Churchgate lease ‘same as City of Manchester Stadium’

A COUNCIL has defended giving a 250-year lease to a contractor, saying that many other developments elsewhere in the country have been doing the same.

The statement appears in a North Herts District Council (NHDC) report which summarises the council’s, and Simons’, key milestones in the development of Churchgate in Hitchin.

The public document, which was presented at a Hitchin area committee meeting on Tuesday, defends the controversial lease to Simons, and provides examples of similar cases elsewhere in the country to prove its validity.

These examples from the last four years include developments in Hereford, Preston, Liverpool, Oldham, London and even Manchester City’s City of Manchester Stadium.

The report says: “It is fair to say that the length of the proposed lease, 250 years, has attracted criticism from some quarters. Some have described it in correspondence as ‘unprecedented’ which is not the case.

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“When asked, officers have always made clear that the length of the lease was considered acceptable by professional advisers based on the requirements of the funding market, and was reported to members at the time of the Full Council decision on February 25, 2010.”

NHDC also says that it can terminate the Development Agreement if Simons becomes insolvent, commits a breach of the agreement or does not complete works by the relevant deadline.

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The report continues: “The council has and will continue to proactively publish information about the project in order to assist and inform the public debate.

“All publicly available documents can be viewed on the council’s website and in Hitchin Library. It is to be noted that some of these documents contain redactions [have been edited] for commercial sensitivity reasons.”

The report was requested by councillors on the Hitchin area committee.

Chairman Judi Billing said: “We had asked officers to give more information, and councillors felt pleased to be given this, while understanding the commercial sensitivity of some aspects.

“The committee also asked because of lobbying from members of the public.”

Town centre group Keep Hitchin Special said that the report should be challenged, as it still failed to appropriately inform the public and councillors.

Chairman Chris Parker said: “Reports to Hitchin committee on Churchgate have failed to inform councillors and the public on what is going on. Secrecy breeds mistrust which is unhealthy for local democracy.”

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