‘Impossible to perform’ – Stark warning over Hitchin Town Hall project revealed in censored papers

Hitchin Town Hall and Museum.

Hitchin Town Hall and Museum. - Credit: Archant

Redacted minutes of a meeting show North Herts District Council was warned in advance it had entered into building work relating to the Hitchin Town Hall and district museum project which was impossible to perform, the Comet can reveal.

Minutes relating to a council meeting back on March 10, 2014, show the project manager had strongly warned district councillors about his reservations on being asked to construct a wall in Hitchin Town Hall on Brand Street which would limit the amount of stage space.

The document – made public at the time prior to being redacted by the authority – records project manager Steve Crowley saying: “The logical conclusion would be that the parties intentionally entered into an agreement which is impossible to perform.

“I would advise the parties should seek to rectify the development agreement as the inclusion of the requirement for a stud wall appears to be a mistake. “It would mean the parties knowingly proceeding on the basis it would not be possible to construct the ceiling in accordance with the approved planning permissions.”

But the wall was built by contractors on behalf of the council – leading to a bitter fallout between the authority and the company set up to oversee the running of the building, Hitchin Town Hall Ltd.

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The two parties have been at loggerheads ever since, with HTH Ltd claiming the wall’s construction breached the development agreement – something the council denies.

Hitchin Town Hall opened in July but the district museum has not.

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The saga has seen costs of the multi-million pound project increase substantially – with the use of 14/15 Brand Street as a district museum foyer area the latest in a long line of issues.

Speaking at a Hitchin area committee meeting on Tuesday night, the council’s strategic director John Robinson confirmed the authority had now vacated the site – which it does not own the lease for – after being given notice to do so by HTH Finance.

HTH Finance has bought the debt and security of HTH Ltd – effectively becoming its bankers.

HTH Ltd chairman Stephen Pike said: “I hope we can come to an 11th hour agreement.”

A councillor speaking on condition of anonymity told the Comet: “I have had enough of the whole situation. Certain councillors must be held to account for what has happened.”

Councillor Tony Hunter, the district council’s executive member for community engagement said: “The council has acted in accordance with its obligations under the development agreement. This agreement is a complex and detailed document out of which certain phrases have been lifted by HTH Ltd and do not provide the full context. We therefore refute in the strongest possible terms HTH Ltd’s claim that we have breached this agreement.

“HTH Ltd had the option to evoke the arbitration procedure, which they were entitled to do as this part of the development agreement, however they chose not to do so. We are currently pursuing the offer of an initial discussion with HTH Ltd however, while there is a possibility of legal action we are unable to say anymore at this stage.”

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