Agenda item

Public Questions

To receive any public questions.


The Chairman invited the public to ask their questions. He said that members of the public who were present at the meeting would read out their questions and other questions that had been submitted were published under the Supplementary agenda. A response would be provided by the relevant Executive Members at the end that would cover all the points raised.


Simon Baker asked the following question:

If the various companies and individuals that represent the arts in Bishop’s Stortford are saying that the spaces you are creating in the new cinema/arts space are too small for us to use, and therefore as experienced arts professionals we don’t believe it would be viable to use them, how does that change your mind on the design or indeed the concept of your proposal?”


Jill Goldsmith asked the following question:

“The report to Council on the Business Case for the ORL stipulates the deliverables the Council is committing to in the regeneration project but no detail on the contracts the Council has already entered into (with CityHeart, appointed in 2019, Glenn Howells architect, Theatreplan and Barker Langham) or on future contracting to inform the public on how it will achieve these deliverables.”


“The Council’s Contracts Register discloses none of the existing ORL related contracts, in contravention of the Local Government Transparency Code, which requires local authorities to publish details of any contract, commissioned activity, purchase order, framework agreement and any other legally enforceable agreement with a value that exceeds £5,000. At paragraph 20 of the Code it specifically states that “Local authorities should expect to publish details of contracts newly entered into – commercial confidentiality should not, in itself, be a reason for local authorities to not follow the provisions of this Code.””


“Paragraph 8 in the report to Council mentions the risk of delay from the SPD process, but the effect of such impact is not spelled out. It says nothing about other contractual or financial risks, such as the risk of developer non-delivery after it has bought the land from the Council from operating the site after its development. It does not set out any safeguards the Council may have.”


“Can you detail the impacts and specific financial risks there would be for the Council if the project gets delayed or set back and what mitigations the Council has put in place?”


Stuart Purton asked the following question:

“As there has been widely publicised criticism of the rushed rework of the scheme, what efforts have or can be made to include members of the local creative community in the process? The voices of commercial interests will be amplified by their money how will you ensure those without financial clout are given equal credence?”


Simon Gilliver asked the following question:


“Almost uniquely for a town of its size, Bishop's Stortford has no venues of any description large enough to hold large scale concerts or events. The previous plans for ORL addressed this need, whereas the proposal now merely duplicates facilities that already exist in the town. In responding to the reduced available funds, why has the council not sought to find a solution that still delivers on the needs of the town on a reduced budget?”


Paddy Lennox asked the following question:

“In a report on the future of cinema, which we understand underpins the Council’s business case for the proposed 5 screen cinema, Tamara Jarvis concluded that the key success of smaller locally run venues lies in a flexible offering to “local interest & population groups”, responding to their demands by combining cinema spaces with other spaces to engage "live performance”.”

“That sounds great but, given that none of the local performing arts groups, not the local theatre, not the Symphonia, not the Comedy Club and not the local live music bands, say the proposed new design ORL will be of use to them,  who exactly are these “local interest & population groups?””

“Please name them.”


Gailie Pollock asked the following question:


“If the footprint of the ORL arts centre is the same as the original plan, why can't we build the cinema spaces but leave the space for the larger auditorium (which would benefit the town's arts organisations that can't use the proposed small flexible performance spaces), to be built at a later date, at a time when it might be easier to apply for funding?”


Paul Dean asked the following question:


“Section 8 of the Business Plan Report for the ORL Development says “the Master-planning and SPD process is a key risk … [where] it is expected that there will be some turbulence around public opinion”. Much of this arises from the Council’s perceived failure to separate its role as a landowner/developer from its role as the Local Planning Authority and consult with the public.”

“The same paragraph of the Report illustrates the problem by suggesting the risk to the SPD process “will be mitigated through close working and good communication between Cityheart and EHDC’s project team and planning officers”.”

“District Plan Policy BISH8(I) makes it clear that an SPD will be prepared by EHDC’s planning officers and “used to inform the master-planning of the site” - not that the SPD will be informed by the developer’s masterplan and EHDC’s project team’s Business Case.”

“In view of this will the Council confirm that in mitigating the public opinion risks on the SPD and master-planning processes for ORL it will:


1. comply with Regulation 12 of the Planning (Local Planning) Regulations 2012 to carry out public participation on the preparation and recommendations of the SPD before it is adopted and used to inform master-planning?)


2. follow the NPPF’s SPD requirements for planning officers to provide further guidance for development on specific sites and, in this particular case, (para 23) “provide a clear strategy  … (and) … address objectively assessed needs” for the facilities to be provided in accordance with Policy BISH III (a)?


3.    during the Pre-application Engagement Process, comply with District Plan Policy DES1 (II) that: “The Masterplan will be collaboratively prepared with all stakeholders, including the public?


4.    Include transport, environmental conservation area and social impact assessments within the scope of the SPD?”


“Finally, will the Council’s Chief Legal Officer recommend that all DMC members and their substitutes be excluded from today’s meeting so they can take an unbiased decision when the resulting planning application comes before them for determination.


Daniel Badcock asked the following question:

“On the substantially reduced arts centre plan, is there any option delay the start of building of the new arts facility and to "save" the planned subsidy for some time to allow a scheme closer to the original proposal to be built? In my opinion to build a new facility without adding a larger stage to the town facilities is a huge missed opportunity and additional cinema screens are not an exciting alternative proposition.”


Simon Anderson asked the following question:


“Please tell me the reasons why the decision on the amended ORL development cannot be postponed”


Jill Jones asked the following question:


“The business plan does not show any financial comparisons between the proposed cinema and any other alternatives. Will EHDC provide any comparisons to show residents of Bishops Stortford how the cinema proposal outweighs other concepts in terms of cost-benefit and social impact? In particular, comparison with an educational establishment such as a Digital skills training centre in terms of potential economic boost and long term sustainable income - as education is counter-cyclic, and BS is ideally placed between Cambridge and London to be such an educational ‘hub’.


