Town hall blow
HITCHIN Town Hall has missed out on a £200,000 handout, delaying plans to refurbish the ageing community facility. Councillors had given the thumbs-up to proposals to hand the hall over to community ownership via a non-profit company run by Hitchin Town C
HITCHIN Town Hall has missed out on a £200,000 handout, delaying plans to refurbish the ageing community facility.
Councillors had given the thumbs-up to proposals to hand the hall over to community ownership via a non-profit company run by Hitchin Town Centre Initiative.
By doing so, North Herts District Council made the building eligible to apply for grants from the East of England Development Agency (EEDA).
But the deadline to apply for one grant passed, dashing hopes for an imminent town hall face-lift.
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NHDC were unable to commit money upfront to the project, halting the application's progress and leading to its ultimate failure.
While the grant would have met 25 per cent of the estimated cost of the £800,000 project, the rest would have to be stumped up by NHDC.
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A spokesman at the council said: "While NHDC is supportive of the Hitchin Town Centre Initiative's intentions towards the town hall, at this stage, for several reasons, we were not in a position to award a grant of £600,000 which was assumed in their business plan and by the time we became aware of this requirement our budgets had already been set.
"First, the proposal depended on NHDC disposing of the Town Hall on a long lease.
"Since the hall is a major capital asset, there are stringent legal and financial procedures with which the council has to comply, in order to ensure best value in granting the lease.
"Secondly, the council's capital reserves are fully committed.
"However, we will continue to work with the Hitchin Town Centre Initiative to find ways of making better use of the Hitchin Town Hall for the benefit of the town and North Herts tax payers.
"This could include participation by voluntary or not-for-profit organisations, or private sector management."
If funding is successfully achieved, the aim is to substantially improve the hall's facilities, including building new toilets, updating disabled access, refurbishing the foyer, kitchen and bar and bringing the balcony back into use.
Keith Hoskins, Hitchin's town centre manager, remains optimistic about the town hall's future.
He said that the project is "still ongoing" and is something the Hitchin Initiative is keen to see succeed.
He said: "Hitchin Town Hall needs to match people's expectations of a decent venue.
"We do lack a facility of sufficient size in this town.
"There's nowhere else right in the town centre for 200 plus people to use.
"The Queen Mother and Woodside Theatre are owned by the Bancroft Players and Hitchin Thespians, respectively, so these groups receive priority."
The Hitchin Initiative says that it is ready to move forward with the project, having carried out extensive surveys of the building and devised a business plan.
It is waiting for NHDC to pledge the necessary funds.