Council proposal to buy Hitchin’s Churchgate lease one of three options which could see taxpayers hit again

Long-running Churchgate saga set to cost taxpayers more money

Long-running Churchgate saga set to cost taxpayers more money - Credit: Archant

Three options have been put forward to try and solve the long-running Churchgate saga – including a proposal to spend more taxpayers’ money on the ill-fated Hitchin site.

The news comes after owners Hammersmatch were unable to continue with existing plans for the stalled town centre project – which included a cinema, housing and businesses.

North Herts District Council announced there will be three options available for councillors to discuss at a meeting on Thursday, February 11.

The first option would be to do nothing and wait for the fruition of Local Plan results – expected to be announced during Spring 2018, before aligning strategy with the prevailing findings.

A second would be to progress discussions with Hammersmatch and its new partner UGC on a brand new scheme – with no mention of how much it would cost – or thirdly, exploring the possibility of the council buying the Churchgate lease.

For such a town centre site the cost could run into millions – which the taxpayer would have to foot.

Hitchin councillor Richard Thake told the Comet: “I will listen very closely to what my constituents tell me in terms of their views on Churchgate.

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“But what I would ask is whether option three – the buying of a lease on a site that already contributes money constitutes good value.

“I am not convinced today that would help progress the question of what to do with Churchgate, the continuance of trade there, and the question of the market.”

Council leader Lynda Needham added: “We are disappointed a viable solution can’t be found for the original smaller scheme.

“This leaves us in a difficult position in terms of the way forward.

“As we are effectively back at square one, the project board feel it’s time to take stock and await the production of a new town centre strategy – as this will help inform our thoughts on what is needed to create a viable scheme which meets the needs of future generations.”

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