Churchgate retail development plans claimed ‘too risky’

PROPOSALS on a major shopping centre redevelopment were described as “absolutely ridiculous” and “too risky” by residents this week, who claimed that they “don’t want to be like any other town.”

Residents piled into the packed Churchgate Liaison Forum (CLF) meeting to discuss their views on the Simons’ Churchgate development in Hitchin, with many voicing their disagreement on proposals to knock down the shopping centre.

One said: “In the centre, there are some very good shops. It seems absolutely ridiculous. These are shops that people really like and the prospect of destroying them is something that nobody wants.”

Another resident asked Simons: “Why do we need more retail shops when there are already so many empty ones.”

The issue of introducing a department store into the town was also brought up in the meeting.

One attendee said: “We have had three department stores in Hitchin. I’ve lived here for 40 years and have watched each of them disappear,” with another adding “we haven’t got the people who will support these stores.”

Simons representative Charles Vyvyan was present at the meeting to address questions.

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“To actively attract new retailers into Hitchin, our only solution was that we would have to demolish the centre,” he said.

“We would be looking to find alternative locations for retailers within the town. We believe that these proposals would improve that area.”

Mr Vyvyan also said that he was unable to name potential retailers but added that Simons were “proposing for an anchor store.”

John Urwin of Hitchin Forum told Mr Vyvyan that people weren’t adverse to change but claimed that the proposals were too much.

“Your scheme is risky. Hitchin is a successful town so why risk it. We can dip our toes in the water and see what the effect will be,” he said.

“What you are coming up with is too big. When damage is done, it’s done. Let’s get it right. We don’t know what effect this will have on the rest of Hitchin.”

It was agreed that the next CLF meeting scheduled for January should be cancelled so that there would be more information available at the following forum.

There were also suggestions to make the pre-discussion section longer, which was agreed by chairman Martin Stears-Handscomb.

The next CLF panel will be held on March 23, with the pre-discussion held after the formal meeting.