Hitchin Town Hall’s still not open and costing £28,000 a month – but council chairman’s booked it for private bash

Hitchin Town Hall and Museum

Hitchin Town Hall and Museum - Credit: Archant

Plans to hold a swish civic bash at Hitchin Town Hall before it opens to the public have sparked outrage.

Ray Shakespeare-Smith chairman of North Herts District Council

Ray Shakespeare-Smith chairman of North Herts District Council - Credit: Archant

North Herts District Council chairman Councillor Ray Shakespeare-Smith, who represents the town’s Walsworth ward and is pictured above right, is due to hold his annual civic reception at the troubled site on Friday, March 18.

But with the site still not open to the public – and costing the council more than £28,000 every month it remains closed – the invitation-only event has provoked a furious response.

The project is already running a staggering £1.12m over budget, with more hefty costs expected before the doors can be opened.

Keep Hitchin Special chairman Chris Parker said: “I think it’s absolutely disgusting. This whole grubby scenario smacks of cronyism.

“Does the council exist for the benefit of councillors or hard-working taxpayers?

“It’s unbelievable the council would be so insensitive as to hold a private party at a still-closed facility which has already cost taxpayers an awful lot of money.

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“It is just astounding. An awful lot of people in Hitchin feel the same as me – so I’d like to remind them it’s the local elections in May.

“This really is an absolute scandal. I’m not just angry, I’m appalled at such blatant disregard of taxpayers’ money – they’re holding a private party while thumbing their noses up at us.

“Their behaviour simply beggars belief.”

The Comet approached Councillor Shakespeare-Smith for his response to the complaints, but he preferred not to comment.

A district council spokesman said: “The booking for the civic reception on March 18 has been made as part of the preparations to open Hitchin Town Hall.

“We will be using external caterers for large events of this sort.

“We continue to work hard behind the scenes to open the doors to the restored town hall as soon as we possibly can.

“There is a council budget set aside each year for the chairman’s reception with the event also used as an opportunity to raise money for the chairman’s charity.”

Those on the guest list at the annual civic reception, held towards the end of a chairman’s year in office, include local dignitaries, mayors and council chairmen from neighbouring local authorities, and leading lights in the community. Last year’s reception was held at the new North Herts College buildings in Cambridge Road, with students in charge of the catering.