Hitchin Labour group to oppose Churchgate conditions

Churchgate Shopping Centre, Hitchin

Churchgate Shopping Centre, Hitchin - Credit: Archant

The Hitchin branch of the Labour party will oppose recommendations for the redevelopment of a town centre shopping centre.

The party has said North Herts District Council has a “will to stall” the redevelopment of Hitchin’s Churchgate and the surrounding area.

Tonight, Thursday, members of the council will meet to discuss the six officer recommendations which say that any interested party who wants to redevelop the precinct will have to have full planning permission and a solution for the market and car parking before the council will enter into any discussions with them.

Another recommendation put forward is that the council will wait for the publication of the draft Local Plan and commit a budget of £10,000 to enable officers to get advice on the council’s ability to talk to interested parties.

On behalf of the Labour branch, secretary Deborah Segalini said: “The Labour group thinks that the recommendations on Churchgate, as they stand, do not help the project to proceed with any speed – it’s a will to stall. One of recommendation in particular proposes an unnecessary delay. We think the draft Local Plan is sufficient to go ahead with a project in that it is unlikely that the plan would change substantially in its requirements for a mixed use for the Churchgate site.

“The Labour group also thinks that it is unlikely that any developer would commit the substantial capital required to prepare a planning application without first being sure that the council is legally allowed to enter into exclusive discussions with them.”

Hammersmatch, the shopping centre’s owner, has been in dialogue with the council since the previous contract with Simons’ was terminated last year.

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The Hammersmatch proposal is a mixed development of refurbishing the existing centre, a proposed cinema and restaurant block into the current market area and residential above the existing centre. The market would be relocated to a wider area with more stalls.

In order to move its scheme forward Hammersmatch is asking the council to consider additional funding to employ consultants to value and negotiate over its proposals on behalf of the council.

A report prepared ahead of tonight’s meeting says that two other developers have put forward similar ideas but neither fulfil the council’s necessary criteria.

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