Major multi-million pound plans to revamp Halifax town centre have won support despite reservations from some councillors and opposition to demolition of a building from heritage groups.
Improvement works for the town centre and the A629 route which include creating a new public area called the Piece Garden opposite the Piece Hall and improving bus, cycle and pedestrian facilities, will come at the cost of losing the Hughes Corporation building to demolition and some town centre parking spaces and subways.
The works form the second of five phases of a comprehensive scheme to provide a multi-modal transport corridor between Halifax and Huddersfield.
READ MORE: This is how Halifax town centre could look in the future
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.
Calderdale Council’s Planning Committee was mindful to grant planning permission for the scheme, which has been referred to the Secretary of State for Housing, Community and Local Government for determination.
READ MORE: This is how Halifax town centre could look in the future
A bid to get the Hughes Corporation on Square Road listed is pending but councillors were told that need not preclude them from making their decision.
Historic England and the West Yorkshire Archaeological Advisory Service, supported by other groups including Halifax Civic Trust and Halifax Antiquarian Society, object to the demolition of the Hughes Corporation and have concerns about the impact development will have on heritage assets.
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.
The council’s Director for Regeneration and Strategy, Mark Thompson, said the plans could be seen as part of other proposals for Halifax town centre, “potentially setting the stage for a series of other interventions over the next five to ten years, especially the railway station proposals,” he said.
Mr Thompson outlined some of the major proposals.
“The interests of retail and the economy are very much in the forecast, central to this.
“Only today we have heard more about Marks and Spencer closing stores. It tells us we can’t stand still and need to invest for the next decades.
“It is a unique opportunity to bring £40 million of investment into the town.” he said.
Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland) asked about parts of the proposals to alter Bull Green and siting of bus stops because of the steep sided topography of Halifax.
“It seems to be shifting vehicles now to the bottom of town. It is taking away Bull Green car park and taking parking away.
“But we need to be bringing people into the town centre. We need to be making it easier for people to come to the town centre, not push them away,” he said.
An agent for the council said it was important when people were arriving at one of the gateways they were directed to where the parking was.
Coun Bob Metcalfe (Lab, Town) said regarding opposition to demolishing the Hughes Corporation building that other heritage buildings in an “icon rich” part of town would showcase listed buildings like Halifax Minster better. “I think we know a key role is the demolition of the Hughes building – it really is an important part.”
Vicar of Halifax Rev Canon Hilary Barber supported the plans saying “It’s exciting to be in Halifax and all the changes.
“As far as I can see the Hughes Corporation does us no favours.”
But Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said he was in favour of the proposals – but had serious concerns about some part of the plans.
“They are making it almost a ‘no go’ area in the town centre for cars,” he said. “A reduction of 39 parking places is not acceptable.”
Referencing proposals to remove car parking at Bull Green he added: “When I am out and about in the town centre people say they want to see more car parking spaces, not less.
“Businesses are fully aware of what this is going to do to the town centre,” he said.
Coun Baines said the plans should have been discussed at an evening meeting as there would be a lot of interest and the application should have been split into separate schemes as he was now placed in the position of having to vote against the whole because there were parts he was concerned about.
He believed the proposals for traffic flow were wrong and questioned the wisdom of basing the bus network at the bottom of the town bearing in mind a lot of the borough’s population were elderly and this meant an uphill walk.
Coun Colin Peel (Con, Brighouse) pointed out that Halifax had been clever in the past in reprieving historic buildings in poor shape “just in time”, including the Piece Hall and Square Chapel and wondered if the triangular shaped Hughes Corporation building could somehow be fitted into the plan.
But the agent for the council said its condition was deteriorating and they key was that the most valuable heritage assets were being showcased.
Coun Carol Machell (Lab, Todmorden) said it was “a great vision” with the Piece Garden a key feature.
“Now when coming in you will be able to view that green space, you will be able to see the Minster there and all the streets which are full of heritage, what Halifax has to offer,” she said.
Coun Bellenger and Coun Peel both said they felt the proposals were “flawed” but Coun David Kirton (Con, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) said overall he was happy to support the scheme
Coun Faisal Shoukat (Lab, Park) said the plans to pedestrianise areas like Market Street would ensure it was a safe area for families to walk about.
He said of the changes: “There is still that 19th and early 20th century industrial town – you can almost smell the chimneys. This is light and airy.”
An amendment to recommend refusal of the plans tabled by Couns Peel and Baines was defeated and the main motion to be mindful to approve the plans tabled by councillors Shoukat and Kirton was carried.
The proposals 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.