New uses for town centres are being explored, Kirklees’ top regeneration chief says.
Around 2,000 people are now living in Huddersfield town centre as a result of a re-think at Kirklees Council.
And that’s something Clr Peter McBride said had been good for the town.
He responded to criticism about the number of empty retail units, the feared impact of the forthcoming bus gates and calls from opposition councillors to act.
While Kirklees Council doesn’t own most of the empty retail units, and is unable to set the business rate level, he said they are working to improve Huddersfield town centre.
Take a look at some of the empty units in Huddersfield town centre.
He likened criticism of the forthcoming bus gates – a series of cameras aimed to restrict cars accessing parts of the town centre – to early criticism of St George’s Square before anyone had seen the regeneration of it.
Clr McBride, Cabinet member for investment and regeneration, said: “The problem of empty shops in the town centre, and all town centres up and down the country, is not related directly to the functions of the given local authority. It’s a phenomena you can see up and down the country.
“We are trying to help businesses; one good example was the Food and Drink Festival. How many different festivals have there been in Huddersfield and Dewsbury? We’re doing it in the interests of the shopkeepers."
The Food and Drink Festival was organised by the Huddersfield Partnership - which isn't part of Kirklees Council.
“Additionally, we’ve spent a lot of money encouraging people to live in our town centres which is a way of keeping them vibrant and increasing the footfall. Now there are 2,000 people living in Huddersfield, they use Huddersfield shops, some of them work there.
“That is the kind of thing we have been doing.”
He said the future of towns relates to accessibility, adding: “We’re trying to increase pedestrianisation to make it easier to go back and forth without being encumbered by traffic. But we can’t determine the market.”
Clr Phil Scott, Almondbury Lib Dem, said people can contacted him with concerns about the empty units and the bus gates, which will see a series of cameras installed to limit cars entering parts of Huddersfield town centre. Motorists who do venture into restricted areas will be hit with £60 fines.
Clr McBride responded to Clr Scott, saying: “You speak to people who only moan.
“When people see this system bed in, as they have with so many other different systems, they’ll see it’s quite good.
“It’s a bit like all discussion about Chinese granite and St George’s Square – everyone thinks it’s wonderful now, and when this (the bus gates) bed in people will think it’s wonderful too.”
There was much controversy about Kirklees’ plans to use Chinese granite – and now Yorkshire stone - in the last revamp of St George’s Square. In 2008 the council’s regeneration chief at the time, Clr Ken Sims, urged people to judge the square once it was complete.
Last week a business leader, Steven Leigh, head of policy at the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said parking costs, business rates and planning were the three issues to tackle, not all of them within the council’s control.