Hitchin Forum’s Town Centre Group used to look at significant town centre planning applications, with occasional forays further afield at large developments like those in Walsworth Road (Saunders Court and the site next to B&Q), Grove Road and Kershaw’s Hill. Now, with the wider scope of the Town Group, we will be inspecting applications throughout Hitchin.
So how do we find out about them? A planning group uses NHDC’s ‘weekly list search’ to look for the latest applications on NHDC’s website and then assesses more closely those that require investigation.
Applications vary from large proposals like the one behind Brooker’s (Cooper’s Yard) and the William Ransom site to smaller developments like Thompson’s Yard in Tilehouse Street and the Arriva Garage site in Fishponds Road. Adaptations and changes of use like extensions, modifications and alterations from offices or shops to residential or restaurants frequently arise. Some have to comply with LB’s (Listed Building requirements), PUD’s (Permitted Urban Developments), CAC’s (Conservation Area Control) as well as AD’s (shopfront signage), TPO’s (Tree Protection Orders) and sometimes include demolishing existing buildings such as Rose Cottage in Walsworth Road.
So what do we look for? This is mainly based on aesthetic considerations like density, scale (dimension, height, volume) affecting compatibility with the development’s surroundings; therefore, form, materials, texture and colour are also considered and, most importantly, style. Where conservation of a property is proposed it is important that its period quality details are maintained, but in the case of a new development, it is not necessary for this to be neo-Georgian or Victorian in style for it to respect its older surroundings. One of Hitchin’s special characteristics is its variety of style brought about by piecemeal development over the centuries rather than domineering proposals like Churchgate Shopping Centre. Other criteria include security, safety, access and sustainability plus environmental considerations such as energy conservation and production.
These applications are inspected first by reviewing them on NHDC’s website and often also by inspecting the full-size plans held in Hitchin Library. It helps as well to look at the proposed site in relation to the surrounding environment. On some occasions, it is assessed further by the Town Group and at times we liaise with the Hitchin Historical Society and/or the Hitchin Society for an agreed view on the proposal.
We don’t always send in comments to NHDC planning if the proposals are not offensive, but we have had extensive battles over some developments like Cooper’s Yard. Sometimes we are so impressed with an application, such as the Walsworth Road Baptist Church link or the Arriva Bus Depot proposal, that we send in supportive remarks.
If this intrigues you, perhaps you would like to join our assessment team? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.