Town hall fears

CONCERNS are growing for the future of groups which use Hitchin Town Hall. North Hertfordshire District Council has put the hall lease out to tender and the deadline for applications was at noon on Monday. This was met with a protest outside the hall by d

CONCERNS are growing for the future of groups which use Hitchin Town Hall.

North Hertfordshire District Council has put the hall lease out to tender and the deadline for applications was at noon on Monday.

This was met with a protest outside the hall by demonstrators worried it will be lost as a community venue.

There are fears that the groups which use the hall's facilities may be forced to move elsewhere, or might even have to stop altogether. As part of the tender documentation, the council said it "requires that existing groups should be supported at current costs and prices (with inflation) for at least three years".


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Yet in a recent letter sent to groups who use the hall by the council's head of community development and cultural services Dr Patrick Candler, they are being advised that of the events booked between now and the year's end, only those taking place before September 30 will be honoured.

The dates of 16 events booked after October 1 are only "provisional" and groups should "consider making alternative arrangements for their events".

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Brian Foreman, of Keep Hitchin Special, who was at Monday's protest, said: "There's a complete conflict here in terms of indicating to groups to look somewhere else but also in having in the actual tender documents information that these groups should be supported for another three years.

"The Hitchin Beer Festival takes place in March at the town hall. It would be extremely difficult for another venue to hold it next year."

Alex Ide, whose Hitchin Sing and Sign group helps babies learn to sign words before they can speak, said there might not be anywhere else to go.

Ms Ide said: "The hall is in an ideal location; it suits our needs and there aren't many places like it here.

"If there are no spaces anywhere else it is going to be a nightmare to keep the group going."

A spokesman for the council said it might not be able to honour bookings from September 1 as they do not know what the outcome of negotiations with the successful bidder may be.

He said: "This covers the eventuality of a successful bidder, for example wanting to temporarily close the hall for repairs or improvements.

"That is not inconsistent with us saying in the tender that we expect all bookings to be honoured, but both statements are made in the knowledge that there are negotiations to go through."

The council has received six tenders for the hall, which will now be evaluated. A decision is expected later this year.

l Last week we said the council had only just mentioned selling the town hall was an option. We would like to point out the council has said that it has always considered selling the hall.

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