PLANS have been unveiled for a former sorting office site.

The Comet: Artist impression of Portmill Lane plans, HitchinArtist impression of Portmill Lane plans, Hitchin (Image: Archant)

Whitebarn Developments Ltd, based in Hitchin, has submitted plans to North Herts District Council (NHDC) for the Hitchin site, situated between Portmill Lane and Hermitage Road.

The Comet: Artist impression of the river pathArtist impression of the river path (Image: Archant)

Mark Shadbolt, director of Whitebarn Development – which bought the site last year – said: “We are delighted to bring forward our proposals for redevelopment, which we believe will improve the site and its context, both on Hermitage Road and Portmill Lane.”

The planning application is for the demolition of all remaining buildings at the site and redevelopment to include residential, retail and commercial units, a hotel, as well as the widening of the River Hiz walkway.

Mr Shadbolt said the proposed block fronting Hermitage Road will reintroduce a frontage to the street scene, which was lost years ago when the post office relocated.

He said: “We believe this will help to reinvigorate the street.”

The upper floors of the building will be residential homes over three further storeys.

To the rear of this block, and fronting Portmill Lane, will be a 60-bedroom hotel with a restaurant. A further block of high-end residential units along Portmill Lane is also proposed.

Adjacent to this will be an improved and widened walkway between Portmill Lane and Hermitage Road, which has been a long-standing aspiration in Hitchin.

Mr Shadbolt said: “Our proposals involve the grading and landscaping of the river bank with planting, to create a soft bank rather than the existing hard surfaces.

“The walkway itself will also be widened dramatically, which will involve the transfer of part of our site to the council.”

The scheme is the result of detailed discussions with NHDC officers, English Heritage, community groups and residents.

“We are delighted to have submitted the application and hope to achieve planning consent by the end of the year,” added Mr Shadbolt.

Speaking to members of Hitchin Area Committee on Tuesday, Mr Shadbolt said the new hotel would create 30 jobs in the town, including 24 full-time positions. He confirmed a hotel operator had been agreed.

Chairman of Hitchin Forum planning group, Adrian Gurney, said: “We have been involved with the consultation of the plans from the beginning. They have been willing to listen to us and we think it is a very good model, and overall it is very positive for the town. It is very encouraging to see that, even in times of austerity, a developer is willing to invest in the town.”

Keith Hoskins, Hitchin town centre manager, said: “I think they are exciting plans and it will regenerate this part of town and provide an interesting frontage to Hermitage Road and Portmill Lane.”

Cllr David Leal-Bennett, who represents Hitchin Highbury ward, said: “With this development directors Paul and Mark Shadbolt have engaged with the local community and the result is a development of which the residents of Hitchin can be proud.

“The hideous old post office site has gone and we can look forward to a development which will blend with the character of Hitchin as well as opening up the walkway down the River Hiz from Hermitage Road to Portmill Lane.

“The hotel and shops will provide over 30 new jobs with an annual benefit to Hitchin of more than £300,000.

“To complement this development we now need a similar approach to Churchgate, incorporating the boutique cinema.”