In the Courier Barry Collins emotively cited shrinking funds for the “vulnerable and disabled” to justify the council’s latest proposal to impose parking charges in Halifax between 6 and 8 pm.
There would be no shortage of money for the “vulnerable and disabled” if the council responsibly maintained its precious Victorian and 20th century heritage, assets that it actually owns and Halifax people and visitors actually appreciate and value. Renting council space elsewhere when the council owns Northgate House; building a new library when there is overwhelming support for keeping the central library where it is; paying thousands of pounds in fees to consultants and the likes of MORI to devise obviously flawed surveys to persuade us to give the answers they want when they already know what the majority of people think; pointless signs like “let’s make Halifax a healthy town” as though it was an unhealthy town in need of some sort of treatment; the mere sight of the unloved and hideous, out-of-keeping Broad Street Plaza - all these expensive projects represent a terrible waste of money, particularly in a double-dip recession, and particularly when we are told (again in the 21 September Courier) that council services face further drastic retraction. Now I read (Courier, passim) that daytime parking charges are planned for King Cross Street and the Shoppers/Library carpark. This will hit the independent shops in King Cross, already struggling to compete with the nearby 24hour Tesco with its free parking, and library users. Half an hour’s free on-street parking and the free carpark are crucial to keeping all these businesses and services running. Shibden Hall’s café is sadly already a victim of this short-term, counter-productive greed. How visitor unfriendly can Halifax get? Halifax a “car-friendly” town? This is pure Newspeak, worthy of George Orwell: meaning the absolute opposite of what it says. But to return to the question of heritage. Why do people flock to Ilkley and Hebden Bridge and avoid places like Shipley? Because they are unspoilt and have character. Because their old buildings have not been replaced with meretricious tat or anonymous malls. Because they have interesting independent shops and not the usual suspects all selling the same boring stuff. If York, Chester, Bath, any “historic market town” mentioned on a brown tourist roadsign, had decided their lovely old buildings were no longer “fit for purpose” they wouldn’t get any visitors. Neglecting the unique Piece Hall that 20 years ago was humming with businesses, shops, markets, entertainments and visitors every day of the week was unforgivable. All it needed was looking after – the fabric, and the shopkeepers and stallholders that supported it, rain or shine. Actually saving money in the long run, and keeping its character. And treating people decently. Is Halifax’s Victorian town centre not “worth a detour”? It should be! Calderdale council-tax-payers expect their representatives to maintain the buildings they own, and not just the obviously historic ones. Knocking down purpose-designed buildings the council commissioned and owns after less than 30 years is corporate vandalism at its very worst. Even people who shop on line enjoy visiting a place with interesting, independent shops – and spending money in them. A lovely Victorian town like Halifax boasting pound shops, (useful, agreed, but by no means uniquely enticing) betting shops (to be found everywhere, unfortunately) and worst of all empty shops whilst a fancy mall sports Primark as the “jewel in its crown” is a philistine no-brainer. A turn-off, in fact, just like the parking hikes. And just like the permanently congested valley roads stuffed with unnecessary new houses nobody can afford to buy. If occupied they merely generate yet more cars, more congestion. Apart from which there are already over 20,000 empty properties in Calderdale. Yet our local politicians of all persuasions (save Green) invariably use their soapbox Courier page to justify the further despoliation of our beautiful area in the name of “growth”. Shame on them all. The council needs to think these things through properly before their grandiose schemes ruin Halifax and the surrounding area forever. There are plenty of precedents countrywide to act as warnings.