Walsworth Road development falls far short of what Hitchin needs, say residents
- Credit: Maya Derrick
Hitchin residents are continuing to voice their objections to a proposed redevelopment that would result in the demolition of a historic building in the heart of the town.
An application has been put in for 18 new flats on the current Kwik Fit site on busy Walsworth Road, flattening the current infrastructure to make way for a new four-storey building.
The development would also include 10 off-road car parking spaces and two bike stores for up to 18 bikes to the rear of the vicinity.
The plans would see the demolition of the Kwik Fit building, which was once Sanders - Hitchin's producer of horse-drawn carriages and bodywork for early cars at the start of the 20th century.
Many people objected due to the historical and sentimental value of the property, with fears that the replacement building would not complement other existing structures.
On behalf of Hitchin Forum, Ellie Clarke told the Comet: "I think what we are talking about is 'place making' rather than 'space filling'. It's really important that what is built relates to the rest of the street and contributes to creating a neighbourhood for people.
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"Light, views, green space, trees, front doors to the street, front gardens - all these contribute to people meeting each other, knowing where people live, who people are, not overlooking each other but engaging each other."
In a letter to the district council, the forum detailed that the existing structure is one of the town's "remarkable and significant" historic buildings "of which Hitchin should be proud", adding: "Following consultation with Hitchin Historical Society members, it is suggested that as much of the original street façade/structure as possible should be retained, restored and incorporated in any redevelopment...If, in spite of these representations, some or all of the Sanders building is lost, it should be a planning condition that a full photographic/plan survey is made for the local historical record."
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The forum also highlighted the impact of the redevelopment's design - branding the plans "monolithic in appearance", and adding "being higher than the existing building, will give the street an enclosed aspect, together with echoing traffic noise and trapped exhaust fumes".
Currently, 28 objections have been lodged against the proposal, with four supporting and a further three remaining neutral.
Another objector, Dr Georgina Porter, who works at Lister, echoed the sentiment of others on aesthetic grounds, but also on the basis of health.
She wrote: "People’s working patterns have been adjusted, and many think for good, as they have been having to work from home and the infrastructure for that put in place, the centuries of rural migration to urban centres have gone into reverse; the soul-destroying slog of commuting seems slightly old-fashioned. People have taken comfort and nourishment from their close communities, and time spent connecting with the natural world.
"As a doctor I have noted all this, as well as working through the pandemic at Lister Hospital and seeing first-hand the effects of COVID-19 on the body and the mental health toll caused by lockdown.
"I see very little in this development that is conducive to good health."
Susan Dye and Ashley Walker live a stone's throw from the Kwik Fit site.
They said: "We do not oppose redevelopment per se, but feel that this proposal is inappropriate and a poor use of the site for future residents, local neighbouring properties and other users of the street as a whole.
"Given NHDC has declared a climate emergency and we have no time to lose to cut our collective carbon footprint, this application falls far short of what Hitchin needs.
"The design has aimed for maximum density, minimum amenity with no concern for impact on neighbours or the street environment. The additional 10 cars are just that…another 10 cars in a location which frankly couldn’t be better suited to car–free living.
"After going child free, living car free is the single most effective choice someone can make to cut their carbon footprint. Why pass up this opportunity at this time, in this place?"
Cllr Ian Albert, who represents the Bearton ward, said: "I don't believe the plans are acceptable in their current form - there are too many flats in too small a space for just one reason. But clearly there are many other reasons and concerns being raised by residents, including the bats in the building!"
Stating that the plans need significantly amending, he added: "Any development needs to be smaller and more in keeping with the older buildings in Walsworth Road, ideally reflect the history of the building and be more architecturally appropriate than some of the other flats that have been built along the road in recent years.
"I will work with residents and, hopefully, the developers to achieve these aims."
For more information on the Walsworth Road proposal, and to see the comments of other Hitchin residents, visit NHDC's planning portal, citing the reference 21/01649/FP.