Fears over retail store for Hitchin Top Field confirmed

DRAWINGS unveiled this week confirm residents’ fears that developers want to build a superstore at Top Field.

New Road (Clifton) Ltd and the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust announced plans in May, to sell off Hitchin Town Football Club’s ground, in order to build on the site.

Neither would confirm what sort of development would take place, although residents, groups and businesses feared it would be a supermarket or retail store which would impact on town centre trade.

But a sketch – drawn up two years ago – has now been submitted to North Herts District Council and shows plans for a store on site.

New Road also admitted to the Comet retail use for the site may be its preferred option.

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Although it has not submitted a planning application, the developers, through an agent, has requested a screening opinion – effectively asking advice on whether the site should be subject to an environmental impact assessment.

The drawing was submitted as part of this process.

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The plan shows a large retail store – where the stadium currently stands – accompanied by car parking and other associated works.

Cllr Judi Billing has openly spoken about opposing plans to sell and build on Top Field, as well as proposals to build a new stadium on Green Belt land in St Ippolyts.

She told the Comet: “It’s them [the developers] being clever and putting down a marker as quickly as they can. They are putting their cards on the table. I don’t trust a single thing that’s going on with the Cow Commoners and New Road.

“They are ignoring the wishes of people in the town.

“I don’t understand how anybody can wake up in the morning with plans to build in two different ways that offend Hitchin town that badly.”

She added: “They are not listening to what is going on, they are saying they will go ahead and build a supermarket in a way that will inconvenience residents, damage the town centre and create a highways hazard. It’s horrible.”

Although the drawings are not part of a planning application they reveal New Road’s preferred option for the site.

Town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: “I shivered when I saw it [the drawing], it filled me with dread.

“It’s actually quite a comprehensive little drawing, dated September 2010.

“So how come people have denied knowledge of it? I think a lot of people have known about this for a while, and now it’s just crawling out to greet us all.

“Our position is exactly as it was – we would oppose commercial development of this site.”

A screening opinion for the St Ippolyts site – where New Road wants to build a replacement stadium – has also been submitted to North Herts District Council.

New Road’s Richard Daniels said: “The screening opinion has been submitted on behalf of my company by our planning consultants. They are following normal procedure.

“We are looking at several different options [for the site].”

When asked by the Comet if retail use was the preferred option for Top Field, he said: “It could well be.”

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