening, vehicles being driven and parked illegally as orders are collected. I look forward to an early resolution on both issues which hopefully shouldn’t prove to be too difficult.
19th August 2021
Hereford’s heritage stems from the days when it was a Saxon settlement. We often associate heritage with the city centre, the area contained within the old City Walls. However, there lie outside the city, buildings and landscapes that are exposed to unwelcome development. They don’t have the protection of being in a conservation area. Many are not listed; such was the case of St. Nicholas’s rectory in Breinton Road where approval has recently been given for its demolition. Others which are listed as being of National as well as of local importance are suffering from owner neglect. Possibly valued by their owners for their development potential rather than heritage value.
Conservation of heritage goes in hand with adapting, finding new uses for heritage buildings and parkland. In their new role, they cease to be a liability. They become a community asset valued by local residents and tourists, many visiting for the first time exploring our county’s heritage, hospitality, scenery and great local food and drink.
Space doesn’t allow the listing of all Hereford’s heritage assets that are at risk. It is a long list. Those receiving our current attention include the Summer House/Aviary at Holmer Park (built from timbers from the Town Hall in Hereford of circa 1580-1600 which was demolished in 1862), Belmont Lodge and Elmhurst in Venns Lane: all Grade 2 listed.
Belmont Lodge (Grade 2*) was designed by two of the most significant Georgian architects of their day, James Wyatt and Humphry Repton. It also features the work of some of England’s most well-known Victorian architects: Edward Pugin, William Nesfield and George Repton when the house was extended during the 1870’s.
The building has been on the Heritage at Risk register since 2006 and is now in a state of alarming deterioration. The demolition of a historic coach-house and stable block made way for the construction of a club house for the former Belmont Golf Club. In spite of its historical importance, the Belmont Landscape, the former park and gardens is not protected from unwelcome development. There was a proposal to build 87 houses in the park in 2014 which was refused on appeal. The now-abandoned Hereford Western Bypass at a high elevation was to have carved its path across its park.
We would encourage Herefordshire Council when updating the current Core Strategy, to afford greater protection of our heritage, framed to allow new uses that respect the architecture and setting of the original.
1st July 2021
The Times recently reported that in the past 10 years, more than 1.1m houses were granted planning permission than were built. We believe that incentives should be given to local builders, Local Authorities and Housing Associations to construct additional affordable homes, with less reliance on national house builders who have historically “land-banked” building plots.
Keeping an eye on Planning Applications forms a significant part of what we do. The Government has set out in a recent White Paper major changes to the current planning system with the objective of speeding up the delivery of new housing. Whilst we applaud the Government’s desire for greater community participation, we believe what is proposed will result in the opposite.
The White Paper requires local authorities to place all land into one of three zones: GROWTH (subject to a Master Plan Design Code). RENEWAL (would cover the High Street, Town Centre/ residential suburbs and will be subject to local design codes/ guides) and PROTECTED (Conservation Areas, Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Local Wildlife Sites also subject to design codes/ guides).
Public engagement will be confined to the development of local design codes and guides for each land category and its review/ revision at approximately 10-yearly intervals. There will be no public engagement at the Planning Application stage, which is when most public engagement currently takes place. There will be no yellow notices on lampposts to respond to. As long as the applicant’s plans are perceived to meet the design codes/ guides, they will be approved.
Hereford Civic Society believes it vital that the new legislation allows the public including ourselves to make representations on individual planning applications as now.
22nd April 2021
The Civic Society maintains a watchful eye on Planning Applications submitted to Herefordshire Council. Written representations set out our comments, suggesting where we can a change that would remove our objection.
Occasionally a proposed Planning Application receives our full and unreserved support. This was the case with the proposed refurbishment of the former Moorfield Surgery and an application for the return of a traditional High Street greengrocer to High Town, trading from an open fronted shop. May other independent retailers be inspired by this initiative which will contribute to a return of the traditional vigour/ buzz of the High Street scene to Hereford.
The Council’s approval of plans to demolish St. Nicholas Rectory in Breinton Road came as a huge disappointment. Heritage assets in City suburbs deserve the same protection as those in the City centre, perhaps even more so to counter the lack of variety and individualism in modern housing design. In this case policies designed to protect such buildings appear to have been cast aside without justification. Conversion to apartments, together with a harmonious newbuild adjacent, could have achieved a similar objective without the loss of a building of architectural merit and the huge carbon footprint of demolition and reconstruction.
Let me end with better news. Over several years, three planning applications were made to build a single residential property adjacent to Walney House Farm in a highly conspicuous location when viewed from the Lugg Meadows. The Applicant took his third application to appeal. The Planning Inspector dismissed the appeal for reasons which we believe will deter proposals on similar sensitive sites bordering the Lugg Meadows SSSI.
