NHDC to decide whether to move forward with Hitchin Churchgate plans

Churchgate Shopping Centre, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

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

An update on whether to move forward with proposals to regenerate Hitchin’s Churchgate Shopping Centre and rejuvenate the market will be presented to a district council meeting this evening.

A revamp of the centre has been on the cards for more than 30 years and has never come to fruition, with landowners North Hertfordshire District Council proposing a joint venture ‘face-lift’ of the site with the Shearer Property Group in February this year.

The report into the move has now been considered by cabinet, before the decision is made by full council this evening on whether to move forward with the next phase of detailed work.

A district council spokeswoman said a final decision on whether to proceed will be made at a later date.

She said: “On February 8, NHDC agreed to progress in principle a joint venture regeneration of the Churchgate Shopping Centre, with the council as funder.

“Following this a public consultation exercise was carried out in March/April 2018 which indicated widespread support for the initial proposals, with 86 per cent of respondents supporting the idea of regenerating the existing Churchgate centre and 93 per cent supporting the principle of investing in Hitchin’s market.

“Following this endorsement, further work has been undertaken on the proposals and a bid for funding has been submitted to the Local Enterprise Partnership to help ensure financial viability.

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“Given the positive public consultation response the proposal for the shopping centre is essentially still to carry out a facelift of the centre, with a mix of food and beverage outlets and retailers, however a significant change from the original proposal is the inclusion of a three screen cinema.”

On Tuesday last week, Churchgate was debated at a Town Talk with councillors – where a presentation for a new idea by Churchgate Resurgence PB was given – and by the Hitchin area committee. It was also discussed at a meeting of full council on Tuesday this week.

Councillor Lynda Needham, leader of the district council, said: “We have been trying to regenerate the Churchgate area over a number of years, with several different schemes coming forward. There is still a long way to go, but we are hopeful that this current scheme will prove to be financially viable and will bring significant benefits to the local community, by regenerating the shopping centre, the much-loved market and the surrounding public realm.”

The Hitchin Liberal Democrats have welcomed NHDC plans to move ahead with Churchgate, but said more could be done.

District councillor Sam Collins said: “There are a few good elements, but overall it lacks ambition and vision of its community counterpart.

“The concept we have been shown offers more retail flexibility and I think it is more commercially viable.

“I therefore urge the council to work together with Hitchin community groups to deliver an ambitious, versatile and modern redevelopment for the benefit of businesses and the wider community.”

District councillor Paul Clark said: “What I like about both NHDC and community plans is that they both open up the river more, I also think a cinema makes perfect sense. But there is room for improvement on NHDC’s plans. Specifically, the council must increase parking provision to support the development. We also need to make sure this process is not dragged out any further.”