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6 January 2011, 11:24 | Updated: 6 January 2011, 11:29
Detailed work is continuing on exciting plans to refurbish Hitchin Town Hall and create a new museum for North Herts alongside a community venue.
North Herts District Council and Hitchin Initiative on behalf of a coalition of local community groups are working closely together on the scheme which will result in a jointly-managed building.
A vital application for a £850,000 grant/loan by Hitchin Initiative from the Community Builders Fund will be heard in January and, if the funding is secured, listed building consent and planning permission will be applied for later that month. The application will be heard by NHDC’s planning committee in March.
Community Builders Funding for a 40 per cent grant and a 60 per cent loan, will be used along with a £3.5million investment from NHDC to create a new North Herts Museum and a community venue including the Mountford Hall for weddings, festivals and community events, along with smaller meeting rooms, all available to hire.
There will also be a café and catering facilities on site. The extended gym area will be converted into a new North Herts museum. The building will be improved throughout with updated toilets and access to all floors via a lift to significantly improve the visitor experience and preserve the fabric of the iconic building.
The bringing together of Hitchin and Letchworth museums, on the Hitchin Town Hall site, is estimated to deliver annual savings of £160,000 a year in running costs, as well as providing wide-scale benefits to the community.
John Robinson, NHDC’s Strategic Director of Customer Services and Project Executive, said: “This is a complex project with a series of steps to be negotiated to a tight timetable. We have come a long way but there are still issues to sort out including securing listed building consent and completing detailed designs and management plans. Architects Butress Fuller Alsop Williams are developing the initial building feasibility plans to the more detailed plans needed for a formal application. The Project Board includes councillors and a director of Hitchin Initiative, Morag Norgan, and will be supported by a number of project teams including stakeholders from the Arts Museums Heritage Forum and other interested groups who can all bring their expertise to this important project."
Project Board member Morag Norgan from Hitchin Initiative said: “We are all working hard to ensure our vision for this important historic building is secured. Our plans return the Town Hall to its former glory while at the same time allowing it to become the focus of community events and activities.”
Cllr Tricia Cowley, NHDC Portfolio Holder for Community Engagement, said: “I cannot overstate how exciting these plans are and how pleased we are to be working so closely with Hitchin Initiative, which represents a wide consortium of local community groups. The Council and our residents are united in their desire to deliver the best result for everybody. With this scheme North Hertfordshire gets a superb new museum, the community has an exciting venue for a wide range of activities and the Council reduces its costs for local taxpayers, which is vital in these difficult financial times.”
Once the outcome of the Community Builders Fund grant and loan application is confirmed, architects will be appointed to take the project forward to the next stage. The aim is to get planning permission and listed building consent by the end of March 2011.