Hitchin group responds to NHDC’s Churchgate regeneration consultation

Churchgate Shopping Centre, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

Churchgate Shopping Centre, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

An umbrella group that has been the voice of Hitchin for almost 30 years has responded to the district council’s consultation on Churchgate with their thoughts on the site’s future.

Hitchin Forum, a non–political group that was established in 1992 to bring together people who want to maintain Hitchin’s character, has publicly responded to North Herts District Council’s consultation on Hitchin town centre, Churchgate and the market.

Mike Clarke, Bill Sellicks and Brian Sykes, co–chairs of Hitchin Forum, admit regeneration is “badly needed”.

In a letter directed to an NHDC community engagement officer, they said: “Town centres are changing and far more quickly than in the past. Hitchin has weathered these changes better than many – we have the advantage of a beautiful and varied built environment of a human scale, with independent shops run by local people committed to the town.

“Regeneration of Hitchin Market is badly needed but has been held back by lack of progress on Churchgate, which itself has been a blight on Hitchin town centre for decades.

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“The two are geographically linked and Hitchin Market has usually been seen as a ‘tag along’ to renewing Churchgate. In reality, Hitchin Market is far more central to the town’s identity and character as a historic market town.

“The only certainty for the future is that it will continue to change and present challenges, so we need to be creative, flexible and wise in looking to what kind of future we want for our town centre.

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“It must remain the kind of place where people will continue to want to meet for a variety of purposes – shopping, socialising, recreation, healthy living provision and similar services.

“Any changes or redevelopments therefore need to have in-built flexibility so they can be adapted to meet future challenges and changes. Underpinning this must be a radical review of business rents and rates. These have to be reconsidered to enable town centres to compete with out-of-town facilities.

“The council should take account of local initiatives and seriously consider the Churchgate Resurgence Pro Bono group’s proposals.”

The Churchgate Resurgence Pro Bono group have offered up detailed drawings of their refurbishment plans. To view them, visit newchurchgate.org

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