Hitchin Committee Minutes

Tuesday, 6th September, 2016
Peter Morrison Hall, Benslow Music Centre, Benslow Lane, Hitchin

Attendance Details

Councillor Judi Billing (Chairman), Councillor Nicola Harris (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Ian Albert, Councillor Paul Clark, Councillor Elizabeth Dennis, Councillor Simon Harwood, Councillor Bernard Lovewell, Councillor Alan Millard, Councillor Frank Radcliffe, Councillor Adrian Smith and Councillor R.A.C. Thake.
In attendance:
John Robinson (Strategic Director of Customer Services), Claire Morgan (Communities Officer) and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).
Also Present:
At the start of the meeting 21 members of the public.
Item Description/Decision
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Allison Ashley and Simon Watson.
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee held on 24 May 2016 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
No other business had been notified
(1) The Chairman thanked all who had attended Town Talk and this meeting, particularly those who had attended to give a presentation;

(2) The Chairman informed those present that, in accordance with Council Policy the meeting would be audio recorded;

(3) The Chairman advised that the date for Member training regarding PREVENT had been changed from 7 September 2016 to 9 September 2016;

(4) The Chairman informed Members that Councillor Elizabeth Dennis had recently competed in the first International Adult Skating Competition and congratulated her on winning a silver medal in the Masters section.
Councillor Dennis gave an overview of the competition

(5) The Chairman drew attention to the item on the agenda front pages regarding Declarations of Interest and reminded Members that, in line with the Code of Conduct, any Declarations of Interest needed to be declared immediately prior to the item in question.
Ms Rachel Campbell, Clean Up Hitchin, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a PowerPoint presentation regarding the activities undertaken to address litter issues in Hitchin

Ms Campbell informed Members that she started the Clean Up Hitchin campaign about a year ago following a presentation to this Committee. The aim was to change people’s behaviour and this had proved difficult.

Litter had increased 500 percent in the last 50 years and approximately £1 billion was being spend on cleaning up litter in the UK

The first task had been to look at the infrastructure, which included considering where bins were located and what style they were, how often they were emptied and whether the surrounding location was clean and tidy or littered.

With the support of NHDC Waste Officers, Ms Campbell looked at some of the bins in the main areas of the Town and some had been changed from open topped tulip bins to covered bins.

A number of initiatives had been instigated including designing and printing window stickers and posters and decorating bins placed around the Town in order to raise awareness

She had attended the Skate Jam for which she specially decorated a bin and, with other people, litter picked the event, which enabled her to talk to people about the campaign and to observe the behaviour of people at this type of event

It was important to get children involved in order to teach the next generation the importance of keeping the Town clean and clear of litter and to this end she involved local schools in choosing the strap-lines on posters.

The campaign now had a presence on social media and had developed a web site (www.cleanuphitchin.co.uk) which was important to keep people informed of what was going on and to encourage people to get involved.

• Tweets put out by the Campaign had received 36,000 impressions;
• The most popular Tweets were about the effect on wildlife;
• 12,000 people were reached using Facebook posts;
• 1,000 people visited the website;
• 4 articles in the Comet’
• 2 features on BBC Three Counties Radio;

The Campaign had received £2,200 from Hitchin Committee as well as sponsorship from some local business and had so far spent £500.

• Peer to Peer Education at the Priory;
• Encourage Fast Food Outlets at Nightingale Road to take some responsibility for the litter in that area;
• More Binstallations;
• Voting But Bins;
• Smart Bins;
• Highlighting the problem of chewing gum on the streets.

Members asked several questions including whether the Campaign would be considering areas of Hitchin outside of the Town Centre and whether any projects world focus on the issue of dog waste. They asked whether she received any information from NHDC regarding timings of waste collections and whether she considered that the bins provided were of the correct style.

