AN impassioned defence of Huddersfield's imposing library and art gallery was mounted last night.
Dozens of people championed the 1930s building at a public meeting and pleaded for it to stay as a part of Huddersfield's heritage.
But many also accepted that the building needs a massive amount of work to make it fit to be used in years to come - be it as a library or for any other function.
They accepted arguments put forward by a council chief that millions of pounds would have to be found, either to save the library or to at least use its facade in developments for the town centre.
Clr John Smithson bravely faced his critics over development plans for the library at a public meeting organised by the Examiner.
Fittingly, it took place in the Junior Library - deep in the basement of a building which is not large enough for its current use, needs a massive overhaul and is said to be rusting away from the inside.
Examiner editor Roy Wright chaired the meeting. He said it was vital the public of Huddersfield had the chance to have their say on what should happen to their town centre.
Speaker after speaker also said just that.
Many argued that the library building should be saved in its entirety - regardless almost of the cost - and that it must never be demolished.
Others put forward a case for at least preserving the imposing stone facade and incorporating it in a development which would include a new library and art gallery.
Clr Smithson pledged from the outset that Kirklees Council would not take any decisions without full public consultation.
He outlined the six options that a team of consultants is now considering. These range from renovating the building to demolition of the library, The Piazza and Queensgate Market Hall.
Clr Smithson added: "There are three main factors to consider. We have to look at service provision. Are we providing what we need in a library and art gallery?
"The building is important and we do not want a hole in Huddersfield's heritage. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the old Market Hall.
"Secondly, we must look at cost- effectiveness and weigh up all the benefits.
"And thirdly, we must take into account the wishes of the people of Huddersfield and Kirklees.
"All three have to be considered, and none outweigh the other."
Mr Austin Holroyd earned applause from the meeting when he argued that the priority was for the people of Huddersfield to decide if they wanted the building to stay.
"I have spent a lot of happy hours in the library and it is not perfect. If it needs pulling down, then do so. But if we can pay a reasonable amount to keep it, then do so."
Mr Chris Marsden, who questioned the effectiveness of the team of consultants appointed by the council to examine all the issues, championed similar buildings.
He said libraries in Liverpool, Manchester, Burnley and Scarborough had all been refurbished brilliantly. All were older than the Huddersfield building and of similar designs.
Trish McCarthy-Nuttall voiced the concerns of many, saying: "The building is such a fine example and to do anything other than restore it would be horrendous. Forget it is a library; it is a beautiful piece of architecture."
There were similar sentiments from other speakers.
Mr David Bowen, of Edgerton, said: "I came here because of our beloved library. There is a lot of heritage money around and we should be doing all we can to secure a big lump of that from the heritage organisations".
Mr Michael Green, chairman of Huddersfield Civic Society, said: "I have been involved in the affairs of buildings of this town for 40 years and I cannot recall an issue which has prompted so much debate.
"We seem to be saying that whatever it costs we should keep it. I caution that other people who pay council taxes may not share our views."
Louise Baldock, of Honley, said: "I care passionately about this issue. I am not against development, but I do not believe that all old things are bad and to be good it must be new.
"It is a fine building and this town needs to be here for its past as well as its future".
Other speakers challenged Clr Smithson and the council over decisions already taken, saying there was a hidden agenda.
But he said time and time again that previous mistakes would not be repeated.
"Councils did not have the financial freedom in the 70s and 80s that we have now and things were neglected. Now, it is possible to embark on projects which catch up with that neglect of the past.
"I came here to listen and to learn. I am aware of the strength of feeling, but the decisions will not be taken simply on the strength of one public meeting." he added.
"If we are going to take a decision based on what the people of Huddersfield and Kirklees say, it must be what they say collectively.
"There is value in our heritage and it is worth paying the money".
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