Troubled Hitchin Town Hall could cost taxpayers a further £25,000 a month if it fails to open by December

Councillor Tony Hunter

Councillor Tony Hunter - Credit: Archant

The troubled project to renovate Hitchin Town Hall which has been dogged by overspending, disagreements, and threats of legal action has seen a new twist – one which could cost the taxpayer nearly £25,000 for every month it fails to open.

The potential extra cost to taxpayers has stemmed from the ongoing dispute between North Herts District Council and the company formed to run the venture, Hitchin Town Hall Limited, which saw the council decide to run the facility themselves in July.

A report due to be discussed tonight at a full council meeting warns of a potential income shortfall of £21,800 per month regarding the town hall, with a further £2,300 a month relating to the museum if they fail to open for business around the proposed start date of December this year.

The shortfall figures come from town hall annual projected revenue estimates which total £338,655 – with the figure consisting of £45,000 expected to be raised from ‘events’, £151,855 from hiring charges, £5,000 from office rental on the site, along with a further £90,000 arising from expected customer spending in the kitchen and cafe, and £46,800 being raised from visitors using vending machines. All of which add up to £338,665 a year, or £21,800 per month.

These possible losses are in addition to a forecast museum shortfall of £28,000 per annum or £2,300 per month – meaning a potential overall monthly loss of £24,100.

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Chris Parker from Keep Hitchin Special said: “Why should the taxpayer be left to subsidise this amount – certainly when you look at other facilities in Hitchin under threat through budget cutbacks such as Walsworth Community Centre.

“The project has been mismanaged from the start by councillors and officials.

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“We want the facilities to open, but what also concerns me is the income revenue forecasted of nearly £25,000 a month seems far too optimistic – leading to another budget shortfall which taxpayers will also have to pick up – and that’s if it opens at all.”

The potential costs follow on from an extra amount to taxpayers of £137,985.02 rubber-stamped at the full council meeting in July – relating to an amount required to fit-out the facilities, including £64,563.27 budgeted for a cafe and kitchen, £1,540 for an administration office, £51,635 for two rooms, and a figure of £20,246.75 for ‘general’ work.

Councillor Tony Hunter said: “We’re working hard to get the new museum and refurbished town hall open to the public as soon as possible. There are cost implications from not opening by the end of the year.”

HTH Ltd chair Stephen Pike added: “The bill has already risen from around £3 million to nearly £5 million when we learn there may be more costs.

“I’m quite astounded at what is happening.”

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