Chain stores are not the answer

Oldham Road Halifax

"It's our town centre let's transform it" (Courier, 17 January 2011).

The report by Brian Coates of the packed, open meeting of the Halifax Renaissance Team leaves me rather puzzled.

The Chairman of the team John Kenealy, went to great lengths to ensure that the Calderdale electors present, of whom there were probably a hundred or more, had an opportunity to air their views and have them recorded, but none of this appears in Brian's report.

This despite the fact that he was nominated as the facilitator/speaker for one of the dozen or so syndicate groups that spent half an hour discussing the future of the Northgate triangle.

For the record it is worth recording that, with the exception of one group, I think all the syndicate groups started from the given that Calderdale Central Library and Archives are a jewel in the centre of Halifax and should not be interfered with.

The dissenting voice came from a group facilitated by Tracy Harvey (of Harveys Ltd), who started her feedback by implying that the centre of Halifax would be better off without a Library, thereby allowing more shops.

Apart from these two views, many constructive points and suggestions were made, common themes being that nobody saw any merit in leaving the Post Office and Sorting Office occupying a prime piece of the town centre; people favoured the Bus Station being close to the town centre amenities, if not necessarily where it is; another jewel is the Piece Hall which needs to be developed and exploited; Halifax will never compete with Leeds, or Manchester, Bradford, or the White Rose Centre, in terms of its "retail offer", to use the jargon, but should aim to be different, quirky, interesting, rather than presenting another row of all the same shops we can see in any town.

On the face of it, the meeting was constructive and positive but, given recent history, it is difficult not to be cynical about what might be under discussion behind the scenes, and what the real motives are for "transforming our town centre".

I find it worrying that so much of what is under discussion is based on a set of premises that, rather like the emperor's new clothes, we are not supposed to challenge. For example:

* The only reason for visiting a town is to sample its "retail offer"

* For Halifax to survive it has to compete with Leeds, Bradford, Manchester

* Fewer people are visiting Halifax to shop, therefore we need more big chain shops

* Young people don't come into Halifax, therefore we need more big chain shops

* Big chain shops will consider building in Halifax only if we give them carte blanche to flatten whatever gets in their way

If we are agreed that the centre of Halifax needs re-vitalising (another of these premises, but probably true), what we want is somebody with the flair and imagination to see beyond big chain shops as the only solution.

Tim Kirker

*We agree there seem to have been many issues raised at this meeting and we decided that we would widen the debate to give all our readers the chance to put their views. Next week in the Courier we will outline the main points regarding the Northgate area of Halifax.

Brian Coates's report did refer to this and he will be organising next week's series of features. What is most important is that we hear the views of readers - like yours in this letter - Editor