North Hertfordshire District Council served breach of contract notice over ‘municipal vandalism’ of Hitchin Town Hall
- Credit: Archant
Charity representatives have thrown down the gauntlet to council bosses as their frustration mounts over departures from the blueprint for renovating Hitchin’s landmark town hall, which they say have put a question mark over its future.
Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, the not for profit organisation which will run the venue when it reopens next year, says that North Herts District Council’s conduct has left it with no alternative but to serve chief executive David Scholes with formal notice of breach of contract.
And it warns that the council’s actions have left the town hall financially unviable.
The notice lists a string of issues, including the council’s decision to allow a brick wall to be built across the main stage, and for unsightly heating and electrical units to be installed in listed parts of the building – Hitchin Town Hall Ltd says the council failed to consult them and then granted itself retrospective planning permission to rubber-stamp what was dubbed at the time ‘municipal vandalism’.
Confirming the decision to take formal action this afternoon, chairman Stephen Pike said: “It is with great sadness rather than anger that we have found ourselves forced to serve notice.
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“Not only have there been many breaches of contract, there has also been a breach of faith.”
The organisation’s community director Rosemary Read added: “We are devastated that it has come to this. When we started out we had a great vision for a first-class facility – what is being delivered is a very poor substitute.
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“Our bankers have been incredibly supportive, but the actions of the district council have seriously compromised the business plan on which we were relying to provide the necessary commercial revenue.
“Attempts at reasonable discussions with council officers left us demoralised, and delayed the launch of essential fundraising and marketing efforts.”
Councillor Lynda Needham, leader of NHDC, said: “We are of course hugely disappointed by this latest turn of events and feel that Hitchin Town Hall Ltd have misrepresented many of the facts, but we remain steadfast in our commitment to delivering a fantastic museum and town hall for the community.
“We feel the allegations made by Hitchin Town Hall Ltd regarding breaches of contract by the council are completely unfounded, not least because the alleged ‘acts of vandalism’ cited by Hitchin Town Hall Ltd have since been granted listed building consent.
“Over recent months we have become increasingly concerned about Hitchin Town Hall Ltd’s financial viability and this latest development only confirms our fears. The ramifications of this mean that ultimately council taxpayers could be forced to foot the extra bill, and we will be doing everything we can to protect their interests in the coming months.”
The plan for the town hall would create Hitchin’s largest multi-use performance, exhibition, meeting and event space, available for hire and licensed for weddings, as well as the new North Herts Museum.