14th June 2007
To: Douglas Jarman
I write to you as the person currently “holding the baby” for the new Hebden Bridge “Watchdog” group. As founder chairman (1965-75) of Calder Civic Trust I would like to say how glad I am that the group chose to pick up the mantle and reactivate that body. It did much positive voluntary work (both active and campaigning) in the 60s and 70s to pull what was then a very depressed area up “by its own boot straps”.
However, as must have been evident to everyone at the meeting on Wednesday, I was very frustrated at what I felt was a very biased approach to discussion of the Garden Street project. Six or seven people stood to present quite inaccurate views about this project whilst I was not allowed an adequate opportunity to respond.
The whole reason for the group coming into being was the feeling that people did not know what was happening and wished to have a better opportunity to debate the issues – but on the basis of Wednesday’s performance, it felt as though what they really wanted was merely a target……without letting the facts get in the way.
The Garden Street project is very complex and not easy to grasp in just an instant. The town needs additional central area car parking, a car park where people can be reasonably sure of always finding a vacant space, so they can head for it with a feeling of confidence. The traders in town need it to repair the loss of turnover which is now threatening many businesses (and as many as 6 or 700 jobs).
The only way to get the car parking (other than direct public sector funding which the Council is unwilling to do) is through a Mixed Use Development where residential, retail and commercial property funds the car parking provision.
This is the Council’s chosen method. Studio Baad won the national competition and have approached the job in a very responsible way….first site surveys to establish the technical feasibility…then consultation to establish the community response….then preparation of outline plans taking account of all of these – the Council brief, the technical possibilities and the Community concerns.
The formal consultation process only concluded last Saturday afternoon, yet the meeting on Wednesday was already bandying about sketches and verbal comment to demonstrate, in their view, how dreadful it was. In no time there was a crowd, encouraged by the meeting chairperson, tilting their lances at these imaginary windmills.
Most had not even attended any of the consultation meetings. No-one in the room had any actual knowledge of the design proposals in progress and I was not allowed to describe these.
The sketch by Mr. Jennings is quite inaccurate, out of scale and with too many building blocks….too many, too big…an amalgam of the various options rather than a presentation of one.
Perhaps we made our consultation too complex. Perhaps we should have presented one scheme (like the Fire Station developers have……two big shops and 14 dwellings…about which no-one commented although it is now urgent and the period for responses is almost at an end – or like the major development already approved to demolish factories on Victoria Road in favour of a major housing development….now for sale on the open market for £1.5M – where was the watchdog?) – but is one scheme proper consultation? Should the professionals not take the public into their confidence and present the options?
The “watchdogs” then took off in pursuit of a complete red herring, the eventual possibility (no more) of some additional parking at the station, funded by Metro/Northern Rail/Network Rail or some combination of them.
The “plans” for this (as Anthony Rae and Councillor Janet Battye also know….we were all at the same meeting) are very tentative. There is no budget. There will be no budget for at least a year or two. Metro will need to reverse its “no charging” policy and first raise revenue from a “day rate” for those who park at the station. The car park extension shown will require relocation of a local business to a new site in Hebden Bridge – this will take time and not be cheap.
Watchdog members could help by identifying possible sites!
On top of all this, Metro/Northern rail etc does not have a brief or a budget to provide general public car parking. Their purpose is to provide parking for rail travellers. Any new spaces provided will accommodate those who now park (dangerously) on the A646 and Station Road itself.
In any event, the station is way out of the town centre and of little interest to those (locals included) who wish to visit or shop in the town. Without more central car parking the retail sector of the town is likely to seriously degenerate.
These are the kind of issues which the new organisation needs to debate, openly, civilly and fully, from an informed perspective.
Perhaps it needs a full meeting just on this single issue? Contrary to what was said in the meeting, there is no rush. The Garden Street Development planning application must be lodged with Calderdale MBC by 2nd July next.
Initially it will be an outline application only. Calderdale officers will need time to study it. They too will have lots of questions and require additional information. Eventually they will validate the application. At that stage it will constitute and actual application in outline and will be made public on the web. Thus any formal comment at this stage is premature. We have plenty of time over the summer for discussion – and to feed any amendments into the process. It will probably be the end of 2007 or early 2008 before any decision is reached and then, only in outline. Detailed plans will be required after that – each with an opportunity for consultation.
I hope this clarifies the situation. If possible, I would appreciate it if my comments could be circulated (to those having e-mail) with the minutes of the meeting in order that my points on fairness and openness may be considered at the next meeting on the 25h July or prior committee meeting. I will not attend the meeting so that you may have a free exchange of views on my comments.
As the meeting decided by a majority vote to adopt the title (for the time being) and constitution (and budget?) of the Calder Civic Trust it will become bound by the constitution and accountable to both Companies House and the Charity Commission to operate accordingly to the benefit of the population of Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Cragg Vale, Heptonstall, Wadsworth, Blackshawhead and Erringden.
David E. Fletcher