Fight continues against development on Hitchin land

AN ACTION group which raised money to try and outbid a couple who want to develop on Green Belt land was unsuccessful in its aim, but its members have vowed “we will continue to fight”.

West of Hitchin Action Group (WHAG) has always been opposed to development on the land near Oughton Head way, claiming it should be retained for community use.

After hearing that the 4.5 acres of land was going up for auction just three days before, the group set out to raise funds so that it could buy the land and turn it into much-needed allotments.

Although it managed to secure a significant amount of money, it ultimately fell short, with an undisclosed couple winning the auction with a bid of �77,000 on Monday.

Nearby resident Ann Heymans told The Comet: “We only heard about the auction last Friday, and it was only by chance that we did.

“Over the weekend, a group of us talked about it, and got an amazing amount of support in just 24 hours. We put forward a reasonable bid, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough.

“Our problem is that the planning laws are being changed with preference given to developers. And a priority for housing has been given in the area.

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“We will mount a very strong opposition and challenge to any planning application put forward. It’s amazing the support that we got. If we had known a couple of weeks before, we may have been successful.

“I do think they [the successful bidders] will find it very difficult to get planning permission. That’s what happened to the person who owned it before, and that’s why it was up for sale.

“Trying to get an allotment in Hitchin is absolutely impossible. It would have been a wonderful community asset. People were quite excited by the prospect.”

The winning bid in the auction, which was coordinated by Strettons, was only marginally higher than the amount WHAG agreed it could put forward. The group, which is made up of residents from the Oughton Head and Lucas Lane area of the town, has said that it doesn’t want to disclose the figure.

Steve Barley, a spokesman for WHAG, said: “The plot was sold to a couple who confirmed that they were purchasing it for development opportunities. The residents group did politely point out that any future planning proposals would be met with strong opposition, but this was to no avail.

“The winning bid was �77,000, but these developers looked to be willing to go much higher. The residents’ group did not have an open wallet, hence they had to let it go.

“The residents group and WHAG cannot stress how much we were struck by everyone’s support and generosity. It didn’t take many people grouping together to come really close to making a difference to the local world we live in.”

When the sale is finalised next month and land registry updated, the bidders’ names will be revealed.

Although they confirmed that they intended to use the land for development, no timescale was indicated.