English Heritage questions Hitchin Churchgate proposals

MORE doubts have been cast over the feasibility of Hitchin’s Churchgate redevelopment project, after English Heritage said it “saw little merit” in current proposals.

The public body, whose urban panel visited the town in May, released its report to the public on Monday. Among its comments, it questioned Simons’ current proposals.

It said: “It will surely come as no surprise that panel members saw little merit in the current proposal emerging at Churchgate.

“They [the panel] regretted not being able to meet representatives of NHDC to hear the case for this kind of development being put, but imagined they would have been unlikely to be convinced.

“The Simons scheme appears to have been generated by a wish to impose on Hitchin a standard and, frankly, alien retail development.

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“The panel urges that more thought be given...before any scheme is finalised.”

The Churchgate shopping centre - a proposal which has seemingly divided opinion - was also mentioned in the report. Simons currently suggest tearing it down.

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The panel observed that it felt “remodelling [it] might be a more sustainable option”.

It also commented on the lack of national chains in the town, adding that most of its members had never seen a place with so much commercial activity in an environment without those sorts of shops.

Keep Hitchin Special’s (KHS) Robin Dartington told The Comet: “The report is obviously a significant step towards getting the council to recognise it made a mistake when appointing Simons.

“Now a statutory consultee - ignored so far by the council - has expressed very perceptive and devastating criticism of the council’s approach and of the scheme that has resulted.

“English Heritage saw clearly that the wrong scheme has emerged from the wrong process.”

Cllr Lynda Needham, leader of NHDC said: “Prior to the visit by English Heritage, we had made suggestions to their regional director about more appropriate and productive arrangements which would ensure that NHDC and its development partner could contribute to any discussions in an effective manner, however English Heritage were unable to accommodate those suggestions.

“A principle concern about the timing of the visit is that Simons were, and still are, in the process of preparing a scheme following public consultation on their initial vision for the Churchgate area and there is currently no draft scheme for the panel to make meaningful comments upon.

“The council is looking in detail at the report and will be responding to English Heritage in due course. We have also offered to meet with them, an offer we now repeat, and we hope to have further discussions with them in the coming months.”

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