Controversy over Hitchin Churchgate plans

One week into the public consultation process and controversy is already raging over plans to redevelop Hitchin’s historic town centre.

Last week around 1,500 people visited a four day exhibition showing proposals for the Churchgate area of Hitchin at St Mary’s Church in the town and reaction from some has been vehemently opposed.

In a collective letter to The Comet, Hitchin Society said it was “profoundly disappointed by the scheme,” the extent of which members found “completely unacceptable.”

“The proposal extends far beyond the existing Churchgate Centre and aims to build on virtually every open space surrounding St Mary’s Church. There is a vast gap between the council’s brief and what is now proposed,” Keith Montague, vice chairman of the group said.

Pirton resident Owain Lister, was equally disappointed by the plans by North Herts District Council’s chosen developer Simons. She said: “The scheme will mean the loss of general use of Market Place. The space is not big enough to accommodate the market and I believe a smaller market would not survive.”

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A council spokesman said issues of concern had been raised in response to the plans. These included the future location and servicing of the market, the scale of the buildings proposed for the St Mary and Portmill Lane car parks, the impact on other town centre businesses and existing Churchgate traders, the overall parking strategy and loss of Market Place for events, activities and specialist markets.

But she added that positive feedback had been received for plans to open up the River Hiz, create a piazza area and demolishing the existing Churchgate buildings. She added: “Some people commented favourably on how some of the proposed design elements would be in keeping with the character of the town and the way in which the proposed car park was to be disguised. Many people liked the idea of a new open-air shopping street linked to Biggin Lane and the opportunity to use high quality building materials.”

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Tom Brindley, NHDC portfolio holder for planning and transport, said: “We are very pleased with the level of public interest in this initial vision for the future of Hitchin, and we would like to thank people for taking the time to come along and give us their views.

‘‘The discussion and debate was very well informed and we hope that people will have left the exhibition with an appreciation of the way the council and Simons are seeking to improve Hitchin town centre while preserving its historic character and its special identity. They will be taking all the views into account as further work is undertaken on the scheme proposals.”

The exhibition is now at Hitchin Library until June 5 and the plans can also be viewed online at

Public consultation will continue for a year before a planning application is considered.

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