Criticism over recommendation to extend Churchgate deadline
RESIDENTS have said enough is enough, as it emerged this week the contractor responsible for delivering Hitchin’s controversial Churchgate redevelopment is requesting more time to get the project underway.
Those opposing the project will pack into North Herts District Council’s (NHDC) offices for tonight’s cabinet meeting, where councillors are recommended to agree to full council a series of extended deadlines for Simons.
Made by council officers following an approach from the contractor, the recommendations suggest extending a first cut-off date – in which Simons is supposed to submit a planning application – by six months. That would extend it to September 2013.
The contractor is also asking for an additional six months to assess whether a scheme is viable.
Mike Clarke, chairman of Hitchin Forum, urged cabinet not to grant any extensions.
“What is of great concern... is the ‘double whammy’ on Hitchin at the moment. The effects of an exceedingly difficult national economic situation on retailing are being compounded by the blight due to the uncertainty around Simons,” he said.
“In nearly three years, Simons has not been able to work up proposals for Churchgate that are appropriate, sustainable or viable. Staying with Simons closes down our options.”
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If cabinet gives the go-ahead tonight, full council will make a final decision on November 22.
Town centre manager Keith Hoskins, who will be attending tonight’s meeting, said: “Quite frankly, I don’t see what a six month extension will do, other than delay the inevitable.
“I think people want to get one with dealing with Churchgate, or what does it do, drag on for another 10 years. All this is going to do is prolong the uncertainty.”
Speaking to the Comet exclusively ahead of the meeting, NHDC officers said Simons had told them it was still committed to delivering the project.
Officers also said that an extension would allow the council to assess the impact of Government plans with respect to council funding.
“Over recent months, various alternative ideas have been put forward by Simons, and progress is being made on developing a revised proposal for further public consultation,” added Norma Atlay, NHDC’s strategic director finance.
“It is important for the future of Hitchin that key elements of the scheme are properly addressed.”
If the extension is not approved, NHDC could terminate the agreement by serving written notice on Simons, if a planning application has not been submitted by the first cut-off date.
A report made public this week shows alternative options to be explored, if in due course the council decides not to proceed with Simons.
They include granting the contractor a long extension, finding an alternative development partner, or investing more funds in the project.