Call to abandon churchgate scheme

NORTH Herts District Council (NHDC) came under severe criticism this week for the continued delay in the multi-million pound Churchgate regeneration project with one organisation saying it should be abandoned or mothballed. And the project manager for Chu

NORTH Herts District Council (NHDC) came under severe criticism this week for the continued delay in the multi-million pound Churchgate regeneration project with one organisation saying it should be abandoned or mothballed.

And the project manager for Churchgate leaseholders Hammersmatch, who is tasked with refurbishing Churchgate, also took a swipe at the council when they handed out a letter at a meeting of the Hitchin Committee on Tuesday night saying it was surprised it was persisting with its plans for other developers to regenerate the centre.

The letter from chartered surveyors Moult Walker said: "The net building costs for the refurbishment are likely to be £2.5 million and the details are currently being progressed at considerable expense to Hammersmatch to achieve a start mid next year.

"Could members please advise Hammersmatch if it wants the refurbishment to go ahead or not, and why these works cannot be considered as phase one of the town centre redevelopment?


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"Should they do so, it would enable the council to carry on with the rest of its aspirations on its surrounding land with certainty.

"Should you persist in seeking to demolish the shopping centre it will require an expensive Compulsory Purchase Order which we will resist and this will probably fail.

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"It most certainly delays the council's own redevelopment and does nothing but continue to blight the existing shopping area and indeed the town centre."

NHDC was also criticised by The Churchgate Association who said: "At best we should be starting again.

"The time is no longer right with retailers struggling to survive including those in Churchgate and a number of similar schemes put on hold or abandoned."

An official of Keep Hitchin Special said: "We think the council should suspend this uncertainty over Churchgate. The plan should be suspended or mothballed."

But Cllr Richard Thake, portfolio holder for planning at NHDC, hit back saying: "We cannot see any advantage in putting up the storm shutters and hiding away. That is negative and non-productive. We need to be looking positively to the future.

"In these difficult economic conditions, it is even more important that the council looks at every available opportunity to strengthen the district's retail offer and the vitality of our town centres.

"The overall cost and value of the scheme depends on the proposals put forward by the bidders. The council has and will continue to incur costs running the procurement process.

"There is provision to recover reasonable costs from the selected developer and funds have been allocated by NHDC for any costs that may not be recovered."

Chris Honey from Hitchin Forum said: "The procedure to enhance Churchgate may well be delayed for more years than we are expecting.

"The programme by Hammersmatch to refurbish Churchgate is a much better interim solution that would boost morale of shop owners, market traders and other retail establishments in the town centre."

Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: "It is about time we all started singing from the same hymn book.

"It is a difficult economic climate at the moment. But hopefully for the sake of the shops, the market and for the town centre, the refurbishment programme will happen and then we can look at the bigger picture.

"What we are looking for is a bit of certainty to give traders hope."

The war of words started after NHDC announced the shortlist for the procurement process had been cut to two companies, Crest Nicholson Regeneration Ltd and Simons Development Ltd. One will be chosen to tender for the project in August next year.

Two other companies that had shown an interest in Churchgate, Kier Property and Thornfield Properties, have both dropped out.

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