Boutique cinema given the green light but Churchgate saga rumbles on

Churchgate shopping centre

Churchgate shopping centre - Credit: Archant

A major refurbishment plan for a town centre shopping precinct has taken a small step forward with the announcement that approval has been given for a boutique cinema by a cinema company board, but questions are still being asked as to where things stand with the wider scheme.

It has been a year since the lengthy Churchgate saga came to a halt after district councillors followed calls from Hitchin residents to bring an end to a three-year battle with developer Simons.

On January 31 last year members of North Herts District Council (NHDC) decided not to grant Churchgate contractor Simons an additional 18 months to come forward with a planning application.

Churchgate leaseholders Hammersmatch has since presented its vision for the town centre to residents, with plans to relocate the market, refurbish the shopping centre and install a boutique five-screen cinema.

Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: “It has been a year since Simons lost out and now straight questions needs to be asked to the district council as to what is going on and where things currently stand. It is a clear question and the people of Hitchin need clear answers.”

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Hitchin councillor David Leal Bennett said: “I too am frustrated at the ongoing delay and apparent lack of action. Hitchin constituents are asking me questions and while I have requested updates, I have been advised that ‘there is nothing to report’, which I find very strange since more than a year has passed since Simons were shown the door. I have recently heard that Hammersmatch are waiting for a response from NHDC, so it is not unreasonable to ask where we are and why is this taking so long.”

Chairman of Hitchin Forum, Mike Clark said: “Twelve months on we are wondering what is happening. We have heard during this past year that Hammersmatch is keen to put forward plans to refurbish Churchgate, to provide a cinema and small associated development, and to find a solution to the question about where the market could be better placed. The market traders would like an upgraded and modern market.

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“We have waited for news but are so far disappointed that nothing has been heard about the future of this precious piece of Hitchin. We expect the council officers to be vigilant in finding a way forward, and quickly.”

A spokesman for NHDC said: “The council as landowner is having on-going discussions with Hammersmatch and any other third parties that may express an interest in the site.”

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