Hitchin Churchgate redevelopment plans ‘misleading’, groups claim

This drawing shows the market in St Mary's Car Park - a move which is opposed by residents

This drawing shows the market in St Mary's Car Park - a move which is opposed by residents - Credit: Archant

TOWN centre groups have hit out at the latest plans by the Churchgate redevelopment contractor, claiming they are “misleading”.

Another artists impression shows a retail street

Another artists impression shows a retail street - Credit: Archant

Simons, which is contracted for the Hitchin project, put a series of new plans on display in Hermitage Road at the weekend, after a two-year silence.

One of the drawings by Simons

One of the drawings by Simons - Credit: Archant

And it has since been revealed Simons may also ask North Herts District Council (NHDC) for more cash – to the tune of £2m – to attract an “anchor store”.

Mary and Michael Taylor study the plans for the churchgate development in Hitchin

Mary and Michael Taylor study the plans for the churchgate development in Hitchin - Credit: Archant

Mike Clarke, chairman of Hitchin Forum, said: “We believe taxpayers will object very strongly to this.

Keith Neill-Smith the architect studies the plans on display for the churchgate project in Hitchin

Keith Neill-Smith the architect studies the plans on display for the churchgate project in Hitchin - Credit: Archant

“It is clear to us Simons do not have the resources to proceed with this development.

“We do not think the residents of North Herts should have to fund something that many people in Hitchin don’t even want.”

Simons is also asking for an 18-month cut-off date extension – a move which many fiercely oppose.

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“Simons have been fiddling with these proposals for three years,” said The Hitchin Society’s Keith Montague.

“Meanwhile, there is continuing uncertainty that this is blighting the centre of Hitchin.”

An NHDC spokesman said Simons would be “endeavouring” to ensure the council wouldn’t have to cough up.

“They continue to explore all options to deliver a viable scheme,” he added.

At an area committee meeting on Tuesday, Hitchin councillors sent out a strong message to Simons and other councillors, by stating they opposed any time extension.

They unanimously passed a motion saying they “most strongly” believed – based on information they had – no extension should be granted.

A special council meeting will be held at the end of the month to consider future options, including the possibility of that time extension. And current leaseholders of Churchgate Shopping Centre, Hammersmatch, will put their rival plans on display next week.

There was also a meeting of the Churchgate Liaison Forum last night (Wednesday).

Simons, which gave a presentation, apologised for its long absence. It said it had received a lot of positive feedback from the exhibition.

Although three people at the meeting praised plans, claiming Hitchin needed to move on, the majority criticised the scheme.

Hitchin Markets’ John Haykin said Simons had not been in contact for 18 months – although Simons claimed it was around nine.

Mr Haykin said: “I don’t remember having any meetings [in that time], but even nine months is a long time when you finish off [your presentation] claiming the market is key to this scheme.”

• For more on Churchgate – including reaction from Simons, other groups, and Hitchin councillors, see this week’s Comet. For more on the CLF meeting and Hammersmatch’s plans, see next week’s Comet.