1971 – Churchgate built; described at the time as a “space age development to keep up with Luton and Stevenage”. Part of the overall plan was a new home for Hitchin Market.
1973 – consultation on study carried out by Hitchin Urban District Council (HUDC) & Herts County Council (HCC) proposing three-phase redevelopment of St Mary’s Square and the Portmill Lane car parks, including site where Portmill House now stands.
1984 – North Herts District Council (NHDC) Local Plan said no major increase needed in retail space.
1986 – NHDC and residents said Churchgate needing refurbishment.
1987 July – Conran Roche report on Hitchin Town Centre (HTC); of St Mary’s Square/Portmill Lane it says a development framework is needed to realise full potential of this waterside site; additional car parking needed; street pattern should be restored; generate 24-hour activity; enhance riverside frontage; potential for cultural, leisure & hotel facilities should be explored; no car parking should be lost to development. This was followed by public consultation.
1989 – Hillier Parker retail appraisal of District found the Market was a major draw for Hitchin.
1992 – Harris Research surveyed public perceptions of the town, environmental improvements and the market.
1993 July – Local Plan No.2 adopted; Churchgate identified as an area for redevelopment.
Pre 1996 – Jarvis plc – lessee of Churchgate Centre
1996 April – Local Plan No.2 with Alterations adopted; Churchgate reconfirmed as area for redevelopment.
1996 May – NHDC Policy & Resources Cttee agreed public consultation prior to Guidelines being prepared for Churchgate area from Portmill Lane to Bridge Street.
1996 December – NHDC hosts public meeting about future of Hitchin Market & its role in HTC.
1998 – Churchgate Development Guidelines preparation begun.
1999 – Local Plan No.3 (unadopted) confirmed area for redevelopment.
2000 June – Northern Trust (leaseholder) granted permission for external refurbishment of Churchgate (earlier application withdrawn after HCC Architects Advisory Panel recommended refusal).
2001 – Hammersmatch (HM) acquires lease.
2002 – 2003 – four draft Town Centre Strategies produced by NHDC; first three opposed by community on grounds that expansion out of scale & market displaced; protest in form of petition of 10,000 & march around town centre with rally.
2004 – Hitchin Town Centre Strategy agreed.
2005 – Churchgate Planning Brief adopted – site split into smaller development area and enhancement areas (car parks); development partner sought.
Feb 2007 – NHDC Hitchin Town Centre Working Party – identifies much larger development site than in Churchgate Planning Brief on advice of Donaldsons.
July 2007 – Donaldsons taken over by DTZ.
Oct 2007 – DTZ & NHDC advertise site (Churchgate centre, Market site, all car parks) for retail-led mixed use development by experienced development partner. Registrations of interest by 29.11.07.
2008 – HM obtain renewal of planning consent of 2000. HM research showed Churchgate could not be significantly increased in size for planning & legal reasons.
Sept 2008 – NHDC announce shortlisted bidders in Competitive Dialogue Process: Crest Nicholson Regeneration Ltd, Kier Property Ltd, Simons Developments Ltd, Thornfield Properties plc. (HM – current leaseholders – not included.)
Nov 2008 – NHDC announce Kier & Thornfield have withdrawn from bidding process.
2009 – HM obtain further renewal of 2008 planning consent.
July 2009 – Roanne Ruling: local authorities must publish all schemes involving public sector money or facilities in Official Journal of EU.
Oct 2009 – Crest Nicholson pull out of bidding process.
2010 – NHDC sign development agreement with Simons (would receive a 250-year lease of 7 acres of land in the town centre, and were obliged to produce a planning application within 3 years – by March 2013).
2010-11 Churchgate Liaison Forum – planned as a 2- monthly meeting between Simons, NHDC officers, councillors and community groups, to discuss emerging development proposals by Simons.
2011 – English Heritage see little merit in the proposal emerging at Churchgate. “Simons scheme appears to have been generated by a wish to impose in Hitchin a standard & frankly alien retail development”.
