Silence over Churchgate remains, but contractor claims it is ‘moving forward’

THE Churchgate redevelopment project is moving forward according to the project contractors, despite the public having heard nothing for several months.

Simons, which was appointed as the contractor to carry out the Churchgate project, has told the Comet that it is still committed to the scheme.

It comes as Hammersmatch, the Churchgate Shopping Centre leaseholder, will hear whether it will be granted permission to extend a planning application to carry out improvements to the centre.

The application will be considered at a council planning control committee meeting next Thursday.

Philip Hodgkinson, Simons deputy chairman, said: “We have had a series of conversations with North Herts District Council (NHDC) about the Churchgate proposals and we are continuing to work closely with them to bring the scheme forward.

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“It’s important that we take the time to get the design right for these important proposals and we will of course carry out a full public consultation before any planning application is submitted.”

In a council report released to the public this week, NHDC said that things seemed to be moving forward with regard to people’s perception of the project.

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It also said that the project board had twice seen a number of draft development options.

“Simons are presently concentrating their efforts on reviewing options for a proposed scheme and have presented a number of draft development options to the last two meetings of the Churchgate Project Board,” it says.

“These options appear to be moving forward in the right direction in terms of seeking to address both member and public concerns.”

It adds: “During this period, Simons are continuing their commercial negotiations with landowners, prospective retailers and other third parties.

“Simons are required to submit a planning application by the first cut off date. This date can only be extended by agreement of both parties and would require a decision by Full Council. At this point, Simons have not submitted a formal request to extend the first cut off date.” NHDC would not divulge when this cut-off date is, claiming that the information was commercially sensitive.

But Keith Hoskins, town centre manager, said: “They may well apply for an extension, but certainly the election addresses going around in May were saying that they [the candidates] would resist an extension because they want something to start happening.

“I think it’s about time Simons made their intentions clear. Why are we not seeing anything?”

Meanwhile, the future of the former sorting office in Hermitage Road is being considered.

An application has been submitted by its owner, Whitebarn Developments Ltd, proposing to temporarily use the site for two years as a private long stay car park and car wash.

But NHDC is also considering the long-term future of the site, and says it hopes to hold a public consultation on plans for it this summer.

In a report which will go to Hitchin area committee on Tuesday, it says that the site should be a mixture of leisure, commercial and residential.

The Comet has also learned that former furniture store Philpotts in Sun Street could become a J D Wetherspoon Pub, and understands that negotiations are underway.

The chain would not deny or confirm the allegations, but a spokesman said: “Wetherspoon has been interested in opening in the town for a number of years and is very keen to open in Hitchin.”

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