Row over study into controversial Halifax Central library relocation

The former Halifax Central Library, left, and the new one next to the Piece Hall
The former Halifax Central Library, left, and the new one next to the Piece Hall

A furious row broke out between councillors following a demand to release papers relating to the controversial decision to re-site Halifax Central Library and Archive.

A last minute amendment while members at the full meeting of Calderdale Council discussed developing Northgate, Halifax, around a new specialist sixth form college saw a twist in the debate amid much acrimony.

Conservative group members tabled the amendment saying that while they supported development of the new college it raised questions about information councillors were given six years ago when key decisions to relocate the library to new premises next to Square Chapel were taking place.

READ MORE: Millions of pounds approved for Halifax sixth form college at Northgate House

Councillors had previously been told the building was not sound and was unfit for purpose, but now it was proposed to site the new college there it shed different light on the matter, they argued.

But they were criticised by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors for electioneering before the amendment was defeated and the substansive motion giving the green light for the new college at the former library and the Northgate House council offices was approved.

The amendment said: “Council expresses concern in relation to the information that was given at the time the new library was proposed for construction.

“Members were told that the structure of the former library building was not sound and unfit for purpose.

“Given that the building is now proposed to site the new college, in the interests of openness and transparency, members request that all the structural reports, surveys and relevant information on the condition of the building be released to members and any non-commecially sensitive information in this regard be also released to the general public.”

Opposition Conservative group leader Coun Scott Benton (Brighouse), said that when discussing closing the former Central Library and committing the finance for a new one, members had been told in no uncertain terms that the library was not sound, had no long term future and had to be pulled down.

“We cannot forget the fundamental assumption when investment was made – that the building was not fit for purpose at all.

“Here we are six years later in a scenario where apparently it was fit for purpose all along and now has a new lease of life as a Sixth Form College,” he said.

He said the issue called for openness to both council members and members of the public.

Coun Barry Collins (Labour, Illingworth and Mixenden) said cost had been the determining element for refurbishments which would have been needed, and with elections in May looming questioned the timing of the amendment.

“Why have you waited six years to raise this? I don’t remember any member objections at the time at all,” he said.

Liberal Democrat group leader Coun James Baker (Warley) said the information could be obtained easily enough from officers.

Council leader Tim Swift (Labour, Town) said the decision the council took was right in terms of cost. Raising the issue now and in this way was simply electioneering, he said.

After the vote the Mayor of Calderdale, Coun Ferman Ali (Park) warned all members to “act like sensible adults” during debate.

Northgate has had a chequered history over the last ten years, its future first place in doubt when Calderdale Council was Conservative controlled and then when the decision to close and relocate the library was ultimately made under a Labour/Liberal administration, proposals being controversial in both cases.