Bishop’s Stortford Council’s £6million spending spree for South Mill Arts, Castle Park, sports grounds and housing estates

Five key investments have been identified by Bishop’s Stortford City Council as it prepares to spend a £6.44million windfall.

South Mill Arts’ ambitious £7million redevelopment is set to get a share. Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Arts Charitable Incorporated, which runs the South Road site, has already launched a £2.1million upgrade bid.

His vision includes a new “fit for purpose theatre, dance and arts rehearsal space” as well as a recording studio and production hall to train the engineers of the future.

South Mill Arts (54759388)

Plans for a sports complex to rival Wodson Park remain on the table with the council still ready to buy around 40 acres (16 hectares) north of the town to launch a much more ambitious development.

The Ware complex, which is run by a trust, includes an athletics track and field, football pitches, netball and tennis courts, three sports halls, an aerobics studio, gymnasium, meeting rooms and a coffee bar.

The proposals appeared to have fallen through with a failure to agree on a sale price, but on Monday (February 7), the city council’s finance and policy committee met behind closed doors to get an update and , after its deliberations, the project remained part of the shopping list of the town hall.

Wodson Park Sports Center in Ware (54759516)
Wodson Park Sports Center in Ware (54759516)

Members also voted to keep the Castle Park plan alive, despite a £1.3million increase in the cost of the scheme from £2.9million, with additional funding.

And their spending spree includes buying “hobby land” and subdivision sites. Negotiations are already underway to buy two lots south of the city.

In total, the council earmarked £5.94million of its profits from the sale of redundant lots in Farnham Road to Herts County Council for Avanti Meadows Primary School for the five priorities.

It has allocated a further £500,000 to set up a major new capital grants program to give organizations across the city a maximum of £50,000 in boost.

Transformation plans for Castle Park in Bishop's Stortford.  (54759366)
Transformation plans for Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford. (54759366)

This disappoints the likes of Bishop’s Stortford Rugby Football Club and Bishop’s Stortford High School, who had hoped for a much larger share of the windfall to improve their own sports facilities, but are unable to meet the council’s investment criteria for a share of assets. .

Finance and Policy Committee Chairman Cllr David Snowdon said: “I am very excited about our plans for one of the largest community procurement investments in Bishop’s Stortford history.

“We’ve taken a cautious approach to how we invest this money. It is essential that we invest this money so that not only do residents benefit from it today, but that future generations benefit from the assets we will acquire.

Cllr David Snowdon is the Chairman of the City Council's Finance and Policy Committee
Cllr David Snowdon is the Chairman of the City Council’s Finance and Policy Committee

“Council has agreed to step up negotiations to invest up to £5.94 million in funding Castle Park improvements, land purchase for housing estates, investment in South Mill Arts, while also acquiring land for recreation and sports in Stortford.”

Cllr Snowdon added: “We have also asked the Chief Executive to present plans for a major capital grants program of £500,000. We are looking to award grants of up to £50,000 to organizations serving residents of Bishop’s Stortford. We hope that a wide variety of groups will benefit from this funding.

The council also ratified a recommendation to freeze its council tax precept at £68.89 for a Band D household. Although the town is the 19th largest parish in England and Wales in terms of population, his precept ranks 2,171st. The average precept of the 100 parish councils in England and Wales with the largest budgets in 2021-22 was £154.84.

Transformation plans for Castle Park in Bishop's Stortford.  (54759372)
Transformation plans for Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford. (54759372)

As part of the April annual budget, members agreed to transfer over £160,000 of income to investment budgets, including play equipment and environmental improvements, in addition to a grant pot of over £78,000.

Cllr Snowdon said: “I am very proud of our 2022-23 budget, which has received unanimous support from all parties.

“For the fifth year in a row we have maintained our council tax share at just £68.89, 10.1% less than 2007-08. We are committed to supporting hard working local families while providing excellent local services.

“In addition to this, the City Council runs the Town Cemetery and Market, runs the Carnival and Christmas Fayre, funds CCTV in Stortford, provides funding to the Northgate End Youth Partnership and provides an annual grant of £255,000 to South MillArts. ”

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