Improve town and save our heritage

Northgate House 'Poor construction followed by inadequate maintenance'
Northgate House 'Poor construction followed by inadequate maintenance'
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I refer to Julia Anderson’s interesting letter (Your Say - 05-10-12) and feel that I must respond to a number of points.

When Julia refers to funds being available for “the vulnerable and disabled” if CMBC “maintained its precious Victorian and 20th Century heritage”, she is confusing capital and revenue expenditure. The proposed redevelopment of Halifax town centre to improve facilities for the people of Calderdale, generate more jobs, increase council income through business rates, and encourage visitors to spend their hard earned money in Halifax, would be funded from capital generated by the sale of prime land to developers who, in turn, would use their capital to make this happen. It is true that part of the problems with Northgate House and the Central Library are not only a result of poor construction and initial specification, but due to an inadequate maintenance scheme over the years.
Unfortunately, the current LibDem-Labour group has inherited this situation and now need to deal with it. So, to quote that awful expression: “we are where we are”, whether we like it or not. Whether you regard the Broad Street Plaza as “un-loved, and hideous, out-of-keeping” or as reasonable modern development replacing an old supermarket and scruffy car park area in the centre of Halifax is a matter of opinion. Denigrating modern developments is easy but, in my view, town centre development is always about a balance between moving forward without losing one’s heritage. Once again in my opinion, I really cannot accept that NGA and the Central Library are worthy of the description of Heritage Buildings. When it comes to the comments on the MORI survey we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. All along CMBC were pilloried for carying out its own surveys as being biased, now we have employed one of the most respected of market research organisations and they are accused of devising an “obviously flawed survey”. It will be interesting to see what Julia’s thoughts are if the report comes down in favour of not redeveloping the Halifax town centre and building a brand new library . . . !
The rhetorical question about Ilkley and Hebden Bridge refers to them not having replaced old buildings with “meretricious tat”. I must say that I am not aware of CMBC demolishing any of Calderdale’s old buildings and replacing them with trashy and gaudy [Collins Thesaurus], new ones. As far as the other quoted tourist towns are concerned; Chester has its Grosvenor Centre which is described as a smart indoor shopping area; York has The Coppergate Centre, described as York’s shopping centre within the ancient city walls; and Bath has its SouthGate Centre which is “full of all your favourite high street brands”. Piece Hall: it’s not just about maintenance but previous administrations could and should have had a better maintenance programme. The current administration have worked hard to put a plan in place which will solve these problems, overcome some of the limitations in a sympathetic way making it better for traders, shoppers and visitors to use. The development has the total support of National Heritage and CMBC have acquired a huge grant to assist in this important work. Halifax’s Victorian (and Georgian) town centre certainly is worth a detour and we intend for it to be more so in the future! We cannot be held responsible for poorly specified and maintained buildings such as those on Northgate. As a responsible authority we aim not to spend a huge amount of money on bringing them up to date when we don’t even need the space that Northgate House provides – we have other properties which will comfortably satisfy our [reduced] office needs with a long-term saving to the tax payer. The funds released by the land sale will then be invested elsewhere and the town centre immeasurably improved – without demolishing a single part of our Victorian Heritage! It is appropriate to point out that a local authority has no control over what retailers set up shop in its town, whether they are Poundshops, Primark, W H Smith, M&S, Harvey’s or Harold Crabtree. The developers, retailers and, ultimately, the shoppers will decide. We can, however, influence overall town centre development to encourage the right trading mix which we believe that we are doing. Then housing and roads . . . . . goodness, running out of space! Houses need to be where people want to live and be suitable to their needs. Empty property is a problem but, once again, is largely beyond council control – we are putting pressure on landlords through changes to council tax to ‘encourage’ them to be more positive. But we really do need more affordable housing and this means some building – we are currently going out to consultation on the long term development plan for Calderdale and Julia’s thoughts, along with all Calderdale residents, will be welcome in relation to this. I’m afraid the population is growing and that more people want their own space and mode of transport. We, as an authority, will aim to satisfy those needs where we have influence and, quite rightly, ensure that we protect this lovely part of the UK where we live. One very last thought – perhaps Julie could stand in the next Ryburn election and come and join us in these efforts . . . ?

Ashley Evans


Sowerby Bridge