The changing face of Bishop's Stortford
PUBLISHED: 18:00 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:48 20 February 2013
Sue Armstrong takes a look at the new developments in this historic town
THINGS have been changing at such a fast pace in Bishop's Stortford over the past few years that nearly every visit brings a new surprise. Roads have moved, car parks have disappeared, buildings have been pulled down and new ones built in their place, shops have vanished from their familiar locations only to reappear elsewhere.
Designated a growth area by the Government, there has been an explosion of development and there's no turning back for 'Stortford', as it is fondly known, to the quaint market town it used to be. With a population in excess of 36,000 and rising, it is the largest town in East Hertfordshire.
The majority of the recent multi-million pound development has concentrated in the centre with new apartments, including accommodation for key workers, and the greatly extended Jackson Square indoor shopping centre. This impressive facility includes a two-deck car park, with 700 spaces, replacing the old multi-storey version and from here travelators lead the way to this expanded shopping area.
There is already a good variety of well known high street names in the town as well as long-established family stores, old inns, popular restaurants and the regular Thursday and Saturday markets.
But the vision is not yet complete and there is still more to come. A public square by the waters edge, further residential developments on both the riverside car park, behind the old Sainsbury's building, and on the former railway goods yard. A pedestrian bridge on the south side of town, drawing the Rhodes Art Complex closer to the centre and aspirations for a new bus interchange and improvements to the railway station and its car park.
These are exciting times for Bishop's Stortford and the long awaited improved facilities are breathing new life into the town to secure its future economy. Inevitably the changes are not without their problems and road congestion has increased. Residents are also concerned that schools, doctors, hospitals and public transport are becoming overstretched with the ever-growing population.
But Tony Jackson has his finger on the pulse of the town. Having become Leader of East Herts Council a year ago, he explains: 'Here at the council we see ourselves at the hub of the community, having daily contact with residents, local businesses and organisations. We are listening to what everyone has to say and regularly bring different representative groups to the table to contribute to discussions about the future vision for the town.
'We recognise that traffic flow is an ongoing problem and we are taking this very seriously. Having visited other developing towns around the country we have learnt from what they are doing, seeing what has worked well and what hasn't. Improving the road infrastructure, school and health provision, accessibility by car, bike and public transport, are all high on our agenda.
'Our aim is to protect the character and heritage of the town and provide a sense of unity and enjoyment in a modern and vibrant environment. We also want to attract new businesses and employment opportunities and ensure companies have room to expand.'
Change is nothing new for Bishop's Stortford. Over the years it has swallowed neighbouring villages and housing developments have marched forward since the end of the Second World War. The 1920s saw the start of houses being built in Warwick Road, Havers Lane followed in the 1940s and the Parsonage Lane development came soon after, encroaching on part of the Birchanger Woods.
The construction of Thorley Park in the 1960s and 70s removed the last fields separating the village of Thorley from the town. The 1980s saw the beginning of Bishop's Park, with St Michael's Mead following ten years later. And of course, neighbouring Stansted Airport has made its presence known since the new terminal building opened in 1991.
Amongst all the development, many of the town's old buildings stand solidly, like reassuring faces amongst an ever-changing crowd. The spire of St Michael's Church soars high above even the tallest new apartment blocks and is still on view for miles around. The flour mill, beside the River Stort, is a lasting reminder of one of the town's historic industries.
Taken from the July issue of Hertfordshire Life