Ms Campbell advised that she would like to hear from Councillors about litter hotspots and talk to them about specific projects for those areas. Dog waste could certainly form part of the Campaign, but she would have to choose which issues she dealt with and would need more help to tackle more issues. In respect of waste collections, she advised that she reported all of the issues and that NHDC should be building a picture of the problem areas from the reports made. In respect of the style of bins, tulip bins were old fashioned and allowed foxes and vermin to get into them, the general thinking was that they should be replaced with covered bins. There were not many tulip bins left in Hitchin as he Council had gradually replaced them,

The Strategic Director of Customer Services informed Members that all reports of problems were logged and the contractor manages the emptying of waste bins using these logs and their experience of many years. He advised that North Herts was generally considered a clean and tidy pace, but there were hotspots, particularly in Town Centres and on high speed roads.

The Chairman thanked Ms Campbell for her work so far and for the informative presentation.
Mr Joe Heeney, Resolve, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding the new drug and alcohol service in the Westmill area of Hitchin.

Mr Heeney informed Members that Resolve was an independent drug and alcohol unit founded in 2008 in Welwyn Garden City which was now the second largest agency in the County.

Resolve was not commissioned and therefore did not receive any funding from the Government or from the County Council, but received grants from the Welwyn Hatfield Community Safety Partnership and Big Lottery funding as well as some other organisations.

Resolve provided a structured Day Service in Welwyn Garden City which included treatment, counselling and key work one to one support. They also provided outreach work to tackle issues such as street drinking, homelessness, rough sleeping and other drug and alcohol related issues.

Last year, through a Community Safety event, they provided a pilot drop in at the Westmill Centre, through which they developed contacts with other agencies in North Herts.

As a result of this event Resolve were in the process of building a new outreach and community service in the Westmill Centre and were working with the North Herts Community Service Partnership and Joint Action Group, children’s services, and mental health services.

An outreach protocol had already been developed and they had commenced working with rough sleepers in the area and the aim was to provide a meaningful service for Hitchin that could address issues such as public drinking, homelessness and family support.

The only services provided by other agencies for North Herts consisted of commissioned services in North Letchworth and Stevenage.

Currently there was a small amount of funding but they were looking at ways of generating other funding streams.

A Member was keen to highlight that support with drug and alcohol issues can have an effect on preventing homelessness.

The Chairman thanked Mr Heeney for his presentation.
The Communities Officer presented the report of the Head of Policy and Community Services entitled Grant Applications and Community Update and drew attention to the following:

One grant application had been received from Hitchin BID, but under the new Grants Policy, this was no longer eligible for funding.

The flower displays in the Town Centre were glorious this year. These had been provided b Hitchin BID without additional support funding from this Committee. This Committee had been unable to support this venture due to he new Grants Policy/.

There were two items in the Budget that were no longer required and the Communities Officer suggested that these amounts be paced back into the base budget as follows:

(i) £3,333 labelled as Junction Protection
This was allocated in 2011 and this could no longer be utilised, due to the changed criteria in the new Grants Policy;
(ii) £1,250 labelled as Pedestrian Island at Our Lady's Primary School

This project was found not to be feasible as the road was not wide enough and this could no longer be utilised, due to the changed criteria in the new Grants Policy.

The keys to the new Westmill Community Centre had been handed to the Management Committee and they were currently working to move out of the old Centre, which had to be completed by 19 September 2016.

Once this is complete NHDC would hand the old Community Centre building to North Herts Homes, who would then demolish it and construct a multi games use games area

Following a query from a Member, the Communities Officer advised that funds were released upon receipt of invoices from Rhythms of the World.


(1) That the budgetary expenditure, balances and carry forwards from the Development Ward Budgets as set out in Appendix A - Hitchin Area Committee budget for 2016/17 be noted;

(2) That the request for grant funding from Hitchin Business Improvement District, as outlined in 8.1.1 be noted;

(3) That the following amounts, totalling £4,583, be re-allocated to the base budget:
(iii) £3,333 labelled as Junction Protection;
(iv) £1,250 labelled as Pedestrian Island at Our Lady's Primary School.

