Hitchin Town Hall: What exactly are they keeping hidden?

PUBLISHED: 17:00 21 November 2015

Keep Hitchin Special chairman Chris Parker and PR officer Robin Dartington with the redacted FOI on the town hall

Keep Hitchin Special chairman Chris Parker and PR officer Robin Dartington with the redacted FOI on the town hall

Archant

A request made under the government’s threatened Freedom of Information legislation to uncover details about the controversial project to renovate Hitchin’s Town Hall has drawn a blank.

Although the minutes from a council meeting asked for by campaigners were passed on, they were completely blanked out, much to their disgust.

The project has been dogged by overspending and disagreements between Hitchin Town Hall Ltd – the group originally formed to run the project – and North Herts District Council.

The session in the spotlight was a special project board meeting dating back to March last year.

Keep Sunday Special chair Chris Parker, who sent the FoI request, explained: “A very reliable source told me the architect stated in those minutes that the council had entered into a contract that it could not fulfil.

“It makes me feel that there’s far more to this Town Hall issue – because they have redacted 99.9 per cent of it.

“What have they got hide? Why don’t they let us know why they’ve put a line through everything to stop the public from knowing?

“There is no openness from the council on this matter and it is very concerning.

“It’s also worrying in terms of freedom of speech.

“To have the council put a big line through everything and tell us we aren’t allowed to know anything about a project which has cost the taxpayer an awful lot of money in wasted funds – and which is still not open – is simply not right.”

Robin Dartington, who is also a member of the group, added: “This project has been mishandled and mismanaged from the outset.

“Apart from the waste of capital lost in this project, the council simply does not have the necessary expertise to handle this project, and are completely out of their depth.

“The fact that they want to prevent information from a meeting about the progress of the project – that we as taxpayers have a right to know about – reaching the public domain is worrying, but doesn’t surprise me. The whole matter concerns me greatly.”

A spokesman for North Herts District Council said: “The council has published a significant amount of information related to the Hitchin Town Hall project.

“However limited information is currently commercially confidential due to the ongoing dispute with Hitchin Town Hall Ltd.”

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