Campaigners aiming to save the bandstand in one of Calderdale’s parks have around eight weeks to produce a plan that will convince councillors it can be repaired, funded, protected and play a part in community life.
At a heated and at times acrimonious meeting of Calderdale Council’s Place Scrutiny Board councillors narrowly voted to put Cabinet’s late July decision to demolish the bandstand at Centre Vale Park, Todmorden, replacing it with a new performance state, through for implementation.
After an at times highly charged debate, the aftermath of which continues to rage today (Wednesday, August 21) on social media, the Save Our Bandstand campaign effectively has the time it will take for a planning application by the council to demolish and replace the structure, originally built in 1914 and rebuilt as a replica in 1999 after vandals had destroyed the original in a fire, to be prepared and submitted.
The Cabinet decision was called in for scrutiny by Coun Peter Caffrey (Con, Northowram and Shelf) and the decision to implement was split on party lines with Coun Caffrey’s Conservative colleagues unsuccessfully bidding to get Cabinet to reconsider, with a suggested four-month time frame for the campaign group to come up with a workable business plan, and Labour councillors backing Cabinet’s decision.
Deborah Farrington, of Save Our Bandstand, said people had been taken by surprise that there were plans to demolish the structure, which is fenced off and unused for safety reasons.
But in the two weeks following the decision, against which 1,500 people had responded to a Facebook poll, the group had formed, had a committee in place and understood there had to be a viable plan to repair the bandstand, protect it from vandals and have a central role in staging community events which would go beyond music to take in cinema and theatre, including young people having a role in framing what it was used for.
She said figures given for repair to original specification – Cabinet was told £300,000 – caused the group serious concerns, they questioned them and she quoted line-by-line items that the group believed had grown in cost in just a few years without the situation changing.
“We have no faith in these figures and in any case they are for guidance only and should have been put out to tender before the decision was made,” she said.
Quoting Todmorden’s town motto “By Industry We Prosper”, the group wanted to pursue an asset transfer of the structure from Calderdale to the group and hoped the £40,000 earmarked for demolition could be put towards restoration, she said.
Council officers explained costings were based on a report initially prepared by Storah Architecture for Todmorden Town Council.
Todmorden ward councillor and Cabinet member for Public Services and Communities, Coun Susan Press, said of the proposed replacement space: “We’re not just talking about a block of concrete – it would be a performance space to match the ampitheatre style. That can be used for all kinds of things and it is not to say that in the future we couldn’t build on it.”
Board chair Coun Steven Leigh (Con, Ryburn) said he did not think he had seen any refurbishment in recent years that had approached these sort of figures.
Officers explained that the £300,000 figure would be a maximum one but indicated it would be expensive.
Todmorden Town Councillor Coun Tony Roberts said its position, having commissioned the report, was that it could not take on the costs of restoration or asset transfer itself, it was a Calderdale structure. They did not want to stand in the way of Cabinet’s decision but would assist the campaign group if it could find a way forward.
Debate reached a flashpoint which saw Coun Josh Fenton-Glynn (Lab, Calder), Coun Leigh and Coun Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse) angrily cross swords.
Coun Fenton-Glynn said none of the councillors took on the role because they wanted to take away assets from any community but Calderdale could not afford the restoration cost.
He said the council was committed to supporting Todmorden and had done so with £500,000 investment in Todmorden Market, £5 million into a new building for Todmorden High School and investment in Todmorden Town Hall.
But the council had £100 million less to spend that in 2010 and he criticised Calder Valley Conservative MP Craig Whittaker for “politicing” about it. “I understand he would want to shed some crocodile tears locally but nationally he voted for every cut,” said Coun Fenton-Glynn.
Coun Benton, leader of the Conservative group, said he was disappointed to hear of national politics spoken about at this level and claimed some of the funding Coun Fenton-Glynn mentioned was provided by Government or approved by a previous Tory administration at Calderdale.
“The problem with talking about funding, funding, funding is looking at the revenue budget, which has been cut by central Government – but we’re not talking about revenue funding we are talking about capital funding for a new building,” he said.
Coun Benton said Calderdale had spent £400 million on capital projects over the past few years. “I have detected a theme – Halifax, Halifax, Halifax,” he said.
Coun Caffrey said at the end of the day it as a case of would a restoration be viable or not.
“How much time do we give the group to look at it, come up with a business plan and, if not, ‘end of,” he said.
Another Todmorden councillor, Coun Silvia Dacre (Lab) said: “It seems to me that if the group want to try and engage Cabinet before the planning application the most important thing they should do is get their own figures because they don’t accept the figures from officers.”
Coun Fenton-Glynn asked officers if the four month request would make any difference to expense but was told delay beyond the planning application would trigger £40,000 having to be spent on making the structure more secure.
The Save Our Bandstand group have more meetings arranged to formulate a plan and has petitions on shops, pubs and cafes in Todmorden as well as a Facebook page – while a counter-petition has also been started on Facebook calling for the bandstand’s replacement.