Row over plans to rejuvenate multi-million pound Orangebox youth project

Orange Box, Halifax.
Orange Box, Halifax.

Plans to rejuvenate a multi-million pound youth project sparked fiery debate between councillors, one claiming committing capital cash before business plans had been finalised signalled disaster.

In response the board was urged to get behind the project which had been thought out and had a lot to offer Calderdale’s young people.

READ MORE: Orangebox draining resources as board looks to give up control

Last summer Calderdale Council agreed to take over Orangebox and provide £400,000 of capital funding to bring up to standard and enhance the building, at Blackledge, Halifax.

Orangebox was established under the “My Place” central government scheme in 2010, with a brief of providing appropriate and purposeful formal and informal activities for young people with a focus on the teenage and young adult age range as a condition of the funding.

READ MORE: £400,000 approved for necessary work as Calderdale Council takes on running Orangebox

The centre was set up with the grant of £3.8 million, awarded in 2011, but struggled to source funding to meet running expenses, most recently until last summer being under the guardianship of the Square Chapel Trust.

This week members of the council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Board were given a presentation on progress of the scheme, with upgrading work set to begin in the spring and conversations ongoing with potential users of Orangebox about its future.

The board agreed it wanted the project to succeed but councillor members crossed swords over the way the project was proceeding.

Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said he was concerned that £400,000 of capital spending was being committed before the business plan for Orangebox had been finalised.

The project seemed not to have moved forward much since last July when the council rescued Orangebox, he said.

Coun Baines said how could the council know what organisations using Orangebox would want in it if the business plan had not been settled?

Committing the capital without the business plan being in place did not stack up, he said.

Officers said a business plan had been formed but some approvals were needed to finalise it.

They were confident it would be done and work being undertaken would see Orangebox in a stable financial position within three years.

Conversations about partners’ requirements for the building were ongoing, they said.

Coun Baines said the issue was not political but a financial one and looked to him like a disaster on the way.

“It’s the blind leading the blind as I see it at the moment, which does actually bring a disaster,” he said.

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet member for Regeneration and Economic Strategy, Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) said: “I really resent suggestions it will be a disaster.

This will be a success without any doubt at all.”

The council’s current administration had been steering it through difficult circumstances. The council had been right to take the project back – if it did not, it risked having to pay the £3.8 million back to the Government, he said.

“We are not stupid and have been aware of the challenges of Orangebox. All I can say is just wait and see,” said Coun Collins.

Orangebox had been considered by the board before and it had not asked for the project to be re-examined, he said.

Coun Baines responded that in business the capital and revenue plans went together.

“In business you get both stacked up together before making a commitment.

“I’m looking for reassurance.

“I want this to be a success but if we don’t get it right we get it wrong again,” he said.

Board chair Coun Ashley Evans (Lib Dem, Warley) said the board needed to be positive but also recognised Coun Baines’ points. “I am very positive about it, but we need to manage it properly,” he said.

Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Rastrick) said Orangebox was costing the council a lot of money but seemed pointed in the right direction – the council was planning a new sixth form centre nearby with 600 to 700 young people in it.

“It is a great place, no doubt – we want to be reassured by it,” he said.

Coun Geraldine Carter (Con, Ryburn) said rather than a report which seemed to show few differences to the position last summer an executive summary of progress would have been better.

After officers had been questioned she said: “We just want to know what you are doing. You have told me everything I need to know, but it’s not in this report.”

Coun Collins said the council would take that on board.

He added that the Department for Education itself had blocked plans for a major use of the centre. “Calderdale College were going to become a substantial user of the building as a film and music initiative but unfortunately the DfE refused to accept the proposal as consistent with the original grant,” he said.

The proposal would have solved a lot of issues but refusal was a practical situation the council had to deal with.

He urged everyone to pull together and referencing Square Chapel, now a state-of-the-art arts complex, development of which was one reason why it could also not commit itself further the council had applied to demolish it but decided against it and it was sold to Square Chapel Trust in 1988, the start of a long road back for the building.

“Thank goodness we did,” he said, and turning back to Orangebox added “for heaven’s sake let’s be positive.”