My true colours... a parting shot

Blue & Red: Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, just two of the Prime Ministers to rub shoulders with Michael Peel.
Blue & Red: Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, just two of the Prime Ministers to rub shoulders with Michael Peel.

Today, after 40 years in the job, the Courier’s local government reporter Michael Peel retires. Now, he puts impartial journalism aside to reveal, for the first time, his opinions on the big issues he has covered

I must be one of the luckiest people in Calderdale. For the best part of 40 years I have been paid a little to write a lot of stories about people, places and events occurring in my own backyard.

Michael Peel

Michael Peel

I am proud of what I have done and the slight difference I might have made to the area I call home by bringing interesting issues to the attention of others.

I once joined a protest march! It was to highlight plans to build wind turbines on Cock Hill Moor, in Hebden Bridge.

A daft idea, not least because it would have destroyed one of Calderdale’s most attractive areas of open countryside. I have been highly sceptical about wind power ever since.

But apart from that single act of political agitation and frequent trips to the ballot box, as a journalist I have bent over backwards to bury my opinions and report local happenings accurately and without bias.

As I sign off, it is time to nail my colours to the mast with regard to some of the more contentious issues and events which I believe have changed Calderdale for better or worse, brought it to national attention and often infuriated me and others.

I began work on the Hebden Bridge Times in 1973 and well remember those early attempts to restore and eventually reopen the Rochdale Canal - pity they never surfaced the tow path.

Soon after joining the Halifax Courier in 1979, work took me to Savile Park where I saw the body of 19-year-old Josephine Whitaker half hidden under a sheet. It sickens me to think that I’m still paying for the Yorkshire Ripper to reside at Her Majesty’s pleasure - bring back hanging!

All my working life, I have closely monitored the affairs of Calderdale Council, and I have been on first names terms with every Mayor.

I believe that if Calderdale has been blessed with anything, it is for most of the time having a council with no single political party in overall control.

It is also much better place for having the Eureka Children’s Museum, the Broad Street Plaza, the Lowfields and Dean Clough business parks, the Spring Hall athletics track, a revamped Calderdale College, new schools, a new hospital, the Brighouse/Elland rail link, the King Cross by-pass and Pennine Housing etc etc.....

Now I want my councillors to create more youth clubs, reopen Halifax Industrial Museum, grit footpaths in winter, ban temporary traffic lights, stop using schools as polling stations, switch off most streetlamps after midnight, enlarge the storm drains and preserve the green belt.

I’m fed up of the queues through Sowerby Bridge and Hipperholme, so for goodness sake build some by-passes!

Only Calderdale Council could invent the Ridings school and still allow Todmorden High to suffer Dickensian decay.

I can just about overlook the Sugden’s Mill debacle in Brighouse, the Kerbside recycling fiasco and the protracted debates about whether to introduce wheelie bins and demolish Northgate House.

But why put a surcharge on Victoria Theatre tickets and pump money into a football stadium?

Recently, I went to a Primark store in Edinburgh, so I can see why Halifax ‘needs’ one of those.

But the Princess Street premises would fit comfortably on the site of the soon to be demolished civic offices - so “Don’t Bulldoze Our Library”!

And if you really want to make the Piece Hall successful, put a roof over it (retractable or otherwise).

I have encountered many Government Ministers and politicians on their visits to Calderdale. When I met Margaret Thatcher and interviewed Tony Blair on a coach from Brighouse to Leeds they seemed like nice folk.

But then I had a soft spot for several councillors and officers - until they ended up on the wrong side of the law.

My award for the best local politician goes jointly to former councillors David Helliwell and David Shutt, and veteran John Ford who always spoke with conviction.

Finally, I believe in merging council services in Calderdale and Kirklees, slashing the number of councillors, cutting council tax, charging for parking permits and putting fluoride in the water supply.

As I told Seb Coe, when he visited Halifax as a political new boy, I’m a Liberal-minded radical left leaning Conservative - and Calderdale’s number one fan.

But I suspect my reader already knew that.