A Brief History of Churchgate
The present Churchgate Centre was built in 1971 and thought at the time to be a development to rival retail offerings in Luton and Stevenage. By the mid-eighties, however, it was clear that the building was becoming tired and in need of refurbishment. Various appraisals of the site were carried out during the eighties and early nineties, and Churchgate was identified as an area for redevelopment.
Hammersmatch acquired the lease of the Churchgate Centre in 2001 and a Hitchin Town Centre Strategy was agreed in 2004. Soon afterwards a Churchgate Planning Brief was adopted. Various consultants were retained by NHDC to advise on the future of the area, and in 2008 NHDC announced a shortlist of bidders to develop the area. All eventually withdrew except Simons, with whom the council signed a development agreement in 2010. NHDC set up a Churchgate Liaison Forum to facilitate dialogue between Simons, the council and the local community. The community was not happy with Simons’ plans, and NHDC ended their contract with Simons in 2013.
Various discussions and initiatives took place over the next few years, and the Submission Local Plan of 2016 includes reference to the Churchgate area providing additional space for town centre uses. In 2018 NHDC agreed to consider joint regeneration with its venture partner Shearer Property Group (SPG). However, the Local Enterprise Partnership board rejected a funding application and SPG decided not to extend the option to purchase they held for the Churchgate Centre, as they recognised their proposal was no longer deliverable.
In late 2018 a pro bono organisation, Churchgate Resurgence PB, put forward a ‘concept’ for the Churchgate area, which was not costed and had no viability assessment, but which was supported by Hitchin community organisations. The Council is currently examining this proposal, along with several other options and is considering applying for funding from the Future High Streets (FHS) Fund, a government initiative to help struggling high streets. (See report to council 7.2.19.) It remains to be seen whether NHDC will nominate Hitchin as the prospective recipient of FHS funding, as each Local Authority is allowed to nominate only one town centre or high street in its area.