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My Halifax Plan

I comment as Micknand on the Halifax Courier website forums. Recently they ran an article  “Halifax in the grip of the big closing-down sale”.

The basic story is that we have many businesses either pulling out of Halifax town centre, ceasing trading or down sizing. It is a sad fact of life in many town centres at the moment, especially so as a lost business leads to possible multiple lost means of income for families – a personal tragedy.

I commented on this piece as follows;

“19

micknand

Monday, April 2, 2012 at 12:46 PM

We need an urgent shake up of our council and town centre plans. This is what I suggest as a common sense approach. 1) Refurbish both Northgate House and The Central Library. 2) Cancel the idea to move into Broad Street (thereby freeing this up for retail or lesuire use). 3) Move staff from areas we currently rent (I.E. Dean Clough) into the refurbished Northgate House. This will add to the footfall of the town centre as staff will be using retail and lesuire facilities during their lunch and breaks. 4) Bring back into use the flats and houses above the shops and markets. This will help sustain the town centre out of office hours. 5) Look at the areas to the South of the town centre for car parking and also to add housing. 6) Make Saturdays and Sundays free parking in these car parks. 7) Refurbish the Piece Hall but forget about making it an Italianate Square and instead make it a Yorkshire Piece Hall, then work at re-instating the weekly markets there, make the top floor an area for arts and crafts (Perhaps opening some of it to the local colleges – pupils work on show will attract families to view). I’m giving up now – any other suggestions? Mick http://www.copleyvalley.co.uk

I thought I might expand on these suggestions for a blog.

Firstly I should point out that many of these ideas are not really mine but ones I have gleaned from the comments section of The Halifax Courier. I am aware that some folk think it is full of moaners but in among I think there are some good ideas shared.

 Northgate

My first comment (perhaps unsurprisingly given my last 3 blogs) concerned the Northgate site. Readers will be well aware that I have concerns over the way these 30 year old buildings are being marked down for demolition. In the case of Northgate House this, I am told is with cross-party agreement Following the reading of the documents supplied in support of the Library consultation I am convinced demolition of this building is a nonsense. To my mind it makes more sense to refurbish the building, look at the offices we rent in places like Dean Clough and move these staff into the refurbished Northgate House. I suggest we also cancel any agreement to move into Broad Street development and retain the customer first facility in Northgate House.

The money saved by these moves will help to pay the refurbishment costs of Northgate House. Surely this is the most common sense approach to budgeting, cutting down our outgoings!

Another benefit of moving staff into Northgate House is that these staff will need somewhere to buy lunch, do Christmas shopping, have their hair cut, buy new clothing etc etc. In short this will help increase the footfall for the town centre helping to sustain the shops struggling to survive in austerity Britain.

Similarly with the Central library – we are wasting money with consultation after consultation, this time paying for independent consultants, when the answer each time has been far from disputable. Again the money saved in not building a new library by the Piece Hall can be used to refurbish the library. It may also be worth looking at the possibility of incorporating the customer first facility here rather than Northgate House if there is enough floor space.

Housing

Halifax has many under-used buildings. These include a street that many Calderdale residents are unaware of, above the Borough Market and various flats above shops. Efforts must be made to bring these back into use. We have a problem with homeless people in Halifax (I’m told that official figures say we haven’t but that is because to register homeless you have to go to Bradford, Leeds or Huddersfield). What sort of society are we if we allow people to freeze on the streets, or even live in a crowded bed-sit when we have empty houses or flats available that need some attention.

Develop for housing the under used South of the town. The area opposite the cement works on Charlestown Road and where the old gasometer was on Siddal New Road. Also there are car parks currently on what appears to be waste ground to the North of the Minster. Adding housing so close to the town centre will help sustain the nightlife for the town, especially as we now have the Broad Street Centre about to open as a “Lesuire Destination”.

My suggestion is that these houses are a mixture of low cost affordable houses to purchase and also social housing. Aimed at first time buyers and those “down-sizing”, this is to overcome the real sector of the housing market where there is a shortage, instead of building 3, 4 & 5 bed roomed houses that are out of the pocket of most such buyers.

