If the question is ‘what to do with Northgate’, is the answer Primark? Of course not. Recent articles have made interesting reading but have not tackled the problem with a vision, not for next year, but for the next twenty years.
Bustling town centres in years to come, with the shift to on-line retailing, will either have to be large (Leeds, Manchester) or interesting and unique (Harrogate, Skipton). The growth of out of town shopping centres (Trafford, Meadowhall, York Outlet, White Rose etc.) will soak up the major stores and with free parking and the indoor experience, will drain away business from cloned town centres.
So which does Halifax want to be, Harrogate or Batley, Skipton or Keighley? In all visions of the future, growth is taken as read but is it possible or even desirable? Bigger is not necessarily better.
Imagine a thousand more shoppers coming to Halifax every day. How would they get here? The trains are already stuffed, the roads in through Hipperholme, Stump Cross, Salterhebble, Sowerby Bridge and Illingworth are already clogged.
Bus services are in decline and where would everybody park? Cycle paths, -do me a favour!
My suggestions - well here they are.
l Broad Street development will change the shape of the town so we should concentrate the existing assets where they are. The library and archives cannot be knocked down because people don’t want it. They want investment to make it better. A central social hub with all the community benefits that entails.
l The Borough Market (voted best in the country 2008) needs investment. It makes 700k profit p.a. and attracts 5 million visitors. On the upper floors are 40 houses with only two occupied (have a look up next time you’re passing). Any sensible organisation would be generating over 250k p.a from this asset. So put some money in, arrange park and ride to drop people off at this historic gem. Create an open market on Southgate, Market Street or even undercover on Westgate (the traders from the Piece Hall might be interested!). Bring back into use the arcades leading up to the market, incentivise the traders to upgrade (soon the Council will have control of business rates). Although short of cash at the moment, it will not always be the case (hopefully) and we are talking about the future, not next week.
l Next, Northgate House, £15m to upgrade? This is palpable rubbish, put about by senior officers with their own agenda. However the continuing presence of large numbers of council workers in the town is vital. So, find an alternative to demolition and bite the bullet. Find a company with some ideas to use the bottom floors and the space in front.
l Next, The Piece Hall. This is still in the wrong place and even if it is turned into an Italian Piazza, it is not in Italy. With the best will in the world, I will not be sat in the square with a cappuccino any time between September and March. So, if we get lottery funding, then fine, spend it, but in 10-15 years’ time unless the rest of Halifax is rejuvenated, we will be back where we are now.
So, what is the vision? A bustling, independent town centre created around the market, Broad Street, the Library, Northgate House, with all the Victorian buildings upgraded and brought back into use. Sounds good.
Perhaps it will improve so much that Ian Gray, Calderdale’s Director of Economy & Environment, will decide he likes it so much he will move here and spend his brass in the town as well?
Independent Group Leader CMBC