Councillor Haysey, Leader of the Council, responded as follows:

“Many thanks for the questions submitted. A number of these questions have requested specific information which we are not able to share at this time. We are still at an early stage in the design process and there is further work to be done on the design development. As there is some overlap in the questions that have been asked Councillors will deliver a combined response to provide all of the information that we are able to at this time.”

Councillor Williamson, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Financial Sustainability, responded as follows:

“Significant consultation took place in the designing of the original scheme. It is with disappointment that this scheme has had to be reduced in response to the extraordinary circumstances that we have all found ourselves in a as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic and the subsequent impact that this has had on public finances, alongside the impact of national government policy changes in relation to public sector borrowing. We have worked hard to keep as much of that original scheme as possible. The reduced scheme still offers a large part of the scheme that was based on that early consultation process and there will be plenty of opportunity for the public and the local creative community to engage with the revised proposals as we undertake further, extensive consultation as part of the planning process.”

“The business plan is currently predicated on a limited live performance programme of a single performance per week in the 80 seat space and income and hire assumptions are based on local benchmarking, interpreted by expert business planners in the arts and culture industry. The inclusion of other live performances, in shared spaces or outdoor space, has not been factored in as required income in the business plan but is of course something that we are looking to maximise in the delivery programme.”

“Delay of the proposals has been considered but taking into account inflation, costs associated with maintaining the existing design and developer teams and other associated expenses, it is estimated that a 12 month delay would come at a minimum cost of £1.2mn. This would of course only make the scheme harder to deliver later down the line and whilst we all hope that the economy will recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is less reassurance about the future of local government finances. Longer periods of delay would pose a significant risk of having to re procure a development team at a later date, which would again add further risk and cost to the project. It is not possible to leave an area for the auditorium to be added at a later date, this space has been reallocated as part of the development of the overall scheme, which now includes the 90 senior living apartments, which have contributed to the increase in capital receipt by £700k. In response to the specific question on Northgate End, it is not possible to redesign the MSCP as the construction works are already well underway.”

“To confirm the Council hasn’t yet entered into a legally binding contract with the Developer, Cityheart. The Development Agreement (for the wider ORL scheme) and the Development Management Agreement (for the arts centre) are not yet agreed. Once these have been completed, details will be published in accordance with the Local Government Transparency Code.”


Councillor Goodeve, Executive Member for Planning and Growth, responded as follows:

“Taking the first 3 points together from the question asked by Paul Dean; the Council has prepared a number of SPDs which are compliant with relevant regulations and we will continue to ensure compliance with regulations, policy and guidance during the production of the SPD for ORL.”

“As set out in Policy BISH8 the Bishop’s Stortford Town Centre Planning Framework will form the basis of the SPD, which will inform the masterplanning of the site. The preparation of the site specific SPD will include early stakeholder engagement and follow a similar process to that of the Council’s agreed Masterplanning process as well as meeting the statutory requirements for preparing SPDs. The Masterplanning process contained in Policy DES1 not only allows the Council to involve key stakeholders earlier in the planning process, but in this case allows the Council to expand the level of public participation prior to, and during the production of the SPD.”

“On point 4; generally speaking an SPD is often constrained by the relevant policies with which it must comply, in this case however the Masterplanning approach allows us to broaden the scope to discuss and examine these wider points.”

“Finally, to address the request that DMC members be excluded from the meeting; Members of the DMC are, by definition, Members of the Council and have a right to attend and vote on all matters before the Council so long as they do not have an interest in that matter. Being a member of the DMC is not an “interest” in this context and so DMC members need not be excluded from the Council meeting this evening. In any event, the consideration of a business plan is not akin to determining a planning application, the two are separate.”

Councillor E Buckmaster, Executive Member for Wellbeing, responded as follows:

“The new facilities will still provide something new for the town, yes there will be a cinema – a high end, boutique offer which differs from the current local cinema provisions by providing a different experience with the potential to enjoy a film in luxurious surroundings, whilst enjoying food and drink, but there will also be a number of spaces where a live programme can be delivered. These spaces include gallery and foyer space for live music, a flexible cinema space in the 80 seat auditorium for a range of spoken word events such as one man / woman shows, author meet and greets, director / cast talks and small community led events as well as live streaming and other digital and immersive experiences. The outdoor space will provide the opportunity for larger performances, be it music, comedy, theatre or live screening of theatre / sports events. We will also explore the demand for and possibility of using the 150 seat cinema space as flexible performance space as part of the ongoing design development. We have worked closely with other local venues and understand that there is an existing demand for audiences of 80 – 100 people. As we move ahead with the design work we will continue to engage with the local community to better understand and respond to the local demand at this level.”

“The design of all of these spaces is at a very early stage and will be developed alongside our expert team and with much public and statutory consultation. I would like to provide reassurance that public safety and sustainability will be built into all elements of the design process for the entire scheme. The Arts Centre is aiming to achieve BREEAM excellent accreditation. Further information will be available as the design development progresses.”

“Questions have been raised about other potential uses of the space, the scheme has not considered alternative options, such as a further education or digital skills college. The business case is based on proposals that are as close to the original brief for the site as possible, taking into account the financial constraints and need for commercial viability. Questions have also been raised in relation to the United Reform Church, which the Council now owns. This site has always been earmarked for demolition to enable the delivery of the scheme as a whole. The current plans for the Arts Centre do not include community space for hire but the Council is currently considering options for the provision of additional community space for hire elsewhere in Bishop’s Stortford.”


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