Calderdale Council has been overtaken by events in its intention to sell off its Northgate site, including the Central Library, for clothing retail development.
All the publicly available evidence suggests that apart from possibly attracting a Primark store it will not succeed in its aims. Why? Because the way people shop is changing much faster than expected. The media is constantly telling us that High Streets as they were, are yesteryear. One in 9 high street shops is already empty and according to a recent study reported in The Times newspaper a fifth of all shops will close as a result of Internet shopping. Why pay for expensive parking, asks The Times, when an armchair click will do? IPSOS, the very same parent of the company that conducted the disputed consultation for the Council on the future of Halifax town centre has stated that the High Street will always lose out to the lower overheads of the Internet. Retail analysts at Investec say the High Street is in structural decline and the Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts that within the decade at least a third of all retail sales will be on-line. Amazon will increase its warehouses from 8 to 11 by 2014 and the Post Office is planning to deliver 23% of retail by 2016. A corporate recovery firm reports that 140 retailers are on their critical watch and most are not expected to be in business in a year’s time and another 14,000 shops are suffering significant distress. Economist Heather Stuart states in the Observer that “well loved business on the High Street with their costly branch network are being driven out” and that local councils pinning their hopes on a retail revival should think again. And Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation says that Councils need to re-imagine High Streets as places where apart from shops “you can learn, meet, exchange and borrow things and get and make entertainment”. What an endorsement for a Central Library! Similarly a recent Times leader sees the High Street evolving from family businesses up to mid 20th century, then the growth of national stores and now with these giants collapsing the opportunity to develop holistically alongside some shops. This is identical with one of Mary Portas’s proposals for the High Street of the future. Interviewed by the Observer the Managing Director of the John Lewis stores said national retailers now realise they need just 120 stores in regional centres to do the business that 500 stores did in the 1990’s, so most are now cutting back. Landlords of shopping schemes have admitted that “local opinion is often bought with no consideration of the fact that this will mostly be at the expense of town centre jobs”. With this overwhelming evidence the Council should reassess its proposals for Northgate and in particular its plan to replace the Central Library with a much smaller one, without all the existing services, at a cost in excess of £10 million to be borne by Council tax payers for many years to come, and in the light of promised massive government cuts in the funding of local services.