Celebrations as Hitchin Town Hall agreements reached

A MULTI-MILLION pound project to transform a town hall into a district-wide museum and community facility moved a step further last night (Thursday).

Councillors at North Herts District Council (NHDC) agreed to enter into a development agreement with Hitchin Town Hall Ltd at a special full council meeting, following months of negotiations.

They also agreed to enter into a 125-year lease and a management agreement with the company. It means that the redevelopment of the hall can now get underway.

Speaking at the meeting, Hitchin Initiative’s Morag Norgan said: “Hitchin Initiative would like to congratulate all at Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and all at NHDC.

“Hitchin Initiative will say ‘bring it on’. We will continue that leap of faith.”

The new facility will be turned into a district museum, with Letchworth and Hitchin museums closed down.

There will also be the main hall, for community use, and smaller meeting rooms, a caf� and a dedicated education and activity area.

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Rosemary Read, director of Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, said at the meeting: “We have been working long hours to secure the future of the town hall. During this process, we have had many meetings, and always did our best to find a solution that would benefit all parties.

“I would like to thank officers of NHDC, and would like to single out John Robinson and Marie Searle.”

Both Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and Hitchin Initiative said there was still a way to go, and time constraints to meet, but that they were hopeful these could be overcome.

Meanwhile, councillors across all three parties showed their support for the project.

Before a decision was reached, Cllr Paul Clark said: “I will be supporting the recommendations as they stand.

“There’s still a lot of detail to come forward that we need to look into and take on board.

“[But] it’s a risk worth taking and I know councillors will support it.”

Cllr Tom Brindley said that the facility would be used not just by those in Hitchin, but surrounding towns such as Letchworth GC and villages in the wider area.

He added: “I would like to congratulate all parties on excellent progress.”

Before the meeting got underway, director of Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and newly elected Hitchin councillor David Leal-Bennett said that he would be stepping outside of the meeting, following advice that his presence could be a conflict of interest.

Cllr Leal-Bennett said that he was disappointed he would be missing his first council meeting. Mrs Norgan also that she was disappointed, and called for a change in rules.

“It’s very sad,” Cllr Leal-Bennett read out in a statement.

“Rest assured, I will not take this lying down. I hope people here respect my decision... and the difficult position I find myself in.”

The redevelopment, as it stands, is due for completion in spring 2014, with work expected to start at the end of this year.