Inspector rejects car park access road for Hitchin’s Butts Close

Butts Close in Hitchin. Picture: Kevin Lines

Butts Close in Hitchin. Picture: Kevin Lines - Credit: Archant

A plan to build a car park access road across common land in Hitchin has been turned down by a government inspector.

A map showing the land held by the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust at Top Field and across Fishponds Roa

A map showing the land held by the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust at Top Field and across Fishponds Road at Butts Close. Picture: HCCT - Credit: Archant

The inspector refused North Hertfordshire District Council’s application to build an 80m access road in Butts Close, as part of a scheme to build extra parking behind Hitchin Swimming Centre for between 69 and 106 vehicles.

The decision, published yesterday, came after a public inquiry into the application at Hitchin Town Hall on November 21 and 22, after a visit to the site.

The land in question is owned by the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust, which had agreed a deal to transfer the land to NHDC if its plan got the necessary consents.

Inspector Mark Yates wrote in his report that he accepted there was a need for additional parking, but that the district council had not sufficiently explored alternative options like encouraging parking at the Lairage multi-storey car park – next to Waitrose on the opposite side of Butts Close.

Mr Yates also argued that the proposed hedge-lined access road would have a detrimental impact on the common landscape. He concluded that benefits of the proposed access road and car park expansion were outweighed by the impact the work would have on the current nature and use of Butts Close.

Councillor Jane Gray, responsible for leisure at the district council, said: “We are naturally disappointed by the decision, as our surveys indicate that parking is up to or over capacity on the majority of days.

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“We are currently analysing the findings of the report, but the grounds for refusing permission are broadly down to the impact on the common land and that the inspector felt that alternative modes of transport by the swim centre hadn’t been actively encouraged.

“We were aware of the concerns about the potential impact on the common land and had therefore devised a sympathetic layout with soft landscaping to lessen the impact, while facilitating significantly increased access to the important health and exercise opportunities at the centre.”

The Friends of Butts Close and Hitchin Forum were among more than 40 parties that objected to the application – arguing, among other things, that Hitchin Swimming Centre’s growth in popularity since 2010 proved its success was not hampered by the size of its existing 93-space car park. The district council countered that parking had been cited as the most common reason for people cancelling membership.