Temporary ‘stay of execution’ for Hitchin park – but it still faces axe

Families protest against the potential closure of Rosehill play area last year. Picture: Danny Loo

Families protest against the potential closure of Rosehill play area last year. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

A much-loved Hitchin play area received a temporary “stay of execution” last night.

Rosehill park, which had been earmarked for possible closure this year, could stay for four years after the decision taken by North Herts District Council’s cabinet.

Councillor Jane Gray, responsible for leisure at the Conservative-run council, told the meeting Rosehill could have this “stay of execution”, as she called it, because new housing was likely at Highover Farm, and the homebuilders may provide a new play area. The decision means Rosehill could stay until April 2022, but will close sooner if a new play area is built before then.

The district council last year set out, in its Green Space Strategy, to close certain play areas unless they were taken on and run by community groups at no cost to NHDC – with the council citing financial pressures.

Labour councillors including Ian Albert, Judi Billing and Elizabeth Dennis had campaigned to save Rosehill – and following Tuesday night’s decision, Mr Albert queried why it was necessary to close it even if a new playground were built.

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“There is funding available to keep Rosehill open,” he said.

“In terms of the actual proposal, Labour sees no connection between any new playground that might come out of proposed Highover Farm Development and Rosehill.

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“It would not just be worth keeping Rosehill open then, we must still keep Rosehill open. In a growing population, there’s room for both.”

Going over the wider Green Space Strategy, which required potential takeover proposals to come in by March 1, Mrs Gray said potential sustainable solutions had been found to sustain seven out of 13 areas at no cost to the council.

The councillors approved Mrs Gray’s recommendation that NHDC enter a contract whereby Great Ashby Community Council will fund maintenance and replacement of equipment at the area’s Chilterns, Cleveland Way and Merrick Close playgrounds.

Six other playgrounds are set to be reverted to green space – Dacre Road and Symonds Road play areas in Hitchin, Linnet Close, Oaktree Close and Jackmans playgrounds in Letchworth, and Baldock’s Ivel Road play area.

But councillors decided to reprieve Symonds Road play area in Hitchin and Letchworth’s Linnet Close playground for a period of three months, to allow extra time for potential third-party takeovers.

This followed a passionate speech from Helen Oliver, of Letchworth, who uses the Linnet Close play area with her five-year-old son.

She told the meeting: “We find it hard to believe there’s no way we can help to save the playground with you rather than out on our own.

“It isn’t an easy loss for our children. My five-year-old still peeps his head around the corner on each trip and asks if it’s still there.”

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