Leader claims long-running farce over Hitchin’s district museum is set to end

Councillor Lynda Needham

Councillor Lynda Needham - Credit: Archant

The leader of North Herts District Council has confirmed to the Comet that a long-running saga concerning the opening of a district museum in Hitchin is set to end, with the facility expected to open its doors to the public in April or May.

The new North Herts Museum at 14-15 Brand Street has been beset with difficulties over the last few years and has cost taxpayers more than £1 million.

The saga saw a bitter fall out after Hitchin Town Hall Ltd – the company formed to oversee the running of the building on the council’s behalf which previously held the lease to it – sought to recover losses incurred during a bitter legal dispute.

This led to HTH Finance – which insists it is separate to HTH Ltd – buying the company’s debt and security.

Private discussions are ongoing, but the Comet understands taxpayers will have to foot an additional bill for up to £600,000 after being outbid over plans to buy the entrance to the site – which is effectively the entrance to the museum.

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Despite the long-running impasse, council leader Lynda Needham has insisted the facility will open soon.

She told the Comet: “The delay in opening the museum was down to other parts of Hitchin and people who have got the rights to 14-15 Brand Street.

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“I have no control over the deals done [previously].

“The museum is due to be opened within the next three or four months.”

A spokesman for HTH Finance told the Comet: “We are extremely disappointed Councillor Needham has decided to make such comments in spite of an agreement with North Herts District Council not to discuss matters in public.

“This intervention is most unhelpful and could cause further delays.”

The Comet also understands at least two full time museum staff have resigned after frustration at the lack of progress in opening the facility, which will house collections from both Hitchin and Letchworth.

It is also believed a number of volunteers have withdrawn their services, with many considering their position at the lack of progress during the costly saga in opening the building.

Talks are still ongoing between both parties.

Mrs Needham was criticised last week after she voted through a 19 per cent pay rise for herself, with fellow Conservative councillors agreeing to an independent panel’s recommended hikes of more than 10 per cent – which their Labour and Lib Dem counterparts voted against.

Despite Mrs Needham and Hitchin Highbury councillor Nicola Harris indicating they will return the pay rise, the party has yet to confirm the decision. Many taxpayers in North Herts have reacted angrily to the decision, with a petition set up in protest, and Codicote councillor Jane Gray has threatened to resign over the matter.

For more details about the museum project visit http://www.north-herts.gov.uk.

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