June 2017 Chamber Business Lunch with the Goods Yard Development Manager

The Chamber was fortunate and grateful to have Matthew Serginson, Senior Development Manager at Solum Regeneration, speak to our members at the latest in our long running and popular series of Quarterly Business Lunches. This was our eighth business lunch and the Committee hope members are enjoying them as a regular way of staying up to date with the pressing regional and national matters.

Matthew kindly came along to discuss the redevelopment of The Goods Yard site in Bishop’s Stortford. Matthew started with some background, in the context of the uncertainty arising out of the recent planning application being refused by East Hertfordshire District Council.

He explained that Solum was a joint venture between Network Rail and Kier Property that was established in 2008 to attract private investment into the rail network, the intention being to unlock and release value and return money to the network. They undertake a whole range of schemes, from small to large scale residential developments, commercial developments and new stations. To date they have undertaken schemes with a value of £700 million with notable examples being found in Twickenham and Walthamstow.

Matthew referred to a government white paper on housing, that favours housing near stations to ease pressures on the green belt and other associated issues. The Goods Yard site itself has been in the local plan since the 1990’s and there have been lots of schemes and ideas put forward for this challenging site, not least of which having to seek to maintain the car parking capacity during any development and indeed expand the parking upon any completion. There would also be issues in relation to the phasing of the work to limit the impact of construction on commuters and the road networks.

Since 2014 Solum has been working closely with Greater Anglia and has undertaken local consultations with newsletters distributed in 2015 and 2016 and holding an exhibition that led to 900 responses to pre-planning discussions. Matthew stressed that Solum took on board the comments and incorporated them into their scheme. They believe engagement leads to adaptations and evolutions to schemes in order to find a scheme that is commercially valid and suits the local community.

In March 2016 initial planning was proposed, a masterplan with phases for homes, parking, the hotel and shops and in August 2016 there was an addendum to address some issues. By March 2017 a revised hybrid planning was submitted with detailed planning for the first phase and outline for the others with the intention to deliver retail, bus routes, better connectivity, improved rail connections, the hotel and housing. Matthew stated 185 people supported the plan (mainly young residents who like these sorts of schemes) but he did admit there were some objections. It was recommended for approval and so they were disappointed when it was rejected and criticised.

Matthew informed us that Solum was looking at options to resolve the issues, that they were carefully considering the next steps but they were obtaining on appeal and so could not comment at this time. We were told that East Herts have been accommodating in bringing forward a new master plan and meetings were to take place to explore the issues and the aspirations of the town in conjunction with other documents such as the town centre plan to ensure the new scheme reflects something everyone can support.

Matthew set out the issues:

  1. Quantum of retail, how much? It needs to compliment rather than detract from the town centre
  2. Car-parking. What is the correct form and make up, whilst considering the demand from the station and how this will affect development.
  3. The level of parking generally, what is required for the housing, retail and public.
  4. Reviewing the provision of a ‘traffic link’. Solum want to find the best solution
  5. Finding a design to reflect the evolution of Bishop’s Stortford’s heritage, whilst also reflecting on and incorporating general design evolution

The Council is to open to grappling with these issues and Solum will engage with stakeholders during this process and Matthew would be happy to come back to present to us again when they have a new plan.

If there is support for a new scheme Solum are fully committed, but they will not rush and will not merely amend or tweak what has come before – it would be a whole new scheme. Matthew feels Solum are acutely aware for the need to strike whilst the iron is hot.

In conclusion Solum are committed to working with the Council, local stakeholders and community groups to have local support for the project and to help achieve the long term aspirations of the town

Matthew took some general questions where he discussed that they are reviewing and reconsidering what is most appropriate in relation to the commercial aspects of the development, confirming again there would be a root and branch review with full engagement as they did fully take on board the concerns and issues raised (especially in relation to the design of the development). When quizzed about expectations for the site he advised that any project is Solum led and that Network Rail are not in it for profit, everybody wants the long term benefits. Finally he confirmed they would love to come back and pitch their ideas, when ready.