THE LATEST: Hitchin Churchgate project

IT’S been a busy week in the Churchgate saga as an MP gets involved, disputes over the lease of the shopping centre arise and a council sets to put the record straight.

Our letter pages have been inundated with letters from residents, businesses and councillors on the proposed development, with a number of extensive stories also ran by The Comet over the previous months.

This week, Hitchin MP Peter Lilley has taken up concerns on the development with the secretary of state.

He told The Comet: "I have been in correspondence with a constituent about the Hitchin Churchgate project and in my capacity as his Member of Parliament, referred the matter to the secretary of state.

“I also agreed with my constituent that if, once he has received the secretary of state’s reply, he wishes to take the matter up with the local government ombudsman, I will refer any evidence he may have of maladministration to the ombudsman.”

Meanwhile, current Churchgate Centre leaseholders Hammersmatch has denied it is in negotiations with Simons, despite the latter claiming otherwise previously.

The agent for the company said: “Hammersmatch has had no approach from the reported joint venture partner, and no negotiations are ongoing with Simons. It remains the case that my clients are pursuing the refurbishment.

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“There were earlier meetings and a total failure to agree. We are surprised they think we are still in negotiations, although nothing any of us now hear in this saga should surprise us.”

North Herts District Council has also told The Comet that it wants to put right some of the claims and speculation that has arisen over the past few weeks, with its leader Cllr Lynda Needham setting the record straight too.

She said: "“Acting on the advice of officers, who work alongside specialist independent legal and development experts, the council is committed to undertaking the process fairly and properly with the involvement of the local community.

"The priority for Simons and the council is to continue working with local people and businesses to ensure that the unique nature of Hitchin is maintained while ensuring its future prosperity."

Satire publication Private Eye has also entered in the debate again. This time, it has criticised NHDC chief executive John Campbell's response to a letter from Keep Hitchin Special chairman Chris Parker.

NHDC said that because of the ongoing correspondence between KHS and Mr Campbell, it would not be giving a comment at this stage.

Read the Hitchin edition of this week's Comet for a full round-up on the latest developments.