The future of Hitchin's central shopping centre remains in doubt after North Hertfordshire Council failed to submit a winning bid to secure the leasehold.

Numerous attempts have been made over the decades to regenerate Churchgate Shopping Centre, which sits off Market Place and has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

In the latest endeavour, the district council expressed an interest in acquiring the site from current owners Hammersmatch to secure a viable future for traders and those who use the retail site.

Previous efforts to breathe new life into Churchgate - which was built in 1971 - have included building an entirely new complex on the site of the current market complete with a boutique cinema, and applying to the Future High Street Fund in 2019 - which would have provided Hitchin with up to £25 million for the regeneration project.

In the last month, North Herts Council participated in the competitive bidding process to purchase the leasehold of the shopping centre, against private property developers with visions to repurpose the site for residential use. The council has since been informed that they are currently not the preferred bidder.

In a further attempt to take over Churchgate, the council appointed a specialist consultant to provide accurate and informed advice. Subsequent proposals were made at each stage of the bidding process.

The council was then priced out of the process, with an offer 60 per cent over the guide price accepted - more than North Herts Council could afford.

Cllr Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg, leader of North Herts Council, said: “Naturally, we are very disappointed that as it stands we are not the preferred buyer.

"We feel strongly that the council is best placed to redevelop Churchgate for the benefit of the community and on a basis that is not driven purely by profit.

"We recognise the importance of this site to the future of Hitchin town centre and remain committed to ensuring that any development fits the town’s needs and is in accordance with our emerging Local Plan.

"We don't see that this is over yet, and we will be doing all we can to secure the leasehold, while recognising value for money for the taxpayer.”