Churchgate d-day: Will Simons get a time extension?

This drawing by Simons shows the market in St Mary's square

This drawing by Simons shows the market in St Mary's square - Credit: Archant

A THREE-YEAR fight against Simons’ Churchgate plans could come to an end tonight (Thursday), as an all-important decision on whether to terminate the contract with the developer comes to a head.

The contractor, as well as opposing residents, will tonight learn whether an 18-month time extension will be granted, when North Herts district councillors go to a vote.

If they refuse the time extension, as many residents are calling for, it signals the end of the road for Simons.

But the developer doesn’t seem to be going down without a fight, and has this week backed down over conditions it had previously asked for.

They include a 150-year lease for Churchgate shopping centre – not 250 years as before – and a reduction of their financial return by 2.5 per cent.

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The developer now also claims it won’t be asking for £2m from North Herts council tax-payers, just days after saying it might seek such an amount.

Town centre manager Keith Hoskins was sceptical.

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He said: “I think it’s strange how the goal posts keep changing according to the prevailing wind of public opinion.”

Residents this week have been preparing to descend on the full council meeting, which will be held at Letchworth GC council offices from 7.30pm onwards, to voice their opposition.

It comes as a petition calling for councillors to refuse a time extension amassed more than 3,100 signatures.

But Simons claims the majority of the public support its plans, and says its consultation yielded positive results.

Ahead of the meeting, Graeme Cosgrove, development director at Simons, said he was optimistic.

“We were really encouraged by the level of support local people gave to our latest scheme proposals when we held our information days earlier this month,” he added.

“We are hopeful this support will enable North Herts District Council to extend our agreement, which will allow us to work with the community in Hitchin to deliver a scheme they can be proud of.”

• Keep checking back on the Comet’s website for Churchgate updates throughout the day. The Comet will have full reaction and reports from the meeting, in next week’s paper.

You can follow tonight’s meeting live, by visiting our homepage or following @laura_burge on Twitter.

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