19 May 2017A brief history of the ongoing headache that surrounds the ambitions to develop Hitchin's Churchgate.
By DJN for the North Herts and Stevenage Green Party
Why develop Churchgate? Aesthetic reasons tend to be given:
However, the main problem with Churchgate is that it’s a tantalising opportunity that’s being missed…but no one is quite sure of what this opportunity might be. NHDC have spent over £700,000 of taxpayers’ money on advice on how to develop the Centre - £732,000 of which has been spent on “consultancy costs” from private companies. Other groups with involvement include:
Initial plans to redevelop Churchgate began in 2005 with Simons Developers. These plans were rejected in 2013 as a result of public pressure and also as “no viable scheme” had been delivered. NHDC plumped for a less ambitious revamp from Ware-based Hammersmatch Properties Limited who are the current leaseholders and own 80% of Churchgate land. Hammersmatch put forward a 3-storey design with retail, a cinema and residential floors. However in 2016 they withdrew this scheme as they couldn’t find a cinema company to get on board and felt Churchgate was “unsuitable for retail”. The project is now back at square one, and is looking to the Local Plan for guidance (2017).
What are the issues?
All plans hit the same problems:
It’s now agreed that due to major and irreversible changes in retail (i.e. Internet shopping) Hitchin must become a day and evening “visit destination” with a range of leisure and community uses, and any Churchgate re-development should boost this aim.
Development of the town centre will follow guidelines laid out in NHDC Local Plan (2011-2031). There is emphasis on employment; on promoting, protecting and enhancing retail and service functions; supporting development where it is appropriate in size, scale, function, catchment area, historic and architectural character; identifying primary shopping frontage and expanding this; and maintenance of up-to-date town centre strategies which can adapt to change.
These guidelines seem vague and are unlikely to lead to resolution of the Churchgate saga.