Recently brought to my attention is an article from Yorkshire Business Insider, June 2003 which highlighted the different approaches then being taken by “the former mill towns of Halifax and Huddersfield” to the challenges of the post-industrial economy.
The article states that the two towns “have much in common, both are sizeable, both were built on the once-mighty industries of textiles and engineering, both were still deriving around a quarter of their employment from manufacturing, both towns with some highly desirable areas to live in and a wealth of historic architecture, and both struggling to improve their positions as economic centres with a contrasting mix of public and private initiatives”. The Piece Hall was described as “the great undiscovered jewel in the crown of Yorkshire towns”, however Huddersfield’s town centre was felt “a more welcoming place than its neighbour, and also benefited from the £50 million Kingsgate shopping centre, which opened in March 2002”. It was noted that Halifax lacked a similar development. The article goes on to say “Leeds and Bradford dominate the West Yorkshire economy and Huddersfield and Halifax lie in their shadow - Halifax in particular feels hemmed in by Bradford and tends to be more inward looking”. This did not make good reading then and doesn’t make good reading now. However, if the only criterion was letters to The Courier, it would be self-evident that we are an inward-looking town, the Broad Street Centre - the biggest leisure investment in the town for decades, with a magnificent stone frontage, was even described as a carbuncle by one malcontent recently. Furthermore, some are even devising conspiracy theories against those of us who want to look to the future. What is also clear is that there are people in favour of town centre development who are apprehensive about making their views known - several have told me they support the idea of a new library and retail development but don’t wish that to become public knowledge. Sadly, even Alice Mahon has revealed that she has failed to see the bigger picture - which is the imperative of Halifax having an enlarged, progressive, vibrant, shopping centre stretching from Horton Street to Broad Street. Talk of retail being subject to a sea change bears no more truth than reading books being subject to a sea change. It was recently announced that 13 libraries were to close in Leeds, as far as I know none are currently proposed for closure in Calderdale - in fact, of course, the Council are intending to build a brand new one! I would invite anyone who thinks retail is in decline to visit Meadowhall, White Rose or Owlcotes on a Saturday afternoon and count the number of cars. These are all places with which our town is in competition, in addition to:- Leeds, which continues to expand its retail offering in the city centre with 1 million square feet in a new Trinity Leeds development due to open in Spring 2013 Wakefield, where Trinity Walk, opened in May 2011 - an impressive 500,000 square feet shopping centre situated in the heart of the city, with over 60 new shops including Debenhams, Topshop, Topman, Republic, Burtons, Dorothy Perkins, The Body Shop, and Peter Jones. Huddersfield, where they are planning for a £40m., 120,000square feet extension to the existing hugely successful 280,000 square feet Kingsgate retail complex. Ask yourself why people would want to come to Halifax when there are other towns so near who have invested in their retail offering - no wonder we are slipping down the league table of places to shop. In summary, there are many who do not belong to the “lay down and die” brigade and do not believe that the key issue facing our town is the retention of a faded library library building obstructing retail progress. Let’s hope that the incumbent Council administration will have the courage to continue on its path of regeneration.