North Herts Museum: Compulsory purchase attempt possible for 14/15 Brand Street

PUBLISHED: 06:58 08 January 2018 | UPDATED: 07:49 08 January 2018

The would-be entrance to the North Hertfordshire Museum at 14/15 Brand Street. Picture: Harry Hubbard

The would-be entrance to the North Hertfordshire Museum at 14/15 Brand Street. Picture: Harry Hubbard

Archant

The leader of North Herts District Council has not ruled out using a compulsory purchase order to resolve the impasse over the authority’s museum in Hitchin.

North Herts District Council leader Lynda Needham. Picture: NHDC North Herts District Council leader Lynda Needham. Picture: NHDC

Councillor Lynda Needham has told the Comet that a compulsory purchase order, or CPO, was among the options officers might present to members if the cabinet elects to review NHDC’s options.

A price of £550,000 was agreed last March for the district council to buy 14/15 Brand Street, the effective entrance to the new North Hertfordshire Museum, from Hitchin Town Hall Ltd – but a deal is yet to go through.

Compulsory purchase of 14/15 Brand Street has been suggested in an urgent report to the NHDC cabinet by district council chief executive David Scholes.

NHDC chief executive David Scholes. Picture: NHDC NHDC chief executive David Scholes. Picture: NHDC

He said: “The potential compulsory purchase of the properties known as 14/15 Brand Street is an option that should be further investigated to enable the facility to operate as envisaged by the scheme which has the benefit of planning permission.”

Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, a charitable trust, was originally set up to oversee the project on the district council’s behalf.

The museum was supposed to open in 2015, two years on from the project’s start, but remains closed amid the standoff over 14/15 Brand Street – albeit with tours now offered to the public.

Frank Radcliffe, leader of the Labour group on North Herts District Council. Picture: Layth Yousif Frank Radcliffe, leader of the Labour group on North Herts District Council. Picture: Layth Yousif

The project has been dogged by conflict and has cost the taxpayer millions.

Councillor Frank Radcliffe, who leads the Labour group on the Conservative-controlled council, favours a compulsory purchase order – which he has said would at least let NHDC bring in monies from hire of the facility rather than wasting more time.

Mr Scholes last month refused to sit down for talks with Hitchin Town Hall Ltd’s Stephen Pike and bankers HTH Finance Ltd when HTH Finance was represented by former Conservative councillor David Leal-Bennett rather than Mr Leal-Bennett’s fellow HTH Finance director John Ray.

David Leal-Bennett, former Conservative councillor and now director of HTH Finance Ltd. Picture: Danny Loo David Leal-Bennett, former Conservative councillor and now director of HTH Finance Ltd. Picture: Danny Loo

Mr Pike and Mr Leal-Bennett last week expressed deep disappointment and offence in a joint letter to Mrs Needham, and offered to restart negotiations “with whomever you wish to represent NHDC”.

Mr Pike has stressed that Hitchin Town Hall must be protected as a community asset. In September he suggested the transfer of the town hall and museum to the Hitchin Town Hall Gymnasium and Workman’s Hall Trust, of which the district council is the trustee.

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