Readers must be consulted first, insists panel

Marcus Thompson (Con) who is standing for Skircoat ward.
Marcus Thompson (Con) who is standing for Skircoat ward.

Plans to build a new library in Halifax have been thrown into turmoil after a group of councillors voted unanimously for users to be consulted before agreement is reached to demolish the old one.

Council leaders had hoped to “rubberstamp” the multi-million pound scheme at a meeting on Wednesday. But they hadn’t counted on their scrutiny panel’s intervention.

The panel heard from affected groups that the move from Northgate to a less-convenient site at the bottom side of the Piece Hall would damage their access and equality rights.

“People feel they are being railroaded down to the railway station,” said Coun Marcus Thompson (Con, Skircoat).

The panel backed a recommendation from Coun Ian Cooper (Con, Todmorden) that there should be full-scale consultation with individuals and organisations, including those who two years ago voted for the library to remain at Northgate.

That will be put to the full council meeting tomorrow night. Calderdale Council Cabinet has been criticised for its secrecy and lack of consultation by Halifax Labour MP Linda Riordan, Halifax Civic Trust and organisers of the “Don’t Bulldoze Our Library” campaign, which was set up in 2009.

The cabinet has so far refused to give details of what is wrong with the existing library but says it could cost between £4 million and £6 million to refurbish. It has also declined to put a price tag on the new building, although critics claim it could be twice the cost of refurbishment.

The council’s Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders say moving the library and demolishing nearby Northgate House could create space for retail development and boost custom at the Piece Hall.

John Hargreaves, from Halifax Civic Trust, told the scrutiny panel that pupils at Halifax High School, the committee of Madni Mosque in Halifax and Mumsnet believed the move would be detrimental.

“Older users would find the proposed site much less convenient and accessible, especially after dark,” he said. He was applauded by the packed room after he quoted 86-year-old Esme Dyson, who said: “I have listened to hundreds of older people and not one’s in favour of a move. The library should remain where it is.”

Historian David Glover said: “There seems to be no parking provision at all on the site – an extraordinary drawback.”

l Letters: Page 12-13