Hitchin redevelopment contractor breaks silence

THE contractors for a controversial town centre redevelopment project will break a two-year silence when it puts its latest ideas on the table today (Thursday).

Residents and town groups have been calling on Simons, which is contracted by North Herts District Council to carry out Hitchin’s Churchgate redevelopment, to pull out of the project.

But the developer, which recently asked for an extension to submit a planning application, doesn’t look likely to back down just yet, and will hold a series of information days today, Friday and Saturday. It will also host a public forum, 22 months after scrapping such meetings.

Town centre manager Keith Hoskins remains unconvinced by Simons’ plans.

He said: “Sure, the high streets are busy, but are people spending? We have to question that. I’m not sure that people want to see that level of building in the current climate, and they certainly don’t want more flats.”

It’s a busy month as far as the Churchgate saga is concerned, with the current leaseholders of Churchgate shopping centre, Hammersmatch, also due to exhibit plans, and councillors to decide at a special meeting whether the contractor should be granted its time extension.

A spokesman from the district council couldn’t comment on Hammersmatch’s plans, but did say officers would report on all potential options for the future of the Churchgate area in time for the special meeting at the end of the month.

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A report prepared for next week’s Hitchin area committee adds: “Simons are carrying out the exhibition and the Churchgate Liaison Forum meeting in early January to afford the time to analyse the responses to the consultation and to be included in the officer report.”

An offer by Keep Hitchin Special and residents to fund a meeting room in the town for the special council meeting has been turned down.

“This request was to enable the residents of Hitchin to attend rather than to try and get to Letchworth on public transport,” said chairman Chris Parker.

“[It] has been cold shouldered and totally ignored.”

• See next week’s Comet for a full report and reaction on Simons’ plans.