Planning application submitted for an ATOS disability assessment office in centre of Hitchin

A planning application has been lodged for an ATOS site on Hermitage Road

A planning application has been lodged for an ATOS site on Hermitage Road - Credit: Archant

A planning application has been lodged to base a disability assessment centre in the centre of Hitchin for a period of up to ten years.

The application has been submitted to North Herts District Council by ATOS IT Services UK Ltd, which has its offices in Nottingham.

It proposes a change of use of part of a ground floor unit at 80 Hermitage Road – part of the old sorting office site which has just been redeveloped – so that the assessment centre can open.

A 220 square metre office in the currently vacant site would be open from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, according to documents submitted to the council.

Martin Burke, a member of the North Hertfordshire branch of the anti-austerity campaign group The People’s Assembly said: “This raises serious issues on lots of levels.

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“Firstly the opening of this new ATOS site is a manifestation of the government’s systematic targeting of the poorest and weakest groups in society – the potential opening of this new centre in Hitchin is another attack on the poor and weak in our community.

“Another thing that concerns me is the fact that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, the Department of Work and Pensions, and ATOS have consistently refused to reveal how many people – who were previously classed as not fit enough for work – have died since being compelled to work, despite repeated requests to reveal this information.

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“It’s an attack on freedom of information. ATOS is a private company which is not transparent.”

Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: “It would have been ideal for the site to have been used for a retail business – but there may be other options on the table, and someone else may still be interested. It’s not a done deal yet by any means.”

An ATOS spokesman said: “This additional new location will benefit people in the area enabling us to see people faster and closer to home.

“This new site will have no impact on the other local sites in the area which will continue to run as they have been.

“We hope that the new site will be opening in a few months time.”

The number of people claiming the Personal Independence Payment, which has started to replace Disability Living Allowance, and will be one of the claims to be assessed at Hermitage Road, has risen by 156,000 since January, to reach a total of 915,000 – representing the overall number of new PIP claims made since April 2013.

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “We do not publish regional breakdowns.”

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