Save our town hall

A PROTEST against plans to rent out a town hall is expected to take place on Monday. Demonstrators are to gather outside Hitchin Town Hall, in Brand Street, to voice their disapproval against North Hertfordshire District Council s plans to invite bids fro

A PROTEST against plans to rent out a town hall is expected to take place on Monday.

Demonstrators are to gather outside Hitchin Town Hall, in Brand Street, to voice their disapproval against North Hertfordshire District Council's plans to invite bids from parties interested in leasing the hall for a term of up to 40 years.

But in a new twist to the story, North Hertfordshire District Council admitted for the first time yesterday (Wednesday) that the town hall could be sold.

A council spokesman said: "The council is committed to looking at all options for keeping the town hall available for community use and is exploring continuing uses by voluntary or commercial groups.


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"The council will only consider selling the town hall if these avenues prove unsuccessful."

There have been concerns from residents that the building could end up in the hands of a private business and would therefore be lost to the people of Hitchin.

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Some residents and councillors are also unhappy that the decision to put the building out to tender went straight to a full council meeting on February 8, and bypassed the council's Hitchin area committee.

This meant that the town's own councillors were unable to discuss the plans in public.

Chris Parker, of Keeping Hitchin Special, said: "The council has little interest in the views of Hitchin committee as far as I can see or in the views of the townspeople who would, I am sure, favour the refurbishment of the town hall for community use as was proposed a year-and-a-half ago by the Hitchin Town Centre Initiative (HTCI)."

Councillor Judi Billing, the chairman of the Hitchin area committee, said a report was due at the Hitchin area committee in December but was withdrawn because "it added nothing to the policy already adopted by the council".

Cllr Billing said: "I asked for a full explanation to be prepared and circulated to councillors.

"This had not been done by the time of the full council meeting on February 8 by which time the invitation to tender had appeared in the press."

Speaking about the proposal made last year by the HTCI to refurbish the hall for community use, Cllr Billing said: "The council was not prepared then, and is not now as far as I can ascertain, to put in any capital funding to halt the appalling neglect and decline of this valuable asset."

A spokesman for the district council said: "The report was withdrawn from the Hitchin area committee agenda because the needs analysis and market testing are at a very early stage.

"It is hoped that the report will go back to the committee on June 30."

Protesters are expected to gather outside the town hall from 11.30am and the deadline for applications is noon.

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