Hope for something different

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Since 2009, I have been following the public debate about the future of the present Calderdale Central Library and Archive.

In early February last year, you were kind enough to publish a letter from me which suggested that the scope of the debate needed to be much wider. I now hear that the question of the future of this building and the use of the site (if it is demolished) is still not settled, and that Ipsos MORI has produced a briefing paper “Your Calderdale, Your Future”. This, as I read it, offers a debate broadly in terms of either providing more space for larger retail stores on a cleared Northgate site or demolishing Northgate House and providing a (vaguely defined) green space. Its emphasis seems to be in terms of encouraging the former option. I feel it appropriate to restate my unease about this. All aspects of urban renewal – whether partial or major – should take into account the changing economic environment of our time. There are presently several adverse factors: the continuing financial crisis, now with us since late summer of 2007 and still unresolved; the near certainty that the era of cheap oil is over; the planned cuts in public expenditure, now partly implemented. These will limit people’s spending power into an indefinite future. In consequence, a programme for renewal which gives priority to the development of retailing may well be mistaken. My earlier letter offered something different to hope for: a future which will provide opportunities to develop our own creative talents; to foster conviviality and well-being. Spaces and encouragement to meet and understand each other and our histories; for the performing arts; for recreation and fostering good health, physical and mental. This does not neglect retailing, rather it seeks retail activity which celebrates diversity and specialism, avoiding what has been called the ‘clone town’ syndrome. Halifax – and indeed, the whole of Calderdale – has already the basic requirements to meet this approach to regeneration. I recognise that these ideas are no more than headings at present. Filling in the details is far from easy, and none of us can do it alone. This is where I am disappointed with the “Your Calderdale, Your Future” document and its associated invitation to participate. It points only to a conventional – and possibly unstable – solution, namely more large national retailers. It may be possible, for a further brief period, to put the presently wrecked economy back on track. But at some stage we must ask what we want ‘the economy’ to do, and what are the obstacles and the environmental limits. At present - as I said in my earlier letter – all of us, wherever we live, are being rushed into accepting proposals which limit rather than widen the debate which is needed for our times. In terms of the present consultation, option B provides the best opportunity for a more carefully considered approach to the regeneration of Halifax. What follows will still not be easy, but it is the task for our times.

Tony Weekes

Queen’s University Belfast