(4) That the Committee endorses the actions taken by the Community Officer to promote greater community capacity and well-being for Hitchin.

REASON FOR DECISION: To keep Members of the Committee apprised of the latest developments in community activities in Hitchin.
Mr Keith Hoskins thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding the activities, events and issues relating to Hitchin Town Centre as follows:

The flower displays were well received and appreciated by users of the Town Centre.

A very successful Festival with approximately £30,000 taken in ticket sales for the paid events an there were a lot of free events also held.

The Town remains almost full, with negotiations taking place regarding most of the empty shops. The plans regarding the empty Dorothy Perkins and M Local sites were not yet clear.

New businesses had either opened or were in the process of opening in Hermitage Road.

The new apartments on the old Post Office site in Portmill Lane were being marketed from this weekend.

Plans were well underway for the Christmas Events and the calendar for 2017 events in the Town Centre was being drawn up.

Hitchin Initiative were leading and involved with a number of projects including:
• Pursuing the completion of the Riverside Walk;
• Reintroducing activities at the Dell;
• An office move to larger premises was planned in the near future, which would help to give a better service, particularly in regard to tourism;
• Hitchin Initiative were offering their services to act as a broker between Hitchin Town Hall Limited, Hitchin Finance Limited and NHDC. The aim being to get the Hitchin Town Hall and North Hertfordshire Museum open and fully operational as soon as possible.

In response to a question, Mr Hoskins advised that there had been successful event at the weekend, which had created a large amount of waste. This was collected by NHDC by 11am on Monday morning.

The Chairman thanked Mr Hoskins for his presentation.
The Strategic Director of Customer Services gave an oral update regarding the North Hertfordshire Museum and Community Facility at Hitchin Town Hall.

He reminded Members that information had recently been circulated to Members, which set out a brief chronology and address some of the widespread and sometimes inaccurate information in local media, both in print and on-line.

There was an unprecedented amount of documentation in the public domain regarding the project, which was all available on the Council’s website.

The project had been progressed in accordance with any resolutions made by Council, including any spending decisions, which have been within set spending limits that have changed over time to reflect the developments in the contract and the Development Agreement.

The addition of 15 Brand Street to the project after the Development Agreement had been signed resulted in an additional cost to NHDC of £100,000 and the termination of the Capital funding agreement with Hitchin Town Hall Limited meant the Council had to make provisions of over £490,000 to pay the construction contract contribution.

Lightbrigade, the fit out company ad gone into administration and more recently a Land and Property Act Receiver had been appointed to recover assets from Hitchin Town Hall Limited. After the appointment of the receiver and after the Council had submitted a bid to purchase 14/15 Brand Street, a deal was struck between Hitchin Town Hall Limited’s funders and a newly formed company Hitchin Finance Limited by which the debts and the security was sold to Hitchin Finance Limited.

The Council had been served notice by Hitchin Town Hall Limited to vacate 14/15 Brand Street, which has been complied with.

A press release had been issued by Mr Pike of Hitchin Town Hall Limited, a copy of this had been provided to Members. The Council had not submitted any press releases regarding this subject in recent weeks, but were responding to questions posed by local media.

The approach from Hitchin Initiative to help broker talks and the approach from Hitchin Town Hall Limited had both been responded to. Arrangements were being made to meet with Hitchin Initiative and the Council was waiting to for a response from Hitchin Town Hall Limited.

The Town Hall was very much open for business and NHDC was pleased with the response from a number of organizations and regular sessions were taking place for activities such as fencing, zumba, yoga and tea dances as well as a number of weddings and special events. The feedback for all of these had been overwhelmingly positive.

The Town Hall was still without a functioning café but work would continue to develop the facilities that could be made available and the Council would continue to recover costs in an appropriate way.

