Hitchin Churchgate: ‘Don’t make us wait any longer’, say residents

Churchgate Shopping Centre, Hitchin

Churchgate Shopping Centre, Hitchin - Credit: Archant

PLEAS have been made for a council to stop stalling over a town centre redevelopment, following revelations officers want to hold off on any decision making for another two years.

Hammersmatch's plans for the site, which were released in January

Hammersmatch's plans for the site, which were released in January - Credit: Archant

North Herts District Council officers are recommending a wait on deciding aspirations for the Churchgate area of Hitchin.

A Hammersmatch vision of the shopping precinct

A Hammersmatch vision of the shopping precinct - Credit: Archant

In a report released on Monday, they suggest waiting until the district’s local plan is adopted in mid-2015 and continuing “open dialogue” with interested developers in the meantime.

Town groups and residents criticised the recommendations, saying action could be taken now.

Hitchin Society, Hitchin Historical Society, Hitchin Forum and Hitchin Initiative, who met on Tuesday to discuss the report, said they were concerned and are calling for a forum to be set-up to encourage public discussion.

But they did welcome other aspects of the rest of the report, which ruled out options including preparing a new planning brief for the site and selling off the land.

“We are concerned at the recommendation to await the outcome of the local plan before considering what approach to take on Churchgate. This means doing nothing for the next two years, other than listening to what potential developers have got to say,” they said.

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“The two years until the local plan is adopted is a good time to involve the public in decisions about what is needed in the town centre generally and Churchgate in particular.”

Councillors, who will meet next Thursday evening at NHDC chambers to discuss the options, have also been told in the report that current proposals for the site are “not viable”.

It includes plans from Churchgate shopping centre owner Hammersmatch, which has said it wants to refurbish the precinct, relocate the market and build a cinema.

Hammersmatch managing director David Payne told the Comet the company was looking at the report and would be sending NHDC comments.

And town centre manager Keith Hoskins said he thought the plans should be further explored.

“I think we should be pursuing that to see if it’s realistically achievable,” he said, adding: “We’ve been waiting 30 years already and I think it’s now time we got on with it.

“It’s like chewing on a piece of gristle – we chew it and chew it, but at some point, something has got to happen.”

Residents in the town also called on the council to move ahead.

Nathan Lambert posted on Twitter: “I did an A-level geography project on the Churchgate redevelopment in 2001/2. Twelve years on, still no progress. Ridiculous.”

And Adam Mills labelled it “a farce”.

“It’s about time we just do something,” he added. “Too much time and money (has been) poured down the drain already.”

NHDC leader Cllr Lynda Needham claimed all options had been looked at by officers.

“Each of those options is, in some way, dependent on the adoption of a new local plan for North Herts,” she said.

“Not only will that determine the future scale and location of development in the area, it will also look closely at the future of town centres.

“If the council chose to await the adoption of the new local plan, this would not prevent any interested developers in having informal discussions with us in the interim.”

• You can track the meeting by following @laura_burge or #Cgate on Twitter, or visiting the Comet’s website at www.thecomet24.co.uk from 7pm onwards.

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