Private Eye enters Hitchin’s Churchgate debate

CONTROVERSY and uncertainty over Simon’s Churchgate proposals continue, with top selling satire magazine Private Eye entering the debate last week.

The developers and North Herts District Council (NHDC) have caught the attention of the publication, who wrote about the scheme in its most recent Rotten Boroughs section.

The article references the fact that Simons’ will be given a 250-year long lease, as previously reported by The Comet, a fact which attracted criticism from locals at the last Churchgate Liaison Forum (CLF).

It also mentions that Simons will not have to pay any money in rent until it hits annual profits of more than 23 per cent, after which it will pay a ground rent of 10 per cent. Hammersmatch, the current lease holders, pay 40 per cent.

There are claims that Simons will make an estimated �125m profit over the life of the lease - a figure which both NHDC and Simons dispute.

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Both parties have also claimed that some of the other figures are misleading.

Norma Atlay, NHDC’s Churchgate project lead told The Comet: “There are a number of factual inaccuracies in the Private Eye article, which NHDC and Simons would like to correct.

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“Firstly, the comparison of the ground rent percentages is misleading as they are percentages of different size rental income.

“The council has a minimum guaranteed ground rent from day one of the scheme opening and the projected ground rent will at least match existing income from the Churchgate centre and existing car parking on the site. This income is not linked to Simons’ profit.

“Secondly, the �125m profit figure quoted over the lifetime of the lease is simply wrong.”

The article comes at the same time as speculation that Simons is currently in talks with company Development Securities to become joint venture partners for the project.

This would mean that both companies will share the cost of preparing the schemes for construction, with DevSecs also possibly funding the developments once they have secured planning and pre-lets, according to Property Week.

NHDC will be releasing a full statement to clarify its position, with Simons also agreeing to answer The Comet’s questions about it in next week’s paper.

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