Vote on troubled estate’s future

A council will decide tomorrow (Thursday) whether to approve plans to demolish a community centre as part of wider plans to regenerate a run-down area of Hitchin.

North Herts District councillors will vote on a plan by North Herts Homes (NHH) to demolish the Westmill Community Centre on John Barker Place in Hitchin and replace it with nine houses at a meeting of the full council in Letchworth.

In return for the site of the 40-year-old council-owned building, NHH would build a new �1.5m community centre where a row of shops on John Barker Place now stands.

A council planning officer said the new two-storey building would be three times larger than the existing centre while a one-storey wing would accommodate the Coffee Mill youth facility currently housed in one of the shops.

The plan is part of a wider scheme to redevelop the area by demolishing the shops and building new ones on the current children’s play area and basketball court next door. Both the basketball court and play area would be relocated. The housing association also want to create a total of 70 affordable homes in the area, which would involve demolishing garages.

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Cllr Bernard Lovewell, portfolio holder for housing and environmental health, said the project is much needed.

“It will be a much better area for people to live. It is very tired and run down at the moment,” he said.

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But there were concerns from residents over what will happen to parking, the safety of children and whether the plan is needed at all.

A 67-year-old Hine Way resident, who did not want to be named, said: “I did have a garage and asked what they were going to do with the garages and will they pay my extra insurance? But I never did get a reply. As far as we know all the garages are coming down. Some people have bought them – what will they do?”

Retired Bedford Road resident Diane Lapworth was generally in favour of the plan but said moving the play area could put children in danger.

“People can see the children here and if they move it back they won’t be able to see them, which is a worry these days,” she said.

But Lisa Harris, 29, of Milestone Road, said she thought it was just a waste of time.

“Why change something that’s not broken? It might be a bit scruffy but with a bit of money put into it would be fine. It’s too much upheaval.”

Chief executive of NHH, Kevin Thompson, said: “The next step is to wait for the results of the Government’s spending review expected in October so that we and NHDC can work together to secure the necessary funding for the entire project before we are able to begin.”

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