REVEALED: Cinema among rival development plans for Hitchin
- Credit: Archant
A BOUTIQUE cinema and a refurbished shopping centre are among rival plans for a town centre redevelopment.
Hammersmatch, the current leaseholders of Hitchin’s Churchgate shopping centre, will unveil their vision for the town to the public today (Thursday).
And the Comet, which had an exclusive look at proposals, can reveal they include building a cinema where the current market is, refurbishing the shopping centre, and moving the market to St Mary’s car park.
The plans are more “leisure focused” than current Churchgate contractor Simons’ proposals, which were revealed earlier this month.
And Hammersmatch managing director David Payne claims, if Simons are not granted a time extension by councillors in two weeks’ time, work could get underway this year.
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He told the Comet: “The cinema will return after a 40 year absence, there will be cafes and restaurants, and we’ll be using our own funding.
“St Mary’s Church view will be protected and the square designated as an open space.
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“It’s fair to say the scale is within the grain of the town. English Heritage called Simons’ scheme ‘totally alien’, and way off scale for a small market town.”
Mr Payne, who also said work could be completed in 18 months, did admit the plans were not perfect and would be subject to change following feedback.
“It’s effectively a discussion document, the initial thing is to bring some life back into this part of Hitchin,” he added.
“We’re not looking for huge retail. We’ll have to subsidise the cinema, which we are prepared to do.”
Two potential businesses interested in running the five-screen cinema are in discussions with Hammersmatch.
Discussions with the market will also be key, with the location and size of any new site already a contentious subject.
Town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: “I know it’s early days and there are issues to be resolved still, particularly with regard to the market, but generally speaking, I welcome [the plans].
“I think they provide an encouraging basis for us to move forward. I always said the option to do nothing at all shouldn’t exist.”
On the prospect of a cinema, he added: “I love the thought of cinema coming back to Hitchin, it’s something people often talk to us about.”
Hammersmatch, which already has planning consent for the shopping centre refurbishment, will exhibit its plans today, Friday, and Saturday, between 11am and 4pm at the former Pebble Salon in 1 Churchyard.