Fresh consultation may create swing in opinion

Northgate House should be developed, Calderdale Council just need to convince the public why.

It is clear public interest in the future of Northgate House, Halifax Central Library and the Archives remains as strong as it was in 2009. The fact that the proposal by Gregory Group to develop the site has not been dismissed out of hand suggests that senior figures at the council remain of the view, as expressed in a council resolution of July 2008, that Northgate House should “not be refurbished and that Northgate House with the library be disposed of for development in accordance with the development brief”.

To do so though would be contrary to the outpouring of opinion that this decision created and the subsequent council resolution in October 2009 that “the current library building be retained on its current site and the physical condition and service provision be improved unless there are alternative financially-viable proposals produced for the Halifax Central Library, and Archives that have broad public support and would themselves improve present provision.”

The development of the site, together with perhaps in the longer term the bus station and the sorting office, represents a major opportunity to support the growth of Halifax as regional centre. The Gregory Group’s proposal appears to be underpinned by a pre-let arrangement with Primark and it is important to note that nowhere else within the town could this requirement from a successful national retailer be accommodated. The importance of the Archive to the West Yorkshire Archive Service is noted, as is the importance of the Library as a community resource, but at the same time as adding to the retail offer in the town, the disposal of the site would secure sufficient receipts to enhance both of these facilities and allow the council’s office requirement to support another development in the town such as the Broad Street Plaza or Dean Clough.

When the public was consulted on the disposal of the site in the summer of 2009 three questions were asked:

Option 1: Library and Archive remain where they are now;

Option 2: Library and Archive move to new facilities at another Halifax town centre location; and

Option 3: Library and Archive become a part of any new development on the Northgate House and Central Library footprint

In the absence at that time of any firm proposals to replace the Library and the Archive, or indeed for the redevelopment of the site itself, it is perhaps hardly surprising that the support for Option 1 was, at 95 per cent, so overwhelming. The circumstances now though, in terms of the merits of the redevelopment as well as the costs of the council remaining in Northgate House, are significantly different and would provide for a more reasoned comparison of the options.

The October 2009 Council resolution makes clear that the Library and Archives should remain on the current site unless broad public support for a financially viable alternative is achieved and it appears clear that a further period of consultation is the only way that the Gregory Group proposals, or indeed any other proposals for the site, could be entertained.

Of course, if the public remain unconvinced of the merits of development then that decision needs to be respected, but it should be hoped though, that with full disclosure of the relevant information, support will now be forthcoming.

Samuel Stafford

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