North Hertfordshire Museum entrance deal deadline is now Halloween

Hitchin Town Hall and the would-be entrance to the North Hertfordshire Museum at 14/15 Brand Street.

Hitchin Town Hall and the would-be entrance to the North Hertfordshire Museum at 14/15 Brand Street. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

It had been a case of July deal or no deal over the would-be North Hertfordshire Museum entrance in Hitchin’s Brand Street – but now the district council has set a new deadline of Halloween.

North Herts District Council’s cabinet set the fresh deadline for a deal following back-and-forths with Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, which owns 14/15 Brand Street, and its bankers HTH Finance Ltd.

Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and HTH Finance last Thursday sent the district council what this paper understands was meant as a final offer. The Conservative-run council’s cabinet decided at last night’s meeting to respond with its own final offer.

At last night’s cabinet meeting at the local authority’s offices in Letchworth, district council leader Lynda Needham said: “Enough is enough.”

The North Herts Museum is open, but with access issues for parts of it and no lift while 14/15 Brand Street is excluded.

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A price of £550,000 was agreed in March 2017 for the district council to buy 14/15 Brand Street from Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, its former partner in the town hall and museum project – but no deal has been signed, although both sides say the vast majority of differences have been resolved.

The Comet understands the point on which negotiations have snagged relates to the people of Hitchin being guaranteed five years to buy Hitchin Town Hall if the district council ever elects to dispose of it – something Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and bankers HTH Finance Ltd are adamant must be enshrined in a rolling hold.

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Mrs Needham said last night: “Why they feel they have the ability to put clauses in about the town hall, I don’t know.”

In June, the cabinet resolved to recommend compulsory purchase order for 14/15 Brand Street to all council members if there were no deal by the start of August.

The cabinet decided unanimously last night to give Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and HTH Finance Ltd until October 31 to accept the council’s final offer – or face the prospect of compulsory purchase powers.

HTH Finance Ltd director and former Conservative councillor David Leal-Bennett thundered on Twitter this morning that this was “no way to conduct negotiations”.

The Comet understands that a compulsory purchase order would be met with fierce litigation. District council deputy leader Councillor Julian Cunningham said earlier this year that the authority would fight any legal action “to the hilt”.

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