Damning report published into Hitchin Town Hall and district museum failures

PUBLISHED: 11:52 23 October 2019

Hitchin Town Hall and North Hertfordshire museum. Picture: DANNY LOO

Hitchin Town Hall and North Hertfordshire museum. Picture: DANNY LOO

Archant

"Personal animosities" led to the failures of the Hitchin Town Hall and district museum project, according to a report published by an independent panel.

North Hertfordshire District Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee is to meet tonight to consider the report commissioned by NHDC to draw lessons from the Hitchin Town Hall and North Herts Museum project, which became beset by delays and conflicts.

Following three witness hearings this summer, the scrutiny panel - led by independent chairman John Richardson and comprising of district Ccuncillors, Sam Collins, Ian Moody, Helen Oliver and Val Shanley - has now published a report of its findings.

The damning report concludes that "shared objectives and positive views of partnership were lost" amid fraught relationships between NHDC and its commercial partners Hitchin Town Hall Ltd.

It specifies "alleged breaches of the terms in the development agreements" as a principal reason behind the break-down in relations - also arguing that "a more conciliatory atmosphere" could have resolved so-called 'deal-breaker' disputes.

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At one stage, relations had deteriorated to such a point that "tape on the floor was being used to mark territories".

The report reads: "Personal animosities - both between NHDC and its partners, and between elected councillors - were allowed to develop, resulting in pettiness and overreaction.

"All parties - local authority, voluntary bodies, community groups - failed to appreciate the different cultures within each organisation."

The report concludes by recommending a 16-point plan as to how the NHDC can improve its future relatonships.

This includes the recognition "that shared objectives, transparency, constant review and immediate action on problems are key elements in projects".

John Richardson, independent chair of the panel, said: "While the report cannot claim to understand or resolve all the things that went wrong, I hope it will be helpful to the council in reinforcing its approach to working in partnership with organisations in the future."

The agreement to develop Hitchin Town Hall and open a district museum was signed by NHDC and Hitchin Town Hall Ltd in September 2013, but following the fraught process, the museum only fully opened in June this year - four years later than scheduled.

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