Destruction

HITCHIN S well-loved character and charm could be lost forever. This stark warning has come from concerned residents who fear the future of their town is jeopardised by the continued construction of blocks of flats. Believing that Hitchin has suffered at

HITCHIN'S well-loved character and charm could be lost forever.

This stark warning has come from concerned residents who fear the future of their town is jeopardised by the continued construction of blocks of flats.

Believing that Hitchin has suffered at the hands of developers, community action group Hitchin Forum says that current and proposed developments will rip the heart out of their precious historic town.

Developers have made planning applications to build four and five-storey housing complexes comprising the following:


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* 148 flats on land at Paynes Park (Brooker's Yard and adjacent areas)

* 105 flats and houses on land next to B&Q on Walsworth Road

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* 98 flats and houses on land at 134 to 150 Grove Road

Planning permission is yet to be granted by North Herts District Council and Hitchin Forum is keen to highlight the possible implications on the picturesque market town.

Spokesman from the Forum, Ellie Clarke, says that they are worried about the suitability of the homes being built.

She said: "Most of them consist of small flats, with the absolute minimum of open space or amenity areas, so residents are likely to move on to larger and better accommodation as quickly as they can.

"The social implications of a highly mobile population are often a lack of neighbourliness or commitment to the area.

"We are in danger of seeing tomorrow's ghettos being built today."

Hitchin Forum has also branded the new large developments "unneighbourly and totally out of character" with the town's historic buildings.

Government recommendations currently indicate that in towns such as Hitchin, developments should achieve densities in the region of 40 to 75 dwellings per hectare (dph).

Mrs Clarke said: "Densities are now being developed/proposed which are far in excess of Government guidelines.

"What is proposed on the land next to B&Q would give 161 dph, at Grove Road 163 dph and at Brooker's 178 dph.

"To achieve these densities, developers want blocks of flats four or five storeys high."

Hitchin Forum is worried, for example, that the proposed flats on the Brooker's site will be taller than the Corn Exchange, dominating the town's Market Place and its centuries-old buildings.

Economically, Hitchin Forum is wary about the town's future as more brownfield sites are turned into residential developments.

Mrs Clarke said: "With another 2,000-3,000 residents in Hitchin, there has to be retail growth and there are fewer and fewer sites left available.

"The developers say they are merely responding to market demand, but it increasingly looks like they are defining the town's future."

In conclusion, Mrs Clarke said: "The council, as the local planning authority, needs to urgently agree policies to control the scale and impact of new building to protect Hitchin's character and economy."

A council spokesman said: "The council has an approved development strategy set out in the North Hertfordshire District Local Plan No 2 with alterations, and planning briefs have been prepared for large sites such as Churchgate, Paynes Park and Ransoms.

"Planning applications are only approved where they are acceptable in planning terms (including such issues as impact on conservation areas, density and traffic generation).

"When refusals are appealed against by developers, the council's record of success is very good.

"We will shortly be starting consultation on the relevant local development framework documents (the replacement for the local plan) and the type of issues the Forum referred to will be considered in early public consultation.

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