North Hertfordshire Museum: Press release disagreement delays 14/15 Brand Street sale announcement

North Hertfordshire Museum and Hitchin Town Hall. Picture: Danny Loo

North Hertfordshire Museum and Hitchin Town Hall. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

An offical announcement of the transaction that would see the long-awaited opening of the front entrance to Hitchin’s North Hertfordshire Museum has been delayed after a disagreement over press release quotes.

North Hertfordshire Museum and Hitchin Town Hall. Picture: Danny Loo

North Hertfordshire Museum and Hitchin Town Hall. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

North Herts District Council’s £555,000 purchase of the 14/15 Brand Street entrance from Hitchin Town Hall Limited – ending a two-year stand-off – was confirmed at a cabinet meeting before Christmas, but issues regarding the press release have held up the official announcement.

The agenda from the December 18 meeting reads: “Council officers prepared a neutrally-phrased press release announcing conclusion of the transaction and looking forward to the opening of the new facility.

“This draft press release was sent to HTHL and Hitchin Town Hall Finance on November 21, 2018.

“A response was received on December 13, 2018, and contained proposed changes which officers felt was not appropriate for a neutrally-phrased joint press release announcing conclusion of the transaction.”

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An NHDC spokeswoman confirmed to the Comet that: “It has now been agreed that a press release will be issued without quotes and that parties can then choose to send their own quotes separately, should they wish to.

“However, the press release will only be issued once the legalities have been concluded between all parties. We hope that this will take place shortly.”

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While negotiations have been going on, staff have been allowed access to rooms in 14/15 Brand Street.

HTHL chairman Stephen Pike said that they wanted to thank Brent Smith, who suggested including the property in the scheme, and John Ray for selling it in the removed press release quotes.

“As far as the documented press release was concerned, HTHL wanted to recognise the vision of Brent Smith for originally suggesting that 14/15 be incorporated into the scheme and to John Ray for agreeing to sell those properties,” he said.

“Their action has meant that the residents of Hitchin have a first-class museum which will benefit all residents of North Herts.

“While it has taken a very long time, HTHL is pleased to have been instrumental in making this vision happen.”

Hitchin and Higbury ward councillor Sam Collins expressed his disappointment over the delay saying: “The people of Hitchin are thoroughly fed up of this mess.

“What may simply come down to a clash of personalities within the Conservative party has ended up costing the tax payer millions and our museum still is not open.

“To stall a multi-million pound project over the wording of a press release which the media is unlikely to run verbatim seems utterly childish and indeed contemptuous of the taxpayers in North Hertfordshire.”

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