Green light for Hitchin’s John Barker Place regeneration as planning permission granted

John Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

John Barker Place, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

Planning permission for the first stage of the John Barker Place regeneration in Hitchin was granted by North Herts District Council last night – marking the end of a saga that spanned more than a decade.

Fourteen councillors unanimously voted in favour of the move at NHDC's planning control committee meeting, more than 10 years since the first planning permission request for John Barker Place was submitted, and then withdrawn.

The redevelopment project - which is being led by the housing association Settle - has been broken down into three phases.

Phase 1 features a three to five-storey red-brick block of retirement living apartments and a supermarket and food takeaway unit. Phase 2, which will be predominantly buff and grey bricks, is a mix of affordable housing and open market units - with both being granted full planning permission last night.

Phase 3, which is the largest redevelopment scheme and remains at the outline stage, involves replacing the whole of Freemans Close with 32 one and two-bed apartments, 14 three-bedroom houses and a children's play area.

At the meeting, Oughton resident Jacqueline McDonald raised objections against the development - citing the lack of a replacement play area in the plans, criticising the design and appearance of the proposed buildings and raising concerns about the now derelict Coffee Mill.

Concerns were also expressed over the vetting process of new tenants that could move into the area, as she argued people with drug issues could be living near young families and gangs could target young people in the area.

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She also wanted assurances that elderly residents currently living in Westmill Lawns would not be subject to unnecessary disruption, and would be immediately moved into the new units once they were ready.

Jacqueline concluded her remarks by saying: "Although this regeneration project is supported and much needed, we request this application be deferred until further amendments are made."

Speaking in support of the application was NHDC's council leader Martin Stears-Handscomb, representing Oughton ward, who argued that there would be minimal disruption for Westmill Lawn residents and promised that the play park would be dealt with within this application.

He added: "I was with an Oughton resident recently who asked me: 'When are you going to get on with the John Barker Place development?'

"This is a much-needed development that has been a long time coming and Settle have taken a great deal of time, consulting residents, on this application.

Settle, which previously worked on the Westmill Community Centre which was opened in 2016, will provide funding for the project alongside money set aside by NHDC.

Speaking at the meeting, Shenaz Virji, head of development delivery at Settle, said: "The redevelopment of John Barker Place is a huge priority for Settle.

"After a long period of engagement with the local community, we have committed £20 million to the regeneration efforts and to providing additional properties and vital new homes in the area."

But several councillors questioned the environmental impact of some parts of the plan.

Concerns were raised over a lack of commitment to planting new trees for the area and an inadequate amount of electric vehicle charging points for residents and visitors.

These are due to be addressed in further detail in the remaining 24 condition points on the agenda.

The conditions stipulate that at least 40 per cent of the redevelopment must be allocated to affordable housing, noise mitigation measures must be put in place, upgrades are to be made to the existing bus stop in Westmill road and EV charging points will be provided for every town house and at a minimum ratio of 1:10 for apartments.

The regeneration of John Barker Place featured in NHDC's commitment to provide good quality and affordable social housing in their 2020-2025 plan, indicating the wider council's support for the redevelopment plans to go ahead.