It has just been announced that funding is to be made available for residents to buy their own council again. This time any money raised should go towards building more affordable housing, not repeating the mistakes of the 1980’s Thatcher Government.

Alongside good public transport links Calderdale should look into a scheme for hiring electric cars similar to London’s “Boris Bikes”. Centred around the new South halifax developments, low carbon and hired when needed. This could attract residents to the new houses and not have the requirement for a parking space or garage for every residence. Also whilst covering sustainability all houses should have Photo-Voltaics (Solar Panels) and ground source heat pumps wherever possible.

Car Parking

There is also car parking to the South of the town. Make this free on Saturdays and Sundays. It is madness to pretend that free and plentiful parking isn’t part of the reason people go to White Rose, Trafford Centre or Meadowhall as well as the many supermarkets we have. This limits the footfall to our retailers and although a convenient income stream for CMBC is very short sighted.

 Piece Hall

 Which brings me to the often cited “Jewel in the Crown of Halifax”, The Piece Hall. This was built as a Yorkshire Piece Hall, what madness has persuaded the powers that be to turn it into an Italianate Square? Al fresco dining is all well and good in Rome, but in Halifax it is restricted to very few weeks of the year.

The idea to integrate steps into the Hall will limit the amount of large vehicles that currently visit for the popular old buses weekend and also the armoured vehicles. Better to leave the cobbles and, although it has been a regularly rejected idea, look again at the feasibility of roofing the structure, either and preferably as a whole or in part. The privately  owned Westgate development is a fine example of what can be done and, arguably is currently the best part of our town centre.

The top balcony could be set aside for arts and crafts with artists displaying their work and using rooms for studios. Some room could be offered to local colleges. Students work could be offered for sale and their friends and families will want to visit. Some thought needs to be given to telling the story of the Piece Hall perhaps connecting up with the refurbished Industrial Museum.

The aim should be to make our Piece Hall a Yorkshire Square not an Italian one.

Borough Market

It goes without saying that refurbishment work has to be done on this fine structure. We need to consider attracting more traditional stalls into this area. CMBC markets should consider extending the provision by looking at the mezzanine structure inside the market at Carlisle. Without affecting the external building they have build a second floor to enhance the market provision.

 Events

We are told that footfall is everything and that we need to be attracting visitors from outside Halifax to visit our town. Yet we don’t seem to be organised well enough to do this. There is a thriving 1930’s festival scene alive in our country and people travel from all over the UK to visit Pickering’s festival. Halifax is ideally situated to take up some of this trade. Centred on the piece hall and with stallholders in the market encouraged to take part this could become a major attraction over the summer bringing in vehicle enthusiasts as well as those with historical interest. The Victoria Hall could become a dance hall for the night (1930’s live music of course) and the new cinema encouraged to show old films. Local pubs could get in on the act too with old time live music and offering suitable fare – game pie, rabbit pie etc. A parade of old vehicles and involve the re-enactment societies.

Christmas markets could be held at the Piece Hall and the Borough Markets again stallholders encouraged to take part in a Victorian theme as in the early ‘80s.

A stream of Farmers, German, French and Asian markets could fill our town centre streets during the summer bringing in more visitors.

An overall historical information  telling the story of Halifax needs to be considered. We are fortunate to have many folk in the Antiquarian Society who have the information people will be interested in. It just needs interpreting to appeal to lay people. This would make the rest of the area of Calderdale inclusive – look at our stories;

  • Piece Hall
  • Minster
  • Wainhouse and Edwards fued
  • The old gaol at Illingworth
  • Cragg coiners
  • Beacon Hill
  • The Gibbet
  • Shibden Hall
  • Acroyden
  • Model villages of Ackroyden and Copley
  • Built historical environment
  • and more

Halifax has much to offer, it should not be allowed to become yet another clone town, it should be something else, it should be Halifax, in West Yorkshire.

