North Hertfordshire Museum in building sale threat

Patrick Steel, 22.06.2016
Council bidding to buy building from receivers
The opening of the North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin, which has been beset by difficulties, has been further delayed after the front of 14-15 Brand Street, which provides access to the museum in the back, was put on the market by receivers.

North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC) is currently bidding to buy the building, which is being marketed by Eddisons, a property management company, as a “unique opportunity” in a “prominent town centre position”. Tom Colyer, a surveyor at Eddisons said that there has been interest from several parties who have viewed the property.



The situation follows a legal dispute between the council and the building’s freeholder, Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, a charitable trust formed to run the town hall, which adjoins the museum, as a community venue. The Social Investment Business, which manages Adventure Capital Fund, which in turn funds Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, called in administrators to recoup losses incurred by the trust during the dispute.

The museum, which was originally scheduled to open last year, replaces the Hitchin Museum and Letchworth Museum, which closed in September 2012.

Part of the rationale for closing the venues was that they lacked disabled access, and there are fears that if the council’s bid to buy the building fails then access to the museum may be restricted.

Tony Hunter, NHDC’s executive member for community engagement said: “The North Hertfordshire Museum and Hitchin Town Hall development has been designed to meet modern accessibility standards and it is our intention to complete the development for the benefit of the community. We can confirm that we will therefore be submitting an offer for the acquisition of 14-15 Brand Street.

“However, although this is our preferred option, we can operate both the museum and Hitchin Town Hall without the Brand Street premises with limited alterations. If we are unsuccessful in our bid then ensuring accessibility to the facility will be a key consideration and options will be fully costed.”

The project cost for the new museum has risen from £4.5m to £5.8m, but a council spokeswoman said much of the increase was due to Hitchin Town Hall Ltd being "unable or unwilling to make its financial contribution to the build and fit out costs for the town hall". And the council faced a further setback earlier this year when Lightbrigade, the company contracted to fit out the museum, entered into voluntary liquidation.

A council spokeswoman would not comment further on its bid to buy the building, but Museums Journal understands that an official opening date for the museum will not be set until the result of the bid is known.

Update
04.07.2016

This article has been updated to reflect clarifications from North Hertfordshire District Council.

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