Letters, July 31: Council’s Churchgate conditions cause controversy

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Notebook with grade - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

What have we done to deserve this lot?

Readers will be puzzled by the latest decision by North Herts District Council to effectively postpone the re-development of Churchgate in Hitchin town centre for at least another two years (Comet, July 24).

After 12 years of bungling and incompetence, they probably think it is just another example of a badly-run council failing to do its job.

After all, it has now taken longer for the Tories not to re-develop Churchgate than it took Britain to win both world Wars.

But we are not talking here solely about incompetence. We are talking about a council which is delaying this much-needed project because it is pursuing a crass political vendetta against Hammersmatch, the local firm which has a perfectly good redevelopment plan.

They have erected a series of road blocks which will delay Hammersmatch for another two years at least. Compare that to the red carpet rolled out four years ago to Simons, who wanted to concrete over seven acres of the town centre, including blocking off views of St Mary’s Church with a four-storey car park.

That £50 million deal collapsed in the face of the derision and scorn of the good folk of Hitchin.

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But has council leader Councillor Lynda Needham yet been to Hitchin to publicly apologise for such high handed behaviour? Four years on, she still cannot find it in her heart to come to the town and say sorry.

That’s because Hitchin simply will not agree to what she and her Letchworth chums want, the building over of the whole of the town centre.

Tory colleague Richard Thake bluntly told a 2010 public meeting he wanted to see the town centre ‘concreted over’ from the old Post Office site right through to the car park at the rear of the Sun Hotel.

He said he wanted to get rid of Hammersmatch because they were blocking his grand vision.

Hammersmatch are still blocking the Tories grand vision to turn Hitchin into a mini Luton or Stevenage, and so they must be punished by having to jump through hoops never placed in Simons’ path.

They have to come up with a solution to move the market and provide extra parking – odd when the Lairage car park stands half empty most days and it is only 200 yards away.

Even if they do that, they now have to await a new Local Plan which will be worthless if Labour win next May’s general election.

Almost forgot, Lynda and her pals are now spending another £10,000 of our money to get a QC to tell them if he agrees with Hammersmatch’s QC’s view that the Wheathampsead firm is entitled to an exclusive deal like Simons.

The Letchworth Tories are just being bloody-minded because they lost last year and cannot forgive Hammersmatch for being right over its more modest £4 million plan which includes a new cinema.

Back in 2007, more that 10,000 Hitchin people signed a petition rejecting the council’s vision for the town centre, a plan later described by English Partnerships as alien to the historic market town.

The Tories simply ignored local voters and went ahead with their ill-fated deal with Simons.

They say voters get the politicians they deserve. I am not sure what Hitchin has ever done to deserve this bunch of vindictive clowns.

Tom Condon, West Hill, Hitchin

Now Hitchin faces indefinite delay

l The party political fuss over the latest obstacles to progress on Churchgate overshadowed the fact that North Herts District Council no longer has to talk at all to any developer who has ideas for improving Hitchin, until that developer has obtained full planning permission.

As that process would cost about £250,000, no developer is likely to spend that without assurance that the council will later grant a lease.

There is no clear guidance on what the landowner will accept – and now no way a developer can even ask!

So Hitchin faces indefinite delay, while the condition of the land and the market stalls continues to deteriorate.

Hitchin is really unlucky that ownership of the public land in the centre of the town is has been passed to the council, which acts as an absentee landlord, uninvolved with the local community.

All the community can now do is see what can be done by own efforts and self help. Carry on with the litter picking!

Robin Dartington, West Hill, Hitchin