Hitchin group proposes new opportunity for Churchgate

Members of Churchgate Resurgence PB, who have come up with a new plan for the market area. Picture:

Members of Churchgate Resurgence PB, who have come up with a new plan for the market area. Picture: CRPB - Credit: Archant

A group of Hitchin residents have come up with a plan for a new Churchgate – as the regeneration saga rumbles on.

A revamp of the has been on the cards for more than 30 years and has never come to fruition, with landowners North Hertfordshire District Council proposing a joint venture ‘face-lift’ of the site with the Shearer Property Group in February this year. The resident group, called Churchgate Resurgence PB, propose that New Churchgate should be built now and have drawn up plans which will be exhibited to the public.

CRPB Project director Robin Dartington – who is also a former councillor – said: “Hitchin is in its soul a market town, focused on Market Place, which has shaped its history.

“The main retail is in High Street and Bancroft north of Market Place and the restaurants are in Sun Street to the south.

“When the Market outgrew Market Place it was pushed away towards the river, separated from Market Place by a 1970s shopping centre that was never appropriate for Hitchin.

“The council regeneration of the run down shops in the Churchgate Centre would only perpetuate the mistake – and will miss the opportunity to re-unite Market Place, Hitchin Market and the river terraces used for special markets.

“That would reinvigorate not only Hitchin Market but the whole town centre, bringing in new traders, new visitors and opportunity for new community activities. It would also pay the council more rent for the land and more income from parking.

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“These opportunities will be put to the council at its meeting on November 22 when it would be good practice to look at all options before deciding on any contracts.

“No member of Churchgate Resurgence PB wants to be paid in future – this is our free offer to help the council manage the public land it now holds. The response of residents, businesses and visitors in the public consultation to be held shortly will be vital. Watch this space!”

As well as Robin, the group – who formed four months ago – is made up of architect Stephen Boddey, landscape architect Vicky Wyer and Steven Haynes, a property lawyer.

The proposal includes open-plan space where shops can pop-up as demand for retail varies, a new market closely linked to Market Place, a level riverside walk from Hermitage Road, – past the Portmill car parks, into the new market – and an auditorium for films, music and community meetings. To pay for it all, flats and studio apartments would be built in the unused air space above, but the studios could targeted at low income renters, particularly those working unsocial hours in the town centre.

The regeneration progress will be discussed at a special meeting of NHDC Hitchin Committee preceded by a Town Talk for all members of the public at 6.30pm at Highover School. There’s also cabinet on November 20 and full council on November 22.

CRPB will put their ideas to the public through an exhibition on the weekend of November 16 and 17, and have a survey for the public to fill out on the plans. For more information email rdartington@gmail.com.

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