AT LAST it seems that, after 30 years of decline and neglect, politicians of all political hues are seriously discussing the future of Dewsbury.
In this discussion I think two things are important. First of al,l the development of Dewsbury is far too important to suffer from cheap political point scoring and also any proposal must seriously look to benefit the people of Dewbury in the long term and not the short term gain of developers.
Whilst the Cabinet’s plans to inject £12m in developing parts of the town should be welcomed, a realistic appraisal of the long-term affects of this must be considered.
Most of Stayton Group’s £100m investment appears to be for shops, bars and a hotel. The question has to be asked, in the long term, is this sustainable given the fact that both pubs and shops in the town are having a hard time even before the recession in retail and the slump in consumer spending begins to bite.
Any retail expansion in Dewsbury would have to compete with the magnetic pull of Kingsgate in Huddersfield and the White Rose Centre. So far Dewsbury has failed to do so even in a period of consumer boom, to which the departure of Marks and Spencer from the town is testimony.
One of the over-riding characteristics of this area that has to be tackled is the reality of far-reaching and grinding poverty. Even after the initial construction of the development had brought temporary jobs, the question of major employment and retail sustainability would still have to be dealt with.
Whilst many people understandably blame the town’s demise on the foundation of Kirklees, the reality is a lot more complex. Dewsbury was hit hard by the destruction of mining, railways and shoddy textile manufacture in the 1960s and 70s. Its economic base was decimated while Huddersfield had chemicals and engineering to fall back on.
Huddersfield also became a University town and the seat of governance of the new Kirklees, as Dewsbury became increasingly by-passed and neglected.
Until well paid jobs come to Dewsbury any retail development will be built on sand. This is why the council must negotiate with Huddersfield University to bring student accommodation and annexes into town and Shahid Malik’s idea of moving council departments to Dewsbury be given serious consideration.
Only such an injection of spending power would be able to sustain any retail development for the future.