Hitchin community hall to go by 2014

A COMMUNITY hall which a council wants to close despite public opposition is likely to be demolished in 2014, it was announced this week.

Bancroft Hall, in Bancroft Gardens, Hitchin, was pinpointed for closure in a North Herts District Council Community Halls Strategy last year. The strategy said that the hall could be knocked down when the gardens undergo refurbishment.

A report, which will go to Cabinet on Tuesday, says that the building should be demolished after the reopening of Hitchin Town Hall, currently scheduled for 2014. Councillors are recommended to approve this.

There are still no plans to replace the hall, despite repeated appeals by users of the hall and opposition councillors.

Chairman of Hitchin Bridge Club Margaret Eddleston has proposed to the council to use the club’s charitable status to fund another facility, and will make a presentation on Tuesday. She said that the club had previously put a business case forward, which was ignored.

North Herts councillor Judi Billing added: “It’s a mess on so many levels, really. I can see no progress on the gardens refurbishment project, and we don’t yet really know when the museum will be open. When it does, I don’t think it will be able to soak up the activity from Bancroft.

“I think Bancroft Hall is an awful building, but people who use it need an alternative.”

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The district council plans to apply for Heritage Lottery Funding to renovate the gardens. It said that, in order to submit an application, there would have to be certainty on the future of the hall.

Cllr Tricia Cowley, NHDC’s portfolio holder for community engagement, said: “This timeline will give local community groups and existing hirers of facilities at Bancroft Hall two years to find alternative premises together with the support and full assistance from NHDC officers.

“The council is not actively seeking business proposals with regard to Bancroft Hall as the intention is that this facility will close. This ensures that the planned regeneration of Bancroft Gardens, previously agreed in our Green Space Strategy, can go ahead.

“NHDC officers have already been working closely with community groups that use the facilities suggesting possible alternatives. These have included commercial halls and premises, church halls and other local community halls as well as halls in council owned buildings.

“In terms of the Bridge Club itself, our planning team and relevant officers have and will continue to assist the group to find an alternative location and we are confident that a suitable location can be found.”