The Comet on Friday January 27th carried an account of a very lively discussion at the North Herts District Council Cabinet meeting on the previous Tuesday. Bancroft Hall demolition attracted a good number of the Hitchin Bridge Club members, other hall users and other interested bodies, including several from Hitchin Forum. Presentations from representatives of the Bridge Club, the Forum and University of the Third Age, followed by Councillor Judi Billing, were enthusiastically supported by the audience. TV and radio coverage had preceded the meeting.
The Council’s portfolio holder responsible for oversight of the developments cum destruction or demolition is Tricia Cowley. She seemed to think that Council officers had made a thorough survey of the current users of the Hall to ascertain their requirements if the present venue was demolished. Sadly none of the current users could recall any such survey. She also continued to assert without any evidence to support it that there are plenty of alternative affordable venues available.
The Hall is used by a variety of groups, some of whom, being ethnically diverse, would not be comfortable with being offered a local church hall as an alternative even if such a building was able to accommodate their needs. The tennis club, while not using the Hall does have courts and facilities nearby and values the activities there. They feel that public usage of the Hall and the passage of people to and from reduces vandalism and improves security in the Recreation Ground.
The timing of the closure of Bancroft Hall seemed to be for when the Town Hall is opened, perhaps in 2014. The availability of community space within that revamped building will be significantly less than the space currently provided and will not be enough to house the groups who use the present building let alone rehouse those in Bancroft Hall. Terry Hone, a Letchworth Councillor, seemed most aware of the gap between information received by Councillors, and the reality as seen by current users. He pressed on the issue of information about possible alternative venues, and seemed to sway the Cabinet to accept that future provision needed to be more comprehensively assessed before demolition of the dilapidated current Hall was undertaken.
Hitchin Bridge Club are members of Hitchin Forum and we will continue to promote discussions and action to support the campaign, which should benefit many other community groups who need a town centre venue.