Concerns over Hitchin community centre provision

A HITCHIN organisation has claimed that a council community halls strategy, which includes plans to tear down Bancroft Hall, is flawed.

Hitchin Bridge Club, which uses the hall, says that the North Herts District Council (NHDC) strategy has several discrepancies and fails to address certain points.

Among these are the fact that Hitchin Town Hall will be closed while it undergoes development, leaving a lack of community space.

It also claimed in its presentation to Hitchin area committee on Tuesday that the figure NHDC had recommended as 0.1sq m of space per person was less than other districts.

The club has suggested to NHDC that it could use its charitable status to help fund a new community provision, but this has so far received no response.

“This figure of 0.1sq m is less than all the other local authority districts CHSR compares itself with by an average of 64 per cent. Why should we aim for such significant less provision?” said club chairman Margaret Eddleston.

“We are particularly concerned with the provision on community centre space in Hitchin and the recommendation to demolish Bancroft Hall.

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“The [strategy] makes decisions and assumptions that are not based on evidence and from those decisions and assumptions, makes recommendations which, if implemented, will have serious and detrimental effects on the provision of community centre space.”

The club also said that community facilities were used more than the council has credited in its report.

“Some of the venues listed are not hired out to the public at all and two are looking for additional space for their own activities,” said Margaret.

“There are currently large pockets of people living in confined areas in the central part of Hitchin who have no community hall provision.

“If all these people had been housed on a new development we would have insisted on providing a community hall for them. Why should they have not only no new provision, but a decrease in what already exists? That population increase in itself should justify a new community hall.”

Cllr Judi Billing, chairman of Hitchin area committee, said that although the hall had passed its sell-by-date, it would need to be replaced.

“The council says that there’s sufficient halls in Hitchin to meet all needs but actually, there isn’t,” she said.

“You’ve got to put people first, not just think about buildings.”

Liz Green, head of policy and community services at NHDC, said: “There is evidence to suggest that there is an over provision of community halls in the district so we are looking carefully at all the community facilities, and whether they give residents the very best value for money. Bancroft Hall has been highlighted in the strategy as being one of the halls that is underused.

”We are committed to listening to what the community has to say and will give every view our due consideration.”