The Council was pressing Hitchin Town Hall Limited to give some detail of their intentions and some information regarding the relationship between Hitchin Town Hall Limited and Hitchin Finance Limited, the financial standing of Hitchin Town Hall Limited, nearing in mind it still owed NHDC over £500,000 and the identity of the businessmen who appear to have financed the debt and bought the security from the Social Investment Business. This information was needed in order to report to Council for them to take a decision on the next steps.

In response to a question to Council, the Leader responded positively to the offer made by Hitchin Initiative and the Leader confirmed that she would expect Members to co-operate with the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee during the proposed Scrutiny review of the project.

Members welcomed the offer made by Hitchin Initiative but warned of the dangers in setting too many pre-conditions to talks starting and either side making statements in public.

In respect of the District Museum, Members asked about progress with the fit out, when the Museum could be expected to open and how much it would costs to make the building fully accessible if an agreement could not be made with Hitchin Town Hall Limited.

Members noted that the length of leases on community buildings often caused issues and queried whether there were any guidelines regarding length of leases or was each case based on that particular business case.

They asked whether the information provided in MIS was made public or could be made public by Councillors and whether NHDC had been required by the Development Agreement to make interest payments.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services informed Members that there had been no other direct offers of help, but the Leader had confirmed that se would welcome any offers made.

In respect of the fit out, NHDC were in the final stages of negotiating contracts, the fit out period was 8 weeks, with a start date due imminently.

The date that the facility would be fully open depended, in part, on the fate of 14/15 Brand Street and whether the Council would have to work within the Town Hall footprint or be able to fully incorporate all of the building within the design. The Council were looking at contingencies that would enable partial opening of the Museum, particularly for the touring programme which would bring National Exhibitions to the Town Hall.

The Council was in the process of commissioning detailed work to consider the costs of opening without incorporating 14/15 Brand Street, which may need further authorization by Council and there was some commercial sensitivity pending any possible purchase of 14.15 Brand Street.

There were very particular Government restrictions determining how assets were managed. The premise of this was that, unless there was some public good or benefit clearly identified, a commercial return should be sought. In this case the proposed length of a 125 year lease reflected the scale of the borrowing that Hitchin Town Hall would be taking on and the need for them to repay that borrowing.

Information in Members Information Service was not marked as confidential or sensitive, the information provided was for the benefit of Members and it was a matter for them to decide what they shared. They may wish to consider whether putting out more information was helpful or not.

There is, in the letter received from Mr Pike, a threat of legal action against the Council and clearly it was important to be cautious about what was said in public, given the fact here was a contractual dispute

The Strategic Director of Customer Services advised that would brief any Member, under Part 2 conditions, regarding issues surrounding the Development Agreement, but would not discuss this in public due to the threat of legal action.

There was some discussion regarding the value of this item being presented to other Area Committees

The Chairman proposed and it was seconded that the support of Hitchin Committee for the offer made by Hitchin Initiative to help facilitate discussions between the various parties be minuted.

RESOLVED: That the appropriate Cabinet Members and Officers be advised that the Hitchin committee warmly welcomes and supports the offer made by Hitchin Initiative to help facilitate discussions between the Council, HTH Limited and HTH Finance Limited in order to take matters forward to a satisfactory conclusion

REASON FOR DECISION: To support the completion of the District Museum and Community Facility at Hitchin Town Hall.
No Ward or Outside Body Member reports were discussed.
The Chairman advised that this was an opportunity for Members to identify issues that they would like to discuss at future meetings.

A Member asked that the Committee receive an update on Churchgate.

The Chairman explained that, nothing had happened since the last briefing, however Officers had offered to brief new Members on the history of this subject.

Following some discussion it was:

RESOLVED: That the following items be included in the list for discussion at future meetings of this Committee:
(i) Update on Charnwood House;
(ii) Cycle Racks in Hitchin Town Centre.
Published on Wednesday, 28th September, 2016
8.50 p.m