Good News! After a long wait major investment is coming to Hertford in the form of the new Lea Wharf mixed use riverside development. But how did we get to this point? And what can we expect from the new development?
I wanted to bring you up to speed but in plain and simple language with no mumbo jumbo terminology, talk of sub planning comittees or planning regulation 34b (what ever that means).
Ok so how did we get to this point? Remember good old Bircherley Green? It was dated, ugly, along the river but lets be honest it was great with good range of shops and an anchor supermarket in Waitrose.
Things took a turn for the worse when Waitrose decided to leave town. This was a sucker punch to Bircherly Green and without a new tennent the surrounding shops began to suffer.
With a lack of rental revenue the site wasn’t viable in its current state. The owners at the time (Diago Pensions Trust) came up with a number of proposals to re-develop the site. One of the first I can recall had an open car park along the riverside.
Scrapped Wrenbridge plan
The owners of the site settled on a modern mixed use design and appointed real estate developer, Wrenbridge Ltd to oversee the development.
A long drawn out planning application began which was hugely frustrating for residents. To cut a long story short, it didn’t happen. Bircherely Green was left in limbo once again.
The application was withdrawn and the owners decided to put the site up for sale.
"how did the council let this happen?"
Let’s bust this issue as I hear this very often when it comes to the former Bircherley Green. The simple truth is that the site is privatly owned in the same way as you or I may own a home. The council have nothing to do with the site and any owner who wants to build will go through planning in the same way as a home owner would if they wanted to buld, lets say a garage or extension.
“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.” – East Herts Council
Fast Forward to 2019 - A new hope!
Its July 2019 and the site is SOLD to a new owner in Chase New Homes. Again the site would be a mixed development of retail, community and housing. I had the opportunity to chat with the owners who were keen to learn from the criticisms placed on past designs. Being a local firm they wanted to deliver a concept which would better fit its riverside location and historic surroundings.
Introducing the new "Lea wharf"
Chase decided on a design with an industrial / wharf type feel. Ditching the modern, more generic look the new design has far more character and ties in better with its riverside position.
A big issue raised with designs from the former owner was that the modern look isn’t “in keeping” with the historic surroundings here in Hertford.
Although interesting right now the issue is that modern generic designs fast become outdated and tired. The wharf design although still modern, has more of an older more mature feel.
Gone is the plastic look and wooden cladding replaced with rugged brick and iron reatures. I love the iron sky bridge between the two main buildings, such a great character feature
As you approach Lea Wharf from Bull Plain (path beside the Hertford Club) the developer has added a joist feature to add to the riverside wharf design.
Throughout the design there is little you would describe as bog standard. I really like the curved windows similar to the brewery and former gas works building on Tamworth road.
Another practical feature is the proposed covered walkways around the shopping area to protect shoppers from the elements during the winter months.
The car park will remain and be refurbished as part of the development bringing additional parking to town along with charging points for electric vehicles.
The riverside will be transformed! Connecting Hertford town centre with the river was never really achieved with Birchley Green, this plan is certainly aiming to make this a reality.
A new waterside public space wil be created with eateries and seating areas. Retail / restaurant space will occupy the the length of the site along the River Lea.
For me, opening up the riverside is a big plus and a draw to bring more visitors to Hertford. Waterbus services and river cruises too and from Ware will benefit. I could see this becoming very popular.
Imagine the Duck Race! It will be epic!
There will be 92 residential apartments. These will range from 1 – 3 bedrooms. We understand there will be a communal rooftop garden for residents.
The Car Park
In the scheme the car park will be fully refurbished and brought back into use. Plans show 188 spaces of which, 40 are allocated to residential use, 5 car club spaces, with the remaining 143 to be pay-and-display. There will also be 10 car charging points and 112 cycle parking spaces.
Alongside shops there will be space allocated for the community. Talks are underway and it is hoped a new large GP surgery will be included. Also the bus station will be retained and improved with a new waiting area for passengers, oh and the public toilets will return. Lastly a recording studio / media suite has been proposed.
The new scheme will comprise of 3600 square meters of retail space at ground level. This equates to roughly the same amount of space as we had previously.
This space is shown below in larger plots however space is flexible so the plots shown can be split if desirable. At this early stage we know that Boots have a strong interest in opening a new larger store within the development.
More Updates to follow
With planning permission now GRANTED the developer is wanting “spades in the ground” in the Autumn of 2020. I will of course update you with any information as things progress.
Personally I am very optimistic this time round. Unlike past owners the developer has had far more engagemnt with locals and has listened to concerns. There will never be a perfect scheme which pleases everyone. I think that we can all agree that building a shopping centre right now is risky to say the least.
Would I prefer less residential and a lower height? I would have to say yes. However to make this project viable financially you can understand why having a substantial residential element is nessesary in the current climate.
Chase New Home have thanked the I Love Hertford community for their support and positivity throughout the application 🙂
***Latest News on the development***
The latest developments will be added to this article as things progress. At this time the developer is waiting on planning permission to formally arrive so that they can get building.