Hitchin Forum and Friends of Butts Close delighted by access road refusal

PUBLISHED: 16:02 29 January 2018 | UPDATED: 18:09 30 January 2018

Butts Close in Hitchin. Picture: Kevin Lines

Butts Close in Hitchin. Picture: Kevin Lines

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Groups who opposed a plan to build an access road across Butts Close in Hitchin have expressed their joy after it was last week rejected by a government planner.

Left to right: Anna Parr, advisor to Friends of Butts Close on common land planning, Tony Riley from Friends of Butts Close, and objectors Bill Sellicks and Neil Dodds from Hitchin Forum at the public inquiry at Hitchin Town Hall. Picture: Simon MaddisonLeft to right: Anna Parr, advisor to Friends of Butts Close on common land planning, Tony Riley from Friends of Butts Close, and objectors Bill Sellicks and Neil Dodds from Hitchin Forum at the public inquiry at Hitchin Town Hall. Picture: Simon Maddison

Planning inspector Mark Yates refused North Herts District Council’s application to build an 80m road across common land as part of a scheme to provide extra parking at Hitchin Swimming Centre for up to 106 vehicles.

Groups that opposed the plan included the Friends of Butts Close – an informal group of about 30 neighbours that works with the district council’s officers to care for the site, and Hitchin Forum.

The inspector eventually agreed with their objections, concluding that any benefits would not outweigh the damage to the common land. He also found that alternative parking options, such as encouraging use of the Lairage multi-storey car park next to Waitrose, had not been adequately explored.

Tony Riley, speaking on behalf of the Friends of Butts Close, said: “We recognise that there are parking pressures for customers of the swim centre and the gym, but the council’s plans could have more than doubled the number of parking spaces there, when the underused Lairage car park is just five minutes’ walk away.”

A map showing the land held by the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust at Top Field and across Fishponds Road at Butts Close. Picture: HCCTA map showing the land held by the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust at Top Field and across Fishponds Road at Butts Close. Picture: HCCT

The road would have been built on land now owned by the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust, which had agreed a deal to transfer the land to NHDC if its plan got the necessary consents.

Hitchin Forum, to which the Friends of Butts Close group is affiliated, had strongly backed its objections to the plan. Chairman Bill Sellicks said Hitchin Forum was delighted by the decision.

“For some, the use of a car may be a necessity, but NHDC needs to look at ways of incentivising walking and cycling to the centre rather than incentivising car use as it does at the moment,” he said.

“For customers visiting the centre from the south of Hitchin or the Luton or Stevenage directions, the Lairage car park has the potential to shorten their journey and reduce congestion, albeit for a slightly longer walk.

“Centre users parking there could have their parking fees refunded at reception, just as users of the centre car park do at present – an arrangement available to Archers gym members, but inadequately publicised at present.”

NHDC’s leisure portfolio holder Councillor Jane Gray said last week: “We are naturally disappointed by the decision, as our surveys indicate that parking is up to or over capacity on the majority of days.”

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