High streets minister visits Hitchin to discuss Churchgate plans
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
High streets minister Jake Berry was given a guided tour of Hitchin yesterday as he discussed North Herts District Council’s plans for the regeneration of Churchgate.
Mr Berry was shown round the town centre area by Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami, town centre manager Tom Hardy and the Churchgate Resurgence PB group – who have come up with alternative suggestions – learning about Churchgate’s history and future plans.
The tour came after the government opened bidding for the new £675 million Future High Street Fund, designed to help councils with high street regeneration.
“Leaders in Hitchin have shown an ambitious approach to regeneration in their town centre,” said Mr Berry, who is the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth.
“Town centres and high streets must be fit for the future if they are to remain at the heart of our communities for generations to come.
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“Our Future High Streets Fund will help ensure town centres are supported in becoming the community hubs of the future and I look forward to receiving Hitchin’s application.”
Built in 1971, Churchgate was described at the time as a “space age development to keep up with Luton and Stevenage”.
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But, after calls for refurbishment first being made in 1986, its redevelopment has been on the cards for more than 30 years.
“At least 30 years after it was first suggested, finally redeveloping Churchgate is a real priority,” said Mr Afolami.
“As your MP, I am committed to getting this done. The people of Hitchin have been waiting for too long.”
Mr Afolami was delighted to welcome Mr Berry to Hitchin, and confirmed that there will be an application for the Future High Streets Fund. He said: “It was a pleasure to invite government minister Jake Berry to come and see Hitchin town centre, and in particular discuss our plans to finally redevelop Churchgate.
“He is responsible for allocating the £675m Future High Streets Fund, which is to help town centres like ours adapt and make our town even better.
“We will be applying to the government’s fund to help fund the development that we need to see.
“It was a pleasure to show Hitchin to the minister so he can see the wonderful opportunities that an updated Churchgate can provide.”
Hitchin Bearton ward councillor and chair of the NHDC Hitchin Committe, Ian Albert also show Mr Berry around Churchgate and for regeneration plans to be financially viable.
“I welcome the visit from Jake Berry and the active engagement of Bim Afolami in any new plans for Churchgate,” said cllr Albert.
“The new Government High Street Fund encapsulates why the cross-party Hitchin Committee successfully supported encouraging NHDC to work closely with the local community and in particular the Churchgate Resurgence group who have come up with an innovative concept for a redeveloped centre.
“Any new scheme must be financially viable for residents and taxpayers. It needs to have at its foundation that NHDC controls the lease as well as freehold on Churchgate.
“But the best way to achieve a new development is through a mix of retail, social, entertainment and as importantly residential usage. This is the type of scheme that could attract additional funding from Government and fits well with the concept produced by Churchgate Resurgence.”