I’ve lived in Bishop’s Stortford for the past seven years and the best words I can think of to describe the experience are “more frustrating than a spoon with a hole in it”. The thing is, it could be a perfectly nice town with just a bit of care and thought. It certainly looks nice enough on first glance, even quite picturesque in places, there’s generally not a lot of trouble if you just avoid the obvious hotspot of Wetherspoons and the odd group of hoodie wearing teens who hang out around Sworders Field after dark and it generally just gives the aura off of being a traditional sleepy Home Counties town.
And in times gone by, that’s pretty much what it was – talk to older Stortfordians and they’ll reminisce wistfully about when the town still had a soul and an identity and people could afford to set up here for life. Unfortunately, those days are long gone and the blame can be directly traced back to the local Tory-dominated council. A council who, much like their party overlords at Westminster, seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The problems started probably some time around the 1970s-1980s when someone realised that Stortford would be an ideal dormitory town for workers in the City due to the train line going straight into Liverpool Street and lo and behold, housing developments started to spring up left, right and centre and the Thatcher-worshipping wide boys and spivs started to move in, pricing the ordinary folk who’d lived there for generations out.
A terraced house here now costs an eye-watering £250,000+ and kids who’ve grown up in the town simply can’t afford to settle here anymore and end up moving away, replaced by fat bankers and office drones with the result that the charming local shops and friendly faces have gone and the town centre has now become a monotonous parade of faceless chain stores and ludicrous overpriced boutiques run by bored bankers’ wives as a hobby to give them something to do after dropping little George and Jocasta off at the nursery for the day.
As for the nightlife, the pubs are okay I guess but the beer is generally poor unless you like the watered down taste of Greene King or McMullen’s and thanks to the rip-off local transport company Greater Anglia, making the 25-minute journey into London on the train for somewhere decent to go on an evening will cost you the best part of twenty quid. That’s if the trains are even working properly – half the weekends, you’ll find yourself having an extended journey due to a diversion or relying on a rail replacement bus due to some part of the line being shut for resurfacing because Greater Anglia’s greediness is only matched by their sheer ineptitude when it comes to running a public transport service.
F**k the Greenbelt
But that isn’t even the worst of it – the continuing attempts to develop the London-Cambridge corridor which Stortford sits bang in the middle of as the UK’s answer to Silicon Valley (a bit laughable when you consider Harlow sits a few miles south of Stortford – trying to make that place presentable is probably comparable to trying to cure bubonic plague with a Boots No 7 cosmetics voucher) means that new estates are continuing to spring up all over the place. Recently a huge new housing development has been plonked on Stortford Fields, formerly green belt land to the west of the town which used to be a perfectly nice place to go for a walk and some fresh air on a weekend but is now another faceless huge estate full of overpriced quick-build homes that’ll probably be falling apart in 25-30 years’ time. But hey, I’m sure those nice Tories on the council all trousered a good few bob from the developers for the privilege of letting them ruin what was a perfectly nice beauty spot [allegedly and in the loosest possible terms] .
Gridlock: Gandhi would nut someone!
You’d think then that this massive influx of extra population from the Stortford Fields development and from the huge Thorley estates that sprung up before it would have prodded the council here into making sure that Stortford had the infrastructure and facilities to cope, right? Ha ha ha, don’t be so silly, as long as they’ve made their money they don’t give a damn about that. The result is that Stortford town centre is an absolutely hellish place to venture, especially on a weekend – overcrowded and unpleasant in the extreme. And woe betide you if you decide to try and drive in and negotiate the tiny overcrowded roads and the ridiculous one-way system – I’m sure this town must be the road rage capital of Hertfordshire. Trust me, you could put Gandhi in a car and tell him to try and get from the M11 roundabout into town through Hockerill junction and park in the ludicrously small multi-storey car park at Jacksons Wharf on a Saturday lunchtime and I guarantee you he’d end up nutting someone by the time he was finished.
Like I say, it’s a real shame because if only the people running the place took a bit more care and thought over things then Stortford could be a genuinely nice place to live. As it is, it’s turned into a dystopian nightmare of overcrowding, over-inflated prices, bad design, faceless chainstores, way too many overpriced coffee shops and boutiques for its own good and the general air of a town suffocating under its own over-expansion. The only plus point I can think of is that when I move back to Bradford (my original hometown) later this year, the money I’m likely to get for the tiny shoebox flat I currently live in is likely to probably allow me to buy a semi-detached house in one of the nice parts of the city!
To those who moan about the fact that their town’s a bit rough because you get a few sullen looking hoodie wearers hanging around the town centre drinking cheap lager and trying to intimidate people and wish you lived somewhere a bit less rough, all I can say is beware – towns can be just as easily be ruined by greedy rich people as they can by deprivation…