Hitchin's Westmill regeneration still on cards after £1 million question

PUBLISHED: 11:16 06 August 2018 | UPDATED: 11:16 06 August 2018

John Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

John Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2018 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved

More than £1 million set aside for a regeneration scheme in Hitchin remains in hand, amid concerns about delays to the project.

John Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOOJohn Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

Settle – formerly North Hertfordshire Homes – has been working alongside North Herts District Council on the John Barker Place redevelopment, which saw the new £2m Westmill Community Centre open in 2016.

The community centre has proved popular, but it opened six months late – and other parts of the Settle-led project including new homes, shops and a play area remain stalled two years later.

At a meeting of the district council’s cabinet last Tuesday, there was debate about £1,096,000 the Conservative-run authority has set aside to invest in the John Barker Place scheme.

This money has been carried forward for years as parts of the proposed revamp have failed to materialise – and discussing the district council’s 2018/19 capital budget, deputy leader Councillor Julian Cunningham said a decision had to be made sooner or later regarding the money.

John Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOOJohn Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

He said this would depend on how Settle moves forward with the Westmill regeneration.

Councillor Bernard Lovewell, the executive member for housing, said in response that there was “no better use” for the £1.1m than John Barker Place, and that the district council needed to get onto Settle about it.

“People in Westmill have been waiting for this for ages, and they need to see this investment turned into housing,” said Mr Lovewell, who represents Hitchin Walsworth ward.

Mr Cunningham, who represents Letchworth South East, said he had not meant to imply the John Barker Place project was not “a worthwhile programme”, and that he apologised if that was how it came across. He then referred to it as ‘John Baker Place’.

John Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOOJohn Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

The capital budget was passed with the £1,096,000 still set aside for John Barker Place.

Labour councillor Clare Billing, whose Oughton ward includes Westmill, told the Comet she had been regularly contacting Settle since she was elected back in May “to try and get some idea about what the issues are”.

She said she had a meeting with Settle this week to look at issues on the estate, and would be sure to mention John Barker Place again.

Settle’s executive director of homes, Shaun Holdcroft, said: “We’re working closely with the council on the redevelopment of John Barker Place and continue to discuss options for new homes, retail units and a play area.

“We’ve already delivered the hugely popular Westmill Community Centre in partnership with the council, and we expect the next phase to be as successful.”

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