Could controversial Hitchin museum entrance be sold to private firm?

If part of Hitchin Town Hall is bought by a private company it could cause all sorts of issues for t

If part of Hitchin Town Hall is bought by a private company it could cause all sorts of issues for the town centre venue, already dogged by delays and overspends - Credit: Archant

Fears are growing of an almighty Hitchin Town Hall cock-up which could see the entrance to the still-unopened museum end up in the hands of a private business.

The troubled revamp overseen by North Herts District Council has seen outside parties bid for the front section of 14-15 Brand Street – which houses the museum in the back of the building – after it was put up for sale by receivers appointed by the project’s major funder, the Social Investment Bank.

The Comet understands at least one outside party has bid for part of the site, intending to turn it into a restaurant – potentially blocking off the front entrance to the museum.

If the building was to fall into private hands it could also mean wheelchair users would be unable to reach the Lucas Room on the first floor of the Town Hall – a place where many community events are to be held.

One wheelchair user told the Comet: “I’m disgusted the entrance to the museum could fall into the hands of a private buyer

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“I’m also extremely concerned many people in my situation wouldn’t be able to reach the first floor.

“The whole sorry saga is just farcical.”

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A bidding process is currently in place for the site, which acts as the entrance to the museum – as well as providing a lift with wheelchair access to the first floor.

The potential scenario has arisen after Hitchin Town Hall Ltd – the company formed to oversee the running of the building on the council’s behalf, and which holds the lease to 14-15 Brand Street before both parties were embroiled in a bitter legal dispute – sought to recover losses incurred during the wrangling.

Chairman Stephen Pike said: “I’ve repeatedly warned the district council of the dangers of allowing the property to be in the hands of the receivers.

“An unwelcome consequence of this is we are now left with an external bidder – which is no good for the facility or the community.

“We’ll look to see if there’s anything we can do to save the building for the community.”

Property consultant Eddisons is marketing 14-15 Brand Street, with surveyor Tom Colyer confirming that there has been interest from several independent parties who have already viewed the Brand Street site.

Asked by the Comet for a response, a district council spokesman said: “We have no comment to make at this time.”

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