It’s one of Huddersfield’s best-known societies, it’s helped to save some historic buildings and it’s now been going for 50 years.
The inaugural meeting of Huddersfield Civic Society was held on November 4, 1964, with Dr Cecil Shaw elected as the first chairman.
Current chairman Chris Marsden said: “The objects of the society were by charitable means to promote and encourage high standards of architecture and town planning; to stimulate public interest in the area; to care for the beauty, history and character of the town and to encourage the preservation, development and improvement of features of amenity or historic interest.”
The society was formed at a critical time for Huddersfield. The 1880 market hall’s fate had already been sealed at a public inquiry the previous year. The listing of buildings in Huddersfield had hardly started and the society was influential in getting many buildings listed in the 1970s.
In 1973 an important urgent listing was of the old Corporation Transport Offices on the corner of John William Street and Northumberland Street. The Huddersfield Corporation had moved its transport staff out and prepared it for sale.
Mr Marsden said: “The Civic Society was horrified to learn that the council was going to co-operate with the owner of the rest of the block to sell it by auction as a redevelopment site. This would have desecrated St George’s Square.
“Swift action by society member Mike Green led to the government listing the whole block grade II on April 6, 1973 – the morning of the auction. The auction had to be abandoned and the council angrily tried to get the decision overturned. Years later the council gave itself credit for saving the building!”
Many heritage buildings in Huddersfield would or may have been lost or disfigured but for the work of the civic society, such as Brook Street Market, Broadbent’s Bath House, Huddersfield Library, Kirkgate Chambers and Queensgate Market.
The society has lobbied over street clutter and inappropriate advertisements. Recently it saw off a plastic cash machine in St George’s Square that had been installed without planning permission.
The society worked hard on the town’s development plans since the 1960s including the 1999 Unitary Development Plan and the recently abandoned Local Development Plan. The proposal by the Council in 2003 to redevelop the Queensgate area, which included plans to demolish the library and art gallery, market hall and the 1930s Co-op building, were fiercely opposed and the scheme was quietly dropped.
The society has awarded annual prizes for floral decorations, tidy traders and for the last two years design awards for new buildings and renovations.
The society has held hundreds of lectures and published leaflets, books, guides and a DVD on aspects of the town. It has held scores of walks, hosted visits from other societies and had annual visits to other towns and places of interest.
Society representatives attend planning meetings, public inquiries and many other meetings and committees to support the improvement of the area. In 2012 the society gave full support to the BBC TV documentary called Town with Nicholas Crane on Huddersfield, Yorkshire’s hidden gem. The one-hour film showed both local people and others how the town had lots to offer even if we not aware of it.
In 2014 the state of the riverside is still an issue that concerns the society and it continues to work with other organisations for its improvement. The restoration of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal was a triumph for the town and Ramsden’s warehouse by Somerset Bridge would have been lost without society action.
Mr Marsden added: “Current issues include the lack of a planning framework for the area. The adoption of the Kirklees Local Plan is not expected before late 2017 and the Civic Society says it’s vital that it will be fit for purpose. The council will be asking for views at three stages and it’s important that its proposals are supported and challenged during the plan’s development.”
The society is keen for the Huddersfield shop front design guide it proposed to be realised and for planning enforcement be maintained to halt irresponsible developments.
There are also specific issues. Among others these include the former technical college and YMCA sites, Castle Hill, the trees on Queensgate and the southern end of New Street.