Huddersfield town centre comes in for a lot of stick.
If you were going to design a town centre from scratch the end result would not be what we have.
For a start it’d be flatter.
I’d have a ‘transport zone’ with the bus station, train station and car parks.
Shops would be nearer to each other. We have too many separate shopping areas and it’s a bit of a warren.
I’d throw in a business zone – think the court, the council offices, businesses, town hall etc and I’d design a nice tree-lined path leading from it to the shops, with a pedestrianised area with cafes, restaurants and pubs in the middle.
We all have our own ideas of what the perfect town centre is, but we are stuck with the buildings (many of them listed – look up high as they have amazing detail) and road network.
We just need to think about how we make the best of it.
Kirklees Council seem to be doing that – and yet they’ve received criticism for it.
Earlier this month we reported that the council could loan developers £25m to fast-track regeneration in the town centre.
The idea was heavily criticised.
“Hang on a second, isn’t this the same council that are making constant cutbacks” was one comment.
“Instead of giving £25m to big business they should reduce car parking charges and encourage visitors” (I agree with changes to parking fees).
And a comment on the very same story said: “Meanwhile in Halifax the Piece Hall has opened... looks amazing.”
Yes, during the same week Kirklees announced the £25m town centre loan plan the Piece Hall in Halifax re-opened – after a £19m investment.
It was money well spent, in my opinion.
I visited last week and there are plenty of independent shops and it has a great vibe to it.
Calderdale Council owns the Piece Hall, but if it was in private hands I’d argue they should have invested in its regeneration because of its iconic status and its ability to attract thousands of visitors.
And visitors bring money.
In the last few years Calderdale has invested in a new youth centre, the Orangebox, plus a new Central Library opens next month.
The council’s investment plan has brought about massive investment, some of it private too.
Those who own neighbouring buildings have followed suit, the Square Chapel theatre next to the Piece Hall is also having a multi-million pound extension and refurb.
And the council borrowing and spending its money has helped private businesses.
So why can’t Kirklees do that?
Councils can borrow money at cheaper rates than you, I or businesses can.
If it does that to improve a town centre that receives so much criticism then we should welcome it.
I don’t mind our town centre shops. I wrote a feature last Christmas highlighting how easier and cheaper it can be to shop locally than buy off the internet or go into Leeds or Manchester.
If anything, I’d urge Kirklees to aim higher.
I’d explore introducing a parking incentive for shoppers; I’d develop a long-term town centre plan, covering everything from using its legal power to bring privately-owned empty buildings back into use to where to plant trees.
I’d also look at a super museum and art gallery visitor attraction. Much like the Piece Hall, the council could apply for grants to co-fund it.
There is dead space behind the current library and art gallery that could be used to create an amazing facility that will attract visitors to our town.
With a bit of imagination, a good architect and grants it can be done.
Finally, I’d reintroduce town centre events. Who remembers the amazing Festival of Light? Culture unites people, people spend money, everyone wins.