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6 Comments
  1. Mick, nice to see your blog. Take a walk around Halifax and the once centre where industrial entrepreneurs were such benefactors for thir employees and created legacies to help their people. Walk around now and take a look at the great architecture, look above the ground floor of those great buildings in town and what do you see? Look at the ground floor and when charity shops move out what does it say? There is such space and neglect of town centre areas.
    Halifax has such a rich wealth of beautiful properties. The monstrosity that is Broad Street is so disgraceful and begs how on earth did it ever get planning permission next to the beautiful building that is the town hall? Previously when I owned a listed building I was challenged by planners when I wanted to build a new building totally in the same style as the listed building “that I would affect the setting of a listed building”. These people make it up as they go along!
    Seems like Calderdale yet again have missed the plot, large projects to safeguard planners jobs, when other departments are being cut.
    How much longer before their engineered plans start to bulldose the architectural beauties of the town centre because they are under utilised? More effort should be placed to encourage embryonic businesses into these empty areas to nurture growth, give affordable rents to town centre and Piece Hall properties. To develop first and second floor premises to give affordable housing for town centre workers and thereby give them somewhere to live, independance, and cut down on having to commute into town reducing the carbon footprint!
    Dave

  2. Steve Whipp permalink

    Totally agree with the comments of Mick ,and Dave.Common sense,well thought out suggestions from people who actually care.

  3. Charles Gate (Green Party candidate Skircoat ward) permalink

    Yes, like your looking for alternatives. At the back end of the last century the local Green Party said some similar things. We especially stressed the need to open up the empty floors above retailers in the town centre as residences – the town centre being 3 dimensional, not just two.
    We should be proud of our architectural heritage, but I suspect too many Councillors and senior Council officers have been to Venice and Milan and love the Italiante (it is indeed beautiful). This is Yorkshire and we have much in Yorkshire to be proud of and reinforcing that in the Piece Hall with its history and architecture should be paramount.

    Yes, the Central Library should remain where it is, and so should the Council offices.

    Developing on the old gas works may be a problem due to pollution. We after all challenged, in part, the building on Sterne Mills, Copley due to the many pollutants down there. Overall a very good contribution to the debate Mick.

  4. Joy Morris permalink

    Hi there

    I am delighted to read that there are some sensible and like-minded people in Halifax who don’t see the sense in demolishing a very user friendly library and the relatively new Northgate House. As I don’t get the Courier I’m afraid that I haven’t followed the debate and have missed the comments which I’ve now just read. All the alternative suggestions here are much more rational. The only small thing that I would take issue with is that the Piece Hall is not warm enough for al fresco dining for much of the year. When the sun shines the north end of the Piece Hall is a real sun trap. When we had that long sunny spell last month the Capaccino cafe was so busy that you could hardly get a table outside. I often go to this cafe to support this truly local business and have sat outside for lunch (in my coat) on sunny days even in January and February. The high walls of the building form a wind shield and the inside warms up quite well. I like the idea of a partial roof. The inside of the Piece Hall has many of the qualities of a Victorian walled garden and I would like to see some more adventurous planting in there which people would come to look at.

    This has probably also been debated but putting the information centre upstairs was not a good move. I’ve often been asked by people visiting Halifax for the day where the Tourist Information Centre is when they’re actually very close by.

    Finally, there needs to be more to do in the Piece Hall and you already have some great suggestions. Are there any more things which would attract young people? A survey of young people’s needs might be a good idea.

    Keep up the great work

    Joy

    • charles gate permalink

      Courier only comes out once a week on Friday now – price £1

  5. Cllr Tim Swift permalink

    I keep meaning to draft a fuller response to this …. and will do shortly … but in the interim, could I draw the attention of Mick and anyone else interested in this topic to a short publication that the Council and English Heritage jointly commissioned a couple of years back called “The Building of Halifax”? It’s a quick overview of the many and varied buildings of interest, with some background and links to more detailed works where they exist. There’s some overlap with the list of items Mick mentions towards the end of his post, which is the reason for mentioning it here.

    You can buy a copy from the TIC / Visitors Centre in the Piece Hall for £3.95, I believe. I’m trying to get it made accessible on the web, as I think it’s more important and useful as a source of interest and inspiration rather than just as an income generating venture.

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