North Hertfordshire Museum: Deadline for 14/15 Brand Street deal passes

Hitchin Town Hall and the would-be North Hertfordshire Museum entrance at 14/15 Brand Street. Pictur

Hitchin Town Hall and the would-be North Hertfordshire Museum entrance at 14/15 Brand Street. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

The July 31 deadline set by North Herts council’s cabinet for a deal over the would-be district museum entrance in Hitchin has passed without an agreement.

The prospect of an attempt by the district council to acquire 14/15 Brand Street from Hitchin Town Hall Ltd by compulsory purchase now looms. The authority’s cabinet decided in June to recommend this to full council if there were no deal by now.

District council deputy leader Councillor Julian Cunningham was tight-lipped at last night’s cabinet meeting, saying he was “not going to comment on the ongoing situation with Hitchin Town Hall”.

The price of £550,000 for the acquisition of 14/15 Brand Street, agreed in March 2017, remained in the 2018/19 capital budget passed by cabinet last night.

Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and its bankers HTH Finance Ltd also declined to comment after the deadline passed last night without a deal. They had repeatedly insisted agreement was imminent, subject to finalisation with lawyers.

This paper understands any compulsory purchase order will be fought with litigation.

Hitchin Town Hall Ltd had said it wanted a rolling five-year hold on the town hall as part of any deal to help ensure it remains for community use.

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Mr Cunningham said earlier this year that Hitchin Town Hall Ltd was trying to insert “impossible” conditions and that the council would fight any legal action “to the hilt”.

The standoff over 14/15 Brand Street has now lasted two years, since HTH Finance outbid the district council for the charge over 14/15 Brand Street when it was offered for sale by Hitchin Town Hall Ltd’s then-bankers, the Social Investment Bank.

HTH Finance said it had stepped in at the 11th hour to thwart private developers who had outbid the district council.

The district council has got the town hall and museum operational without 14/15 Brand Street, but this means museum staff cannot use areas there that were meant to be parts of the facility. It has also created an accessibility issue regarding the museum’s upstairs sections, as the lift is in 14/15 Brand Street.

There is a lift shaft in the town hall that the district council could use, but the adaptations to utilise this and resolve accessibility and other issues without 14/15 Brand Street might cost more than buying the site.

Councillor Tony Hunter, responsible for community engagement at the district council, said this afternoon: “We have been in correspondence with Hitchin Town Hall Ltd and HTH Finance Ltd over the last week regarding a potential settlement. We are awaiting a response on some final negotiation points which we are seeking to have resolved by the end of the week.”