Reflection: Plenty of exciting things to come in Halifax

Square Chapel recently re-opened its doors
Square Chapel recently re-opened its doors

Last Week Square Chapel opened its doors for the first time to the public having completed the Cornerstone Project. The end result is very impressive and gives Halifax a quality arts venue to be much admired and sort after.

The new theatre space - already nick named The Biscuit tin - is a great addition to the existing auditorium, and with the new foyer linking in to The Piece Hall, and the Office and Changing rooms located downstairs, it’s a space we can all be proud of. Well done and congratulations to the Square Chapel Trust.

Last night I attended the Awards Ceremony for West Yorkshire Police at The Shay Stadium. Here we heard stories over and over again: of bravery, going the extra mile, of professionalism, given by the men and women of the Police across the town and Calderdale. In recent weeks following incidents in Manchester and London, it’s become very clear how we need to value the extraordinary work the Police do to keep us safe, and for us to keep up the political pressure to ensure they are properly resourced to do the work we ask of them.

This morning I attended the second consultation meeting on the Station Gateway. This was attended by key stakeholders before going out to public consultation as the project develops. The first thing to say is that it’s all very exciting and there are some inspirational ideas about improving the whole vicinity to the Station as the gateway into the town, as we become a strategic destination, creating jobs and supporting the economy for the future. There was a strong sense around the room that everyone was listening intently to each other, listening to ideas put forward by the consultants, and to the needs of rail users, major employers in the town, and those of us whose property lies in the vicinity. Understanding the medium and long term needs of the town is a key factor in decision making. Wealth creation is crucial to the future of the town, be it through employment and heritage and tourism.

Integrated transport is another key factor to be considered. When rail users arrive at the Station, how do they proceed to their intended destination? For some this will be by foot, for others it will be by bus. This is especially true for anyone with mobility issues with the town’s topography. Car parking is a favourite topic of debate in Halifax, and whilst we do indeed require spaces for cars to park, we also need to ensure we have a robust environmental policy that encourages as much public transport as possible, and that will only work if its good! The new road layout adjacent to the Station Gateway Project will need to dovetail, ensuring both projects are joined up and not working in silos. One building which has no use, and blocks many sight lines is that of the Hughes Corporation building. This building is an embarrassment to the whole town and it urgently needs to go. This would allow space for the new road into Church Street, and provide space for buses to pick up and drop off, adjacent to the station, the new library, the Piece Hall and Square Chapel. It will also create a new view of the Minster, as the Station Gateway project creates a wow factor for anyone arriving at the Station and drawing them into the town. The amenities societies need to know that there is strong support to remove this building, otherwise we might get stuck with it! The Council too needs to know that there is public support to bring the building down - and deal with all the complex consequences of doing so – ensuring that quality urban design can make the space better for everyone.

Congratulations to everyone involved thus far, the consultation process has been well organised, and my sense is that there is some serious listening taking place from everyone, and that can only be a good thing, so that whatever design we end up with, we can all get behind it and give it our full support. Exciting times ahead!