Jan 2012 – HM statement that by 2008 had spent £100K on design, surveys, planning & professional fees, & 7-figure sum on subsidising rents to ensure short term leases. Ground rent is £142,900.
July 2012 – HM obtain renewal of planning consent of 2009.
Nov 2012 – NHDC Cabinet set to extend Simons contract for 6 months (then requested to 18 months, but if that were done there would likely be no actual end date).
Jan 2013 – Simons hold exhibition (~45 people agree with proposal, out of ~90 who completed forms, so Simons say that 50% of Hitchin residents support the scheme) and that they need an extra £2M from Council.
Jan 2013 – HM hold exhibition, suggest a cinema as part of the development and much smaller redevelopment and refurbishment of Churchgate. Public Meeting to oppose extension of Simons contract. NHDC advise Councillors that attending would amount to predetermination and exclude them from voting. Petition to not extend the contract with Simons. 3140 signatures in one week. Council vote not to extend contract.
March 2013 – NHDC end contract with Simons.
July 2013 – Full Council agrees to await publication of draft Local Plan and to continue open dialogue with interested developers including HM.
May 2014 – HM proposal published for extended Churchgate; suggests Market moves to car parks.
July 2014 – Full Council confirms decision of July 2013 & agrees £10,000 for procurement of advice on Council’s ability to enter into exclusivity agreement with a developer who has obtained planning permission. No further budget until planning permission obtained.
November 2014 – based on advice from Eversheds, NHDC abandons Churchgate Planning Brief approach so as to consider smaller scheme in short term.
February 2015 – discussions with HM about their Churchgate Extension Scheme (CES); another interested party later withdraws.
February 2015 – Full Council agree £40,000 for independent valuation of site & necessary legal & commercial advice; 150-year lease can be granted upon completion of any agreed redevelopment; all developers must seek solution for Market at own expense; continue to investigate smaller scheme.
July 2015 – Council grant HM exclusivity (with conditions) until end of 2015. HM engage Michael Felton for initial feasibility study on Market, structural engineers for flats above shops, discuss with cinema & retail operators & seek funder. NHDC get independent valuation of Churchgate site (in Part II report to Council 11.2.16).
Oct 2015 – HM obtain renewal of planning consent of 2012.
January 2016 – Churchgate Project Board & HM discussions with joint venture partner UCG. HM say their proposals for CES not viable (report to Council 11.2.16). Exclusivity ends.
February 2016 – NHDC agrees to cease work on Churchgate Project & explore possibility of acquiring lease.
April 2016 – Shearer Property Group (SPG) approach NHDC to say they have binding option to purchase Churchgate from HM.
November 2017 – March 2018 – Examination in Public (EiP) into Submission Local Plan. Policy HT11 – Churchgate redevelopment to provide 4,000 gross sqm of additional town centre uses (A1 shops, A3 restaurant/cafe, A4 public house, wine bar etc, A5 hot food takeaway).
February 2018 – NHDC agrees to principle of Joint Venture (JV) regeneration with SPG. NHDC would fund with help from Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) & Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) and be sole owner of completed scheme, receiving all income. NHDC’s management contract with Hitchin Markets Ltd extended to 31 July 2020.
March/April 2018 – online public consultation about JV SPG/NHDC proposals.
November 2018 – NHDC to consider alternative options if SPG proposals don’t proceed, welcomes proposals by Churchgate Resurgence Pro Bono (website here) & will as far as possible fully engage with CRPB & Hitchin community groups.
December 2018 - LEP Board reject application as project failed to deliver sufficient outputs (jobs, houses, skills etc) for the amount of money sought.
February 2019 – Full Council (minutes awaited). NHDC agree in principle to purchase leasehold interest; any regeneration must maintain return to the Council; officers to continue range of potential solutions; officers to assist with Future High Streets (FHS) funding application by Hitchin Initiative & any others that come forward in the District (only one scheme in North Herts can be submitted).