Following Councillor Colin Stout’s well-constructed article last week on the library issue, it is difficult to add too much to what he said.
So I want to address the wider issue of consultation.
It is not always a baton that Calderdale has picked up and run with, so on this occasion we should acknowledge that they have finally popped the question to the people on the library.
The concern is that ‘consultation’ is such a broad sphere that it’s difficult to pinpoint what effective consultation actually is. Had the Council done that on the library issue from day one, then it might have saved itself a lot of agony, u-turns and bad headlines.
Central Government is clear that people must be consulted on major projects, but it might still come as a surprise to many that their central library could be on the move. Also, this is such a broad package of measures that people could easily be in favour of one part, not the other.
It would be strange if most people don’t want to see new jobs created in the town centre. However, do most people want the central library to be demolished and replaced elsewhere? The overall picture suggests not, and that has always been the difficulty for the Council right from the start.
If anything should be learnt from this, it’s that town hall bosses should be clear from day one what is being planned with major projects.
So, the consultation probably came too late to change anyone’s views. Town Hall bosses said it wouldn’t go ahead without ‘substantial public support’. Whether that has been achieved will be a matter of on-going debate.
I accept that the representative survey shows a majority in favour, but it’s hardly a stampede, especially as petitions have been grouped together as one response rather than the thousands they represent.
At best the people of this district are polarised on this issue.
Ultimately, most people realise what the Council wants to do and elected members are ultimately accountable to the electorate for what they decide.
Consultations, if the decision-makers have already made up their mind, are just seen as window dressing. It has been a difficult issue, as people on both sides of the argument genuinely want the best for Halifax town centre. It’s just a shame that an excellent library, at the heart of the town centre, might have to be demolished to create jobs and regeneration. A new one, I accept, will be put in its place, but will it be the same?
If, sadly, it goes ahead it will be up to those facing the electorate in years to come to outline if this was an act of visionary skill or a monumental mistake.