24th December 2020
Tomorrow, when we wake up it will be Christmas morning. For many of us, the quest to stay safe will mean the disappointment of not being able to share the joy of being with family and friends. This has been a challenging year for both young and old, for children, students, employees and business owners alike.
Looking back over 2020, we have much to be thankful for: the dedication of key workers, those working in the NHS, the army of volunteers who have assisted both strangers and neighbours with daily tasks, the government programme that has provided shelter and counselling to the homeless and those living on the street. All are steps that lead to a friendlier and kinder society.
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” is the traditional greeting to be found in letters and cards at this time of year, but what will the New Year bring? Does commencement of the coronavirus immunisation programme and declining coronavirus infection in Herefordshire and the move into the Tier 1 category foretell life returning to normal by the summer? For Hereford, 2021 will see the opening of the new Medical Centre by the railway station; the arrival of the first cohort of NMITE students; the Courtyard Arts Centre, refreshed from completion of its “Transform the Yard” project says that much has taken place in 2020 despite lockdown.
May I take this opportunity to wish you a safe Christmas, even if you are not able to share it with family and friends. 2021 is going to be so much better!
15th November 2020
Coronavirus has forced the Hereford Civic Society into adopting changed methods of working. The receipt of a Herefordshire Council Fastershire “Keep Connected” grant was designed to encourage non-profit groups and organisations such as ourselves to adopt internet technology.
Use of Zoom has become second nature, delivering talks to members on the ‘Yazor Brook Restoration Project’ (July), ‘Rotherwas: Great House and Estate of the Bodenham Family’ (September) and ‘Historic Buildings and their Architecture’ (October). All the talks have been recorded. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to receive the link. On November 19th we are due to hear Duncan James’s talk 'Uncovering Secrets in Herefordshire Buildings'. These talks will continue to be Zoom based until coronavirus is beaten.
Another of our work streams is the promotion of high standards of planning and architecture in the City of Hereford and its surroundings. The market towns of Ledbury, Leominster and Ross-on-Wye have their own separately constituted Civic Societies. Our Planning Sub-committee regularly meet on Zoom to discuss our response to new Planning Applications. Although not possible in every case, we endeavour to be positive and include in our comments to the Planning Officer suggestions that potentially convert an objection into a design we can support.
Unlike many unitary authorities, Herefordshire has no Local Heritage Listing of heritage assets of interest and significance that are not protected by statutory national designations. There is currently a government grant available to create such a list. We are encouraging Herefordshire Council to make a bid. Elsewhere the General Public, Local History and Civic Societies and Parish Councils have supported their Unitary Authority by photographing and compiling lists of buildings, parks and settings for possible inclusion. Having a list affords these assets a degree of protection from demolition or unwanted adjacent development.
Three years ago, working cooperatively with Herefordshire Council and Balfour Beatty we developed proposals that now form part of the proposed Active Transport measures (public consultation took place in January 2019). These unfortunately got caught up in the on-going Hereford Transport Strategy review which I had hoped to say something about, but at the time of writing, the consultant’s report/ outcome of the review is awaited. Next time perhaps?
20th August 2020
The Coronavirus pandemic affected us in ways we were not prepared for or had previously experienced. For many, the daily routine has moved towards shopping online or at a local/ village shop rather than at a large centrally-located supermarket, children not being at school and much reduced travel/ congestion on our roads. Video conferencing technology has become a popular way of “meeting” family members/ business colleagues or attending club/ society meetings. Cinema and theatre visits have been replaced by evenings in front of a television or computer screen.
In Hereford, the Market Towns and in Herefordshire's smaller communities, volunteer networks/ village shops/ small businesses ensured that the needs of those self-isolating or lacking mobility received companionship and the delivery of food and medication. This came immediately following the flooding of the Wye for the second time last winter which also brought out the best in the support provided by neighbours and community leaders.
One consequence of the "lockdown" has been the reduction in the carbon footprint/ pollution from motor vehicles which if sustained would represent a major step towards our Council's 2030/31 Zero Carbon target. Central Government is seeking to "capture" this reduction in the use of motor vehicles through the encouragement of walking and cycling and use of public transport for short distance urban journeys. Herefordshire Council has rightly agreed to re-think some recently introduced measures, but we will all benefit from a reduction in the number of vehicles on our town and city's roads. As a nation we are moving towards a policy of increased reliance on public transport for journeys into town/ city centres with strategically located car parking on the periphery for those travelling from outlying rural communities. We need to remember that although electric vehicles will reduce transport's carbon footprint, they will not of themselves reduce traffic congestion. A successful town/ city will always be a busy place, so a modicum of congestion/ the occasional red traffic light should be expected. I wonder in which direction Herefordshire Council's Transport Strategy Review will be taking us in a month's time?