Huddersfield town centre could change dramatically in the coming years.

It needs to be a place to play and live as much as somewhere to shop if it is to thrive.

That’s the vision being put forward by Kirklees Council and they are anxious for people to chip in with their own ideas how both Huddersfield and Dewsbury town centres could move forward in the years to come.

And it is realised that attracting more businesses into the area is “a bold vision.”

The vision was revealed as one of several strands to Kirklees Council’s Economic and Health and Wellbeing strategy that aims to prioritise the council’s work for years to come.

Jacqui Gedman, Director for Place, and Judith Hooper, Director for Public Health, said the two strategies should complement each other as “if people are in good jobs their health and wellbeing are likely to improve.”

After hearing about the strategies, cross-party councillors on the policy committee gave their own feedback and sought updates ahead of a full debate before council next month – followed by a public consultation.

Ms Gedman said: “We put a lot of focus on Huddersfield and Dewsbury town centres as being the places we need to give a lot of attention to in the next few years.

“We’re trying to find ways to make our town centres and villages thrive – we think that Huddersfield has weathered the storm of the economic downturn slightly better than Dewsbury, but we can still revitalise Huddersfield and give it its energy back.

“And we recognise there is a completely different expectation. The retail landscape has changed and I think there still needs to be a retail offer but it has to be complemented by a leisure offer, a place for play and even to live in town centres.

“We are coming up with proposals of how to revitalise Huddersfield and Dewsbury town centres and members and the public can help shape that.”

She added: “We want Kirklees to be recognised as the place to do business in the north, and we know it’s a bold ambition but we want Kirklees to be open for business and we want people to have opportunities and for individuals to flourish.

“Wealth creation is not a bad thing as long as it trickles down to the population at large.”

She said that analysis showed 20% of Kirklees businesses were manufacturing-based – the third highest in the country – and there was potential to boost it and its support chain.

She said a recent visit to a sheet-metal firm in Honley proved how manufacturing firms are also problem-solvers, adding: “I asked about products and was told they make 1,800 different products. They look for opportunities to use sheet metal to solve problems.

“We have lots of examples of that in Kirklees. What we can help to do is encourage the skills they need for the future and look for export opportunities.”

She said high-level apprenticeships, Kirklees College, Huddersfield University and a schools entrepreneur scheme would help, while looking at future need could also provide opportunities.

“An ageing population means there are opportunities in health and social care,” she said. “We need to recognise the gaps and support the private sector in filling it.”

 

Councillors' feedback on future council priorities touched on tourism, agriculture, housing and the potential for a Kirklees Pound.

Kirklees Council leader Clr David Sheard said he had done research on the Bristol Pound – the UK’s first local currency and would explore it more after discovering that business rates could be paid in local currency.

Clr Sheard, Labour member for Heckmondwike, also asked Jacqui Gedman, Director for Place, to consult farmers on the Economic Strategy, saying: “I appreciate the tourism element, but one thing I’ve never seen is an agriculture focus. Geographically, about 25% of Kirklees is rural and there is an agriculture industry, how many people are employed? What opportunity is there? What do they think we can do? I want agriculture to be included in this.”

Clr Robert Light, Conservative leader and an equestrian farmer, agreed saying: “With farming now it’s often farming plus something else, so farming can and does have a lot of offer.”

He said of the whole strategy: “If we can pull this one off it will be cracking.”

Clr Andrew Cooper, Green Newsome, said the word ‘wealth’ could offer more than just monetary benefits.

“I think it’s important to understand that wealth can be applied to wealth of skills and experience and money is a by-product of that,” he said.

Councillors agreed they could influence planning far more than they currently are.

Clr Light added: “Perhaps we need to focus more time on what we want rather than arguing about sites.”

He added that the council could work with small builders on plots for up to five houses adding: “Something we need to be clear about is what Kirklees Council can do, what it can influence, and what it can’t do or influence.”

Clr Andrew Marchington, Golcar Lib Dem, said the strategy should look outside of Huddersfield and Dewsbury town centres and be applicable to the surrounding towns.

Councillors ideas are to be included in the strategies and put before council on July 16.

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