Hitchin Town Hall and North Herts Museum ‘crisis meeting’ next week
PUBLISHED: 08:32 19 January 2018
Just when are we going to see the North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin fully open? That will be the topic of discussion at a public ‘crisis meeting’ next week.
The meeting next Wednesday at The Sun Hotel, organised by campaigner Jackie McDonald, will come 24 hours after North Herts District Council’s cabinet members discuss the long-running museum debacle – which has cost the taxpayer millions.
Wednesday’s meeting, set to start at 7.30pm, will be chaired by former Comet editor Darren Isted. The speakers will be Ms McDonald, Labour councillor Ian Albert – attending in a personal capacity – and HTH Finance Ltd director and former Conservative councillor David Leal-Bennett.
A guest panel of four NHDC members – Tories Claire Strong, Simon Harwood and Steve Hemingway, and Martin Stears-Handscomb from the opposition Labour group – will be invited to answer questions from the public.
NHDC remains deadlocked with and Hitchin Town Hall Ltd – the trust originally set up to run the project – and bankers HTH Finance Ltd over the purchase of the effective museum entrance at 14/15 Brand Street. A price of £550,000 was agreed last March, but no deal has gone through. The museum is yet to fully open.
Mr Leal-Bennett told the Comet: “I will answer all questions openly and honestly. There is a lot of mistrust between the parties, but most important is that NHDC return to the negotiating table and put personalities aside.
“Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and HTH Finance Ltd believe we are within a whisker of agreeing a deal if we can only talk.”
The district council cabinet will discuss the matter at Foundation House in Letchworth on Tuesday night, starting at 7.30pm.
The acquisition of 14/15 Brand Street is to be discussed in two parts, with the cabinet set to vote on whether to exclude press and the public from part two. Councillors can do this where information defined as ‘exempt’ – for example, regarding legal proceedings – may be disclosed.
NHDC chief executive David Scholes’ part 1 report notes that reworking the building to open without 14/15 Brand Street would result in “a compromised offer to the public”, but says modification would be a viable option – and proposes applying for consent to alter the grade II-listed town hall.
The report also concludes that failure to reach an agreement with Hitchin Town Hall Ltd over 14/15 Brand Street would likely result in “complex, protracted and expensive” litigation.