Planning failure

PUBLISHED: 10:46 15 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:40 06 May 2010

The decision by Hitchin councillors to allow the demolition of Rose Cottage ( 19th century house to be demolished , Comet, March 8) has implications that go far beyond this particular building. Make no mistake, Rose Cottage has a pedigree, it was a benc

The decision by Hitchin councillors to allow the demolition of Rose Cottage ('19th century house to be demolished', Comet, March 8) has implications that go far beyond this particular building.

Make no mistake, Rose Cottage has a pedigree, it was a benchmark building, both in its own right and in this part of Victorian Hitchin. It was part of probably the first suburban development along this part of Walsworth Road, marking the coming of the railway. Even its boundaries remain basically as constructed, the gardens now with significant trees which have recently been protected by Preservation Orders. The house was inhabited by influential Hitchin families including philanthropists and benefactors - Bartlett (who built Caldicott), Lucas and Hawkins.

This house also has a presence: though altered, it is unique as the only remaining detached Victorian villa in substantial grounds on this part of Walsworth Road.

Rose Cottage merits a local Blue Plaque, not demolition.

Restored, it could have formed an anchor (and a screen) for an attractive, high quality development to the rear, and NHDC has adopted policies that should have protected this particular building as well as its setting in the wider area. What is particularly disturbing is that both the planning and conservation officers argued against these policies and in favour of its demolition. What happened when it came to the committee vote was deplorable, despite strong public opposition and the considerable efforts of two local councillors, it took only four councillors to override this and support council officers rather than protect Hitchin's historic character.

Council planning decisions like this afflict Hitchin with high-density, undistinguished new building which is incrementally eroding its character. Following this decision, no Victorian neighbourhood outside the conservation area is safe.

How can the people of Hitchin now protect Hitchin's character against NHDC as well as predatory developers?

ELLIE CLARKE, Secretary, Hitchin Forum

* Regarding the re-development of Rose Cottage, I attended the area committee of NHDC on Tuesday, March 6 and witnessed what turned out to be an example of a lost opportunity of the local democratic process.

One important item under consideration was the planning application for the demolition of Rose Cottage, Walsworth Road. It was clear that the grounds for refusal hinged on value judgements of the councillors, either for or against. There were few present at the meeting (apart from the developer) who would not have preferred to retain Rose Cottage rather than accept the development plans as presented.

However, the process ended in a recorded vote in which the three parties split on predictable party lines. The result is that Hitchin will now be poorer due to the loss of yet another part of its architectural history.

Is it surprising that the population continues to be disenchanted with the political process when opportunities to champion the wishes of the local population are passed over? In Hitchin, recent planning decisions against developers have been upheld by inspectors where a unified and determined approach is presented to the inspector. Sadly in this case, councillors and council officers failed to support the wider public's wishes and the developer will be the winner at the expense of the community.

I left the meeting blaming councillors as a group for this disappointing decision. Interestingly, it was announced at the meeting that Mr Haerle, the officer who recommended the application to be approved, is retiring to Suffolk where one can only assume he finds the environment more appealing. I wonder how many Hitchin residents are thinking the same thoughts and planning their future departure from the town they once loved but which is fast becoming not such a pleasant place to live?

JEREMY BURROWES, Address Supplied


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