Save Royston High Street campaign gets MP’s support

Members of the Save The High Street Campaign outside an empty shop.

Members of the Save The High Street Campaign outside an empty shop. - Credit: Archant

A campaign to improve the state of Royston High Street has gained the backing of the town’s MP.

Activist Clive Porter has revived his Save Royston High Street campaign after becoming frustrated with the number of empty units in the town.

In particular, he is focusing his campaign on the empty premises at 16 and 18-20 High Street, owned by The Hitchin Property Trust Limited.

Clive, who is pushing to get answers about plans for the building, said: “A lot of people have got behind the campaign. I have never seen Royston so productive. It’s good to see, I hope people don’t give up.”

North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald told the Crow he backed the efforts of the campaign, but was keen to point out the positive aspects of the town centre.

He said: “I shop in town a great deal and also like to have a coffee.

“Royston is attractive and has its market. I think more people are using cafés, coffee shops and food outlets, so there has been a move towards the hospitality trade.

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“The Royston Business Improvement District – which I helped to start – and our town centre manager Geraint Burnell have done a great deal to make improvements.

“Angel Pavement was full of voids a few years ago and now is much fuller. Many businesses have moved into the town centre including Tesco, Wetherspoons and McMullens.

“Some private landlords have been slow to fill voids or have more extensive plans for their premises.

“I have joined in town council initiatives to give traders a boost and I hope Royston shops will be busy over Christmas. I wish the campaign well and hope it will point out the strengths of Royston Town Centre.”

In a letter to the Crow this week Councillor David Levett, who is responsible for planning at North Herts District Council, said: “The council is very limited in any action it can take to bring back empty buildings into use, even if they are listed buildings. While we have written to the owners of the former Howarth’s shoe shop to ask what their intentions are, we cannot force them to either reopen the premises as a shop or indeed to convert the building into residential despite planning permissions.”

Alexandra Ray, director of The Hitchin Property Trust Ltd said: “The properties were granted planning permission in 2013 to convert them into flats with ground floor retail space.

“Unfortunately after doing costings we could not make the value work at that time. Conversion of listed buildings is a very expensive and specialist task and it is not possible to keep costs low as it may be with other buildings. Nor is it possible to ‘part do’ a conversion, it’s an all or nothing project.

“After consulting the market, the values did not add up to cover the high costs of conversion so the decision was made to delay until the market picked up. In the meantime we tried to let 16 High Street on temporary lettings and for community use. 18-20 is not safe so cannot be used.

“Unfortunately the market in Royston has not improved and we are unable to carry out the conversion. As such the properties are now on the market for sale, it might be that another company more experienced in the conversion of listed buildings can make it work.

“As a landlord with several buildings in Royston we have long been involved with the town centre and frequently allow our empty shops to be utilised for community use, we are just as keen as the residents of the town to see the shops tenanted but unfortunately the blame cannot be placed solely on landlords, if people do not shop in Royston and choose to frequent larger brands outside the town, as the majority of people do, then retailers will not open shops in the town. We are not turning people away because the rent is too high we are just not getting any interest.”