Labour group shocked and appalled at ‘undemocratic’ vote over Hitchin Churchgate

The Hammersmatch drawing shows improved frontage to the Churchgate shopping centre

The Hammersmatch drawing shows improved frontage to the Churchgate shopping centre - Credit: Archant

Party politics took centre stage last night as some members of North Herts District Council were denied the chance to debate conditions related to the redevelopment of a shopping centre.

Ahead of the meeting, the North Herts Labour group said it would be opposing some of the six council officer recommendations for the redevelopment of Churchgate in Hitchin.

The party claimed that Conservative-controlled NHDC has a “willl to stall” the long-awaited town centre redevelopment and that recommendations were inconsistent and would not help the project to progress.

The Tory majority voted through the six resolutions en masse, with Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors abstaining.

Labour group leader Councillor Judi Billing called for the conditions to be debated one-by-one before a vote was taken, but it was agreed by council chairman Tricia Cowley to have a vote on all six in one go.

Speaking after the vote, Mrs Billing said: “I am shocked and appalled that elected member’s opinions were not heard on such an important issue. This is a bad reflection of the Tory group on local government and I hope the Conservative Party will not continue doing politics like this in the future.”

Hammersmatch – owners of the shopping centre – has been in dialogue with the council since the previous contract with Simons’ was terminated last year and gave a presentation to members.

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The company asked members to consider additional funding to employ consultants to value and negotiate over its proposals on behalf of the council.

Council leader Lynda Needham said: “The council has already committed a significant amount of money to pursuing options for its redevelopment and therefore we are extremely mindful of the need to provide value for money for all North Hertfordshire residents.

“With this in mind, the council agreed last night to commit a small amount of money for consultancy advice to explore whether we can enter into exclusive negotiations with a developer, however we would want any developer to secure full planning permission for their scheme before we agree to commit to further expenditure.”

• For reaction see next week’s Comet.