Heritage groups are objecting to key council plans to reshape large areas of Halifax town centre as part of a multi-million pound scheme.
As Calderdale Council is looking to alter parts of Halifax town centre for the future, a potential stumbling block has come in the form of the town’s industrial past, with a decision set to be made at Secretary of State level.
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The council has submitted plans for Halifax town centre and the main A629 road route improvements works, which form the second of five phases of a comprehensive scheme to provide a multi-modal transport corridor between Halifax and Huddersfield.
In total the whole project will cost around £120 million with this second phase representing around £2.9 million of investment from the council and partners including the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
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Councillors are being asked to be mindful to grant planning permission when they consider the plan at Planning Committee at Halifax Town Hall on Tuesday, January 15, when the item is being scheduled to be heard from around 2.30pm.
The application has been brought before the committee because Historic England and the West Yorkshire Archaeological Advisory Service object to the demolition of the Hughes Corporation building in Square Road and have concerns about the impact the development will have on heritage assets, namely a statutory duty to have special regard to the desirability of preserving listed buildings, or their setting and features of special architectural or historical interest which they possess.
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Neither is special attention being paid to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of conservation areas, the briefing document to councillors by planning lead Richard Seaman says.
The proposed development includes around 14 hectares of land within Halifax town centre and if given the go-ahead will consist of three main phases, the Eastern Corridor, the Western Corridor and the Central Area, with a number of major interventions in each.
They include a number of interventions to improve connectivity, pedestrian, cycling and public transport improvements such as remodelling of junctions, road widening and realignment, provision of cycle lanes, new controlled and uncontrolled pedestrian crossings, improved streetscapes, pedestrianising central and northern sections of Market Street and demolishing the non-listed Hughes Corporation building.
In terms of the Eastern Corridor these include a new public square known as the Piece Gardens immediately adjacent to the historic Grade I listed Piece Hall and Calderdale Industrial Museum, Square Chapel Arts Centre and the new Central Library.
Western corridor major interventions will include replacing the Bull Green roundabout with traffic signals and enhanced pedestrian crossings, creating a new public area and closing existing subways at Pellon Lane and Cow Green, replacing them with pedestrian crossings.
Central area interventions will bring changes to the town centre bus network as well as pedestrianisation and public realm improvements at Market Street and the southern part of Commercial Street.
Council planners argue that the improvements the project will bring to Halifax outweigh the concerns voiced by Historic England and the West Yorkshire Archaeological Advisory Service and supported by other groups including Halifax Civic Trust and Halifax Antiquarian Society.
Concerns include the Hughes Corporation building, which was most recently a bar and diner, being capable of playing a functional role and claims the building “forms part of an important group of woolstaplers’ buildings and should be used to promote the heritage of Halifax.”
The town was a major woollen centre historically, with the Georgian era Piece Hall being re-opened in 2017 following a major £19 million restoration.
Historic England say: “Sorry to see that it is proposed to demolish the Hughes Corporation building and introduce a large public open space in the area between Square Road and Church Street.
“This is a particularly distinctive part of the conservation area containing some of Halifax’s best buildings on the Piece Hall, Square Church Spire, Square Chapel and Halifax Minster.
“The remaining warehouses and train station are also highly important to the identity and legacy of Halifax as an industrial textile town.
“In short, this small area displays the development of Halifax over centuries and contains markers of all the things that have made Halifax what it is today,” it says.
A Government public body, Historic England argues the best way to preserve the conservation area would be to retain Hughes Corporation and reintroduce some built form between Square Road and Church Street.
West Yorkshire Archaeological Advisory Service recommends the archaeological potential of land at Cripplegate and Bank Bottom is established before any development takes place and any work carried out as necessary, that an archaeological watching brief is held at those locations and that the Hughes Corporation building is retained.
For its part, the council argues: “The overarching public benefits achieved through the demolition of the Hughes Corporation include the facilitation of transport improvements to unlock sites to attract investment, attract people to spend more time in Halifax, provide commercial accommodation, give greater recognition to Halifax’s heritage status, broaden Halifax’s social and cultural offer and provide space to support skills and education.
“It is therefore considered in this case that the harm is outweighed.”
Historic England has applied to have the Hughes Corporation listed but as the Secretary of State has yet to consider that request the Planning Committee must treat the building for what it is, currently a non-designated heritage asset, as opposed to what it could be, says the briefing paper.
Although councillors are recommended to be mindful to grant permission, the application is referred to the Secretary of State for Housing Community and Local Government for determination.