Renovation plans rack up �0.5m, but nothing is decided

A COUNCIL has so far spent almost �500,000 on plans to renovate a town centre shopping area but still nothing has been decided. Councillors on the Hitchin town centre working party at North Herts District Council (NHDC) have so far paid out �489,000 on p

A COUNCIL has so far spent almost �500,000 on plans to renovate a town centre shopping area but still nothing has been decided.

Councillors on the Hitchin town centre working party at North Herts District Council (NHDC) have so far paid out �489,000 on plans to improve the Churchgate area of the town but have yet to decide on a preferred bidder for the development.

And the council has said this figure could reach �600,000 before a developer is chosen from the two remaining bidders - a decision due some time in August - although an estimated �200,000 could be clawed back.

The figures, originally kept secret, have left one opposition councillor asking whether they are throwing good money after bad.

Costs were revealed after David Billing, Labour councillor for Oughton in Hitchin questioned the confidentiality.

Cllr Billing said: "This working party has 'worked' very slowly for two years to little end, other than find itself in an economic downturn where the likelihood of any developer wanting to develop Churchgate and the adjacent area is realistically much reduced or remote. Yet the working party persists in trying to select a developer. Is it time to call a halt to what seems very likely to be wasted spending?"

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A council spokesman said: "The money spent on the Churchgate development has been spread over a long period of time, from as early as 2001.

"Although we are going through an economic downturn at present, developers will be looking at the future - the fact that we have two developers going forward to the final stage contradicts Cllr Billing's statement.

Cllr F John Smith, leader of the council and chair of the working party, said: "Sorting out the centre of Hitchin has been a protracted process but we are now making real progress. Cllr Billing's intervention suggests there is a county council election coming up.

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