Hitchin Town Hall and Museum

Hitchin Town Hall and Museum (North Hertfordshire District Council)The saga of Hitchin Town Hall and the North Herts Museum is a shambles of historic proportions. Apportioning blame is far from straightforward, but it would be fair to say that the current situation doesn't reflect particularly well on any of the involved parties. The various stakeholders have allowed their relationships to entirely break down, and shown an inability to work together for the best interests of Hitchin residents. A worthwhile and sensible project to create a community resource for the benefit of Hitchin and its surrounding area has been hijacked by egos, point scoring, distrust and hostility. Meanwhile the poor staff of the Museum are stuck in the middle. And local taxpayers have repeatedly found themselves on the hook for covering the project's spiraling costs.

At time of writing, the situation is still a complete mess. North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC) owns the bulk of the Town Hall and the Museum, but not 14-15 Brand Street. This means that the museum is without its planned Local Study Room, Learning Room, and staff office The situation is completely farcical. For example, the lift on the site belongs to NHDC, but the lift shaft doesn't.

Why has this not yet been resolved? Hitchin Town Hall Limited (HTH Ltd) purchased 14-15 Brand Street from Hitchin Property Trust. Its purchase was supported by the Social Investment Business (SIB). When HTH Ltd defaulted on its obligations, SIB appointed a receiver. The property was put out to tender in the summer of 2016. NHDC placed a bid based on is assessment of the value of the property. But, before this process could fully play out, a new company called HTH Finance Limited (HTHF Ltd) was formed. They swooped in, paid off HTH Ltd's debts to SIB, and thereby acquired the charge over 14-15 Brand Street.

HTHF Ltd claims it is completely separate from the other entities involved, however many people find this hard to believe, since its two Directors are:

  • David Leal-Bennett - a former Conservative Councillor and former HTH Ltd Board member, whose relationship with NHDC has been 'rocky' to say the least;
  • John Ray - a former Director of Hitchin Property Trust.

HTH Ltd have since rather aggressively ordered NHDC to quit the premises and surrender the keys. On August 9th they even turned up onsite with a locksmith and threatened to change the locks.

The Liberal Democrat policy on this sorry tale is simple:

  • The key players need to be urgently brought round the table and forced to talk to each other amicably.
  • If certain individuals are not able to move forward constructively in the best interests of residents, then they need to be compelled to take a back seat.
  • We welcome the Hitchin Initiative's offer to act as a broker for talks between the parties.
  • The Council and local taxpayers must not be held to ransom and any deal must be fully disclosed and subject to public scrutiny.

If you support our stance then please let us know.