Fears for Future of Museum

PLANS to turn a town hall into a district museum have raised more questions than answers. Proposals by North Herts District Council (NHDC) to convert Hitchin Town Hall into a museum at a cost of �3.5m have caused Hitchin residents and action groups to q

PLANS to turn a town hall into a district museum have raised more questions than answers.

Proposals by North Herts District Council (NHDC) to convert Hitchin Town Hall into a museum at a cost of �3.5m have caused Hitchin residents and action groups to question the future of their heritage and public space.

In a money-saving move last month NHDC announced it will close Letchworth Museum in 2011 and mooted the idea of combining the collection with that of Hitchin Museum to form a new district museum in Hitchin Town Hall.

This would probably spell the end of the current Hitchin Museum which has served the town since 1939 and opens up questions about the future use of the town hall for public events.


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David Howlett, chairman of Hitchin Historical Society which has been involved with Hitchin Museum for many years, said: "The future of the museum is very important to us. We've got some reservations because we don't know exactly what's being proposed - we need to know in detail.

"I hope that we won't be confronted with a fait accompli. I hope people can look at what is proposed and make a decision. Hitchin is the historic core of North Herts and we don't want to see it reduced to a tiny piece of that."

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Town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: "I understand the local authority desire to do something useful with the town hall, and God knows it needs some upgrades, but it may just be expediency.

"The concerns we have are the juxtaposition of the museum and the main hall. It's important that the main hall is kept as a function hall. It's the only place in Hitchin where you can hold larger events.

"The other concern is over the physic garden (at Hitchin Museum) - how does that relate to the museum? And what happens to the chemist shop above the museum? You've got the lovely green space outside the museum - it's possible to make better use of its site.

"And this idea of a North Herts Museum, I'm not sure that people from Royston and that end of the county will come."

Chris Parker, chairman of Keep Hitchin Special said: "The Gym and Workman's Hall make up a large area of the town hall and it could become problematic for the use of the main hall where people have weddings and dances. And if they were to use the main hall it would take that away from the people of Hitchin.

"And what would happen to the existing museum, which has an order on it stating it cannot be used for any other purpose?"

John Robinson, NHDC Strategic Director for Customer Services, said:

"Following Cabinet's decision to bring forward the construction of a new museum for the district, officers are examining the necessary steps that will need to be taken and will present a revised project timetable to Cabinet in due course for approval. This will detail financial arrangements and any closure implications.

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