IT'S here at last! Huddersfield's long-awaited shopping centre - Kingsgate - opened its doors to shoppers today.
Crowds of eager customers gathered at the entrance to hear town crier Vic Watson announce the launch of the town's biggest retail development for 30 years.
The £50m centre will house 40 shops when fully let, including the Beatties department store, and major names such as Next and Gap. It marks a long-awaited boost for Huddersfield after more than a decade of planning.
Kingsgate centre manager Jonathan Hardy and Kirklees Mayor Clr Mohan Sokhal today released hundreds of black and white balloons.
Also attending the opening ceremony were Kirklees Council leader Clr Kath Pinnock and Peter Everest, managing director of Kingsgate developer WD Huddersfield Ltd.
Clr Sokhal said: "This is an exciting day for the town. The people of Huddersfield have been waiting for a long number of years and now it has happened."
Mr Hardy said: "A lot of hard work has gone into realising the dream of a major new shopping centre for Huddersfield and I am sure people will agree that it has been worth the effort."
Shoppers trooped along the bright new mall to watch Last of the Summer Wine star Tom Owen cut a ribbon at the centre's anchor store, Beatties.
The actor, who plays Compo's long-lost son in the 30-year-old comedy series, was welcomed by Beatties managing director Chris Jones and store manager Martin Pollitt.
Tom said: "Kingsgate will provide a very good reason to come into Huddersfield. I am very impressed with the store."
And he joked that once his wife got a store card for Beatties it was likely to cost him a small fortune.
Tom also welcomed Beatties' commitment to support Kirkwood Hospice, Dalton, as its chosen charity.
Mr Jones said: "We are very excited to be here. This is the best store launch we have ever had in terms of being prepared - and in terms of the help we have had from people in the town."
He praised Kirklees Council for its commitment to bringing a new shopping experience to the town.
He said: "When we were recruiting staff for the store, we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of people of Huddersfield.
"They have fantastic enthusiasm. We are sure this store will be a tremendous success."
Maddie Holden, Beatties trainee of the year and manager of Beatties' perfume department, said the new store was "fantastic".
She said: "I have been here since January 2 and everyone is full of enthusiasm."
Elizabeth Preece, a sales assistant in the stationery department, said the store was something which Huddersfield had needed for a long time.
"I am so excited to be involved in this new venture," she said. "It's absolutely super, getting to know all the other staff."
Mrs Jennifer Haines, of Fenay Bridge, and her husband Robert got up at 7am to be among the first shoppers to walk through the Kingsgate doors.
Mrs Haines is originally from South Acton, London, the birthplace of the late Bill Owen, and as a keen Last of the Summer Wine fan wanted to see his son Tom at the official opening.
"We were very eager to come and look around. We have been watching Kingsgate grow from the first stone," she said.
Mrs Julia Crank and her daughter Laura, 12, of Colne Bridge, thought Beatties was just like Harrods. "It's lovely - very nice," she said.
Mrs Ellen Cartwright, of Lindley, said the shopping centre would be a good thing for Huddersfield.
Clr Pinnock said the arrival of Kingsgate meant Huddersfield was the envy of its neighbouring towns.
She said: "Wakefield and Halifax - say goodbye to your Huddersfield shoppers because they will be shopping with us from now on."
Sir John Harman, who masterminded the plan for Kingsgate when he was council leader, said: "I recall the launch of the proposals more than 10 years ago and it has been a long time coming.
"But we were always determined to get a good quality shopping centre and anchor store - and here it is."
He said: "This is a great day and another sign of how things are improving in Huddersfield."
David Wyles, Huddersfield town centre manager, said the £50m shopping centre was the biggest investment in the town for 30 years.
He said: "Kingsgate is here and people ought to come and see it for themselves."
He said the shopping centre would help secure the town's long-term retailing future.
Almost half of the 40 stores at the new centre were open for business by lunchtime today.
Others will open throughout this month and the store will be fully trading by early summer.
Catherine Hinchley, branch manager for jewellers F Hinds, said: "It is nice to be one of the first stores to open.
"We've been looking for somewhere in this area for some time."