Despite Government pressure to build more and more houses, the construction rate has slowed in Huddersfield. JENNY PARKIN looks at the whole picture
A FEW YEARS ago, derelict mills and scrappy bits of industrial land weren't hot prospects for redevelopment.
Now, though, builders can't seem to supply enough trendy apartments and new housing estates on recycled sites to meet demand.
House prices may no longer be shooting skyward but they're holding fast - at heights that most of us just could not have foreseen at the end of the 20th century.
The result? Practically any suitable patch of cleared land, or unwanted building with potential, is now being snapped up.
At present, 90% of new homes being completed are on land that's been used before.
Just 10% are built on green fields.
Four years ago, more than half of new houses were constructed on virgin land.
Thanks to the boom in urban living, tighter controls on development on fresh land, and higher value of land in historically less lucrative areas, brown is most definitely the new green.
But now a squeeze on available sites is slowing the rate of development across Kirklees.
And the Government wants more. Something's got to give - but Kirklees Council is trying to stand firm on protecting green fields from development.
This issue is always a hot potato among voters - public meetings about proposed housing developments are always among the best-attended, protests the most vociferous around.
No-one wants the rolling fields and hills of their neighbourhood given over to the bulldozers.
But extra houses, it seems, will have to go somewhere.
Patrick Auterson, policy manager at Kirklees Council's planning service, said: "Since 2000 we've granted permission for homes on greenfield sites only in exceptional circumstances."
But brownfield applications are not without their own dilemmas.
Industrial sites razed to the ground often mean lost jobs and lack of viability for once-thriving centres.
"It's a concern of the council, says Mr Auterson. "When it comes to conversion of industrial sites for residential, how far should we go?
"Where we can, we want to be able to retain employment opportunities. But when a business site was built to serve the needs of the 19th century, we could be protecting it for no good reason."
The government wants to see 1,300 homes built in Kirklees every year. Last year the total was only 850.
But that figure was up on the year before that, in which 500 new houses were finished.
The average occupancy of a Huddersfield house is now 2.1 to 2.2 people, compared with more than 3 in the 1950s.
Mr Auterson says: "Households are smaller, so more houses are needed."
Another, as yet largely unexploited, way to provide new housing is to get rid of old, outdated homes.
Huddersfield's biggest revamp has been at Brackenhall, now renamed Ferndale.
A total of 500 council homes, many completely unwanted and impossible to let, are being knocked down to make way for a similar number of brand-new homes to buy.
The result has been to transform a huge, troubled estate into a smart area with reasonably-priced homes that people from all over are now flocking to.
Mr Auterson admitted he would love to see a "Brackenhall" done to other lacklustre areas.
"It's a good model," he says, "And demolition could make way for new, public open spaces, not just more housing."
He said there were more such ideas in the pipeline - including the scheme that is involving the flattening of council bungalows and maisonettes on the Rashcliffe estate at Lockwood.
'We want Longwood to look like Longwood, not Basingstoke'
LONGWOOD is a village that's seen plenty of brownfield development in the last few years.
Pockets of former industrial land have been cleared to make way for new homes.
On the one hand, residents are happy that fresh, new estates mean the village hasn't been left with a "gap tooth" appearance.
But the strain on the roads has been clear to many.
Sue Beck-Sechi, chairman of the Longwood Village Group, says: "We're not adverse to change but we want to keep the character of the place we live in.
"We want Longwood to look like Longwood, not Basingstoke."
The group is keen to see landmark buildings such as Parkwood Mill in Grove Street revamped rather than razed.
"It's the last mill chimney in the valley," Mrs Beck-Sechi says of the building, which is awaiting redevelopment for housing. "The chimney is even a bit Italianate, it's full of character."
She continues: "We can put up with extra traffic if a building like that is saved and the development is done well."
But extra vehicles that come with more housing is a big issue.
Mrs Beck-Sechi says: "There's been a big increase in traffic in Longwood.
"And houses are packed in with small garages, small kitchens, small gardens. They don't have enough space to get the cars off the road."
News that the Government wants 20,000 more homes built in Kirklees in little more than a decade is a huge blow to campaigners.
"I'm not very happy," says Mrs Beck-Sechi. "I feel that Longwood has gone its bit.
"We've had about as much new development as we can take."