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Central Library Consultaion Con!

From Stephen Curry

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Just when we were beginning to think that our representatives at Calderdale Council were heeding the protest about lack of consultation over the proposal to move the Library, we discover that it is a forgone conclusion and they only want our views on the use of a new library. And now that some councillors are admitting that they did not realise that they were only voting for this limited consultation we are left wondering where the integrity is and competence to spot this elaborate con by cabinet/Officers.

I won't say "it's unbelievable" because those who have followed this and the likes of the Copley Valley development probably expected as much from the organisation called CMBC which passes itself off as a democratically elected body. It is nothing short of a scandal which will, come May, come back to haunt the local LibLab pact. Both sets of political supporters should questioning this disregard for the pleas of the public and Labour MP for a full and proper consultation on the location of the library. We are left wondering if they ever really had any genuine figures for the refurb of the existing library. By not having a full consultation they have neatly avoided that exposure.

It doesn't matter if the plan is a good one or not what matters is transparency and integrity in dealing with the public.

From S Berry

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Well, now we know where we stand!

Despite the council voting through a resolution which agreed to dispose of the Northgate House site in its entirety, but 'subject to detailed discussion being undertaken' the CEO of the Council has taken this to mean that CMBC can do what they like.

From today's article in the Courier it seems that even some councillors thought they were voting for a full consultative process to take place.
Instead we have the CMBC questionnaire in which, question 1, asks about what facilities we would like in the new library. However, these services are in fact what local authorities are obliged by law to provide under the Public Libraries and Museums Service (1964).

In other words, it doesn't matter how people respond, these things must be provided by law.

Question 2 does ask what else we would like to see in the library.
The remaining 5 questions ask for personal information.
Thus, by ignoring the personal information which is irrelevant to the consultation, and further ignoring those aspects of a library service CMBC must provide by law, we are left with ONE question - What else would you like to see?

The obvious question � do you want the current Central Library to be demolished is not asked. Could this be because the council know that if they did ask that question the answer may well be a resounding NO?
So let's hear from the council as to why they will not have a fully independent consultation and ask the very obvious question.

From Graham Barker

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

If so many councillors believe they were misled at the 7 December meeting, shouldn't they insist on having that meeting's decision declared void? If that can't be done, what's the point in having elected councillors? Too many things are happening in Calderdale that suggest we vote for puppets rather than puppet masters.

Could we invite Janet Battye, Nader Fekri and Dave Young to use this thread to inform us about the state of democracy in Calderdale?

From Mick Coughlan

Friday, 6 January 2012

It is my opinion that this latest revelation about the Northgate House and Central library debacle has become not just about two 30 year old buildings but about democracy itself in our Borough.

When the conservatives wanted to demolish the library, Labour's Barry Collins presented a petition on behalf of the objectors with 15,000 plus signatures. The Lib Dems also objected to the project. The conservatives reacted by withdrawing the plans - just as they should given the strong clear message they received from the electorate.

As we know the conservatives soon after lost the control of the council. Now we have the new coalition council pursuing the same idea of demolishing the Northgate House and Central Library. The Lib Dem's website claimed on of the reasons the conservatives lost office was because they had lost the faith of the electorate by wanting to bulldoze the library. Now Coun Barry Collins is at the forefront of the proposals along with his Lib Dem partners.

Cabinet took the decision to demolish the buildings without further consultation. The next full council saw the conservatives putting forward an amendment for full, open, transparent consultation. This was defeated as they do not have the majority in the council. The coalition put forward another amendment that appeared to be simliar to the conservatives - so much so that I understand the conservatives did not oppose it. Yet what we have seen is a sham of a consultation where the only thing we are being asked about is what we wish to see in the new smaller library.

Some council members wrote to the Courier to berate the objectors and said "you have a consultation" yet it seems that these elected representatives had the wool pulled over their eyes as they are now claiming that the current consultation is not what they voted for.

So who is behind this move to exclude the public from being consulted on a project that will cost millions and affect Halifax town centre for many years (well on past track record, at least 30)? I believe we should be told who has acted with the stealth of a pick pocket and denied the public their say (either for or against). We should be told in order that, if it is an elected member or group of members, we can reflect on this at future elections. If it is down to council officers then this should be treat with disciplinary action as this is not what the public expect of public servants.

Thankfully, gone are the days when "council knows best" was the standard motto. Of course if you don't want to know the answer to a question, you don't ask the question, but to my mind this whole sham has put our Borough into a bad light and our council into disrepute. This has to stop - I agree with the commentor who said that this decision should now be overturned. It should now go back to the full council and back for rigorous debate. Party politics should play no part in it. I am pleased to see that the councillors who have raised their heads in the Courier are actually from the coalition parties and this gives me some hope that a free debate can be had.

Nothing short of a full, open and transparent consultation is acceptable. Starting from should we be demolishing the buildings on Northgate, with proper estimates for the work required to refurb - not just guesses based on what has happened elsewhere. This is the only way a proper decision can be reached. We are grown ups and should treated as such. Council does not always know best.


From S Berry

Friday, 6 January 2012

As Mick Coughlan probably realises, the reason CMBC do not want to ask the public whether they want the present Calderdale Central Library to be demolished is that the answer may well be no!

in 2009 aproximately 16,000 people signed a petition against demolition, and as recently as June 2011 in an online poll in the Courier when the question was ' Should Halifax Central Library be moved to make way for a Primark and other new stores' the result was � Yes 28%, No 72%

Only full and independent consultation will go any way to allaying the suspicions which Mick has mentioned. When even councillors think they have been misled there is something very seriously amiss with the democratic process.

So come on councillors, stand up for both yourselves and the people you represent. Make the cabinet and the CEO aware of the depth of suspicion with regard to their actions, and the strong feelings this subject arouses in the voters.

So often we hear from politicians moaning about the apathy of the gerneal public, well in this instance it is the other way round - it seems to be the politicians who are apathetic to the feelings of the people of Halifac and Calderdale. After all it is Calderdale's Central Library which we are talikng about.

From Graham Barker

Saturday, 7 January 2012

At bottom, the location of the library isn't the issue. CMBC just wants to make a piece of land available for property developers. If it weren't for the fact that a library is a cultural asset that arouses strong feelings, this would be a done deal and CMBC wouldn't need to invent massive and unjustified Northgate House refurbishment costs to scare us yokels into submission.

Selling off Northgate for retail development at a time when retail is in decline is Calderdale's equivalent of HS2, another project based on a belief in fairies. If CMBC councillors are to be regarded as more than rubber-stampers, they should call a halt to this project now. They should insist first, on refurbishment of Northgate House as the option to pursue; and second, on being given accurate costings for the work and not just figures plucked out of a hat. And costs should fit the available funds, not the other way round. If it's going to be make do and mend time for all of us for the forseeable future, CMBC needs to set an example.

This really is a crossroads for democracy in Calderdale. It's not a party issue or an austerity issue. It's not even just about Northgate. CMBC gets involved in too many things that seem to be done more for narrow private gain than for public benefit. Northgate is just the latest example.

At the moment nearly all Calderdale councillors seem to be either asleep at the wheel or at someone else's beck and call, with council officers or property developers pulling most of the strings. Now I'll confess that I have a lot of time for Janet Battye and would never want to criticise her as a person. But I think that as council leader, she must recognise that public faith in Calderdale Council as a democratic institution is all but lost and something decisive must be done to win it back.

From Stephen Curry

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

I'm pleased to see Linda Riorden Labour MP is doing the job that electors would expect from her regardless of her politics. She is doing what we should all be doing, providing opposition to bad local government and demanding a return to more democratic consultation and openness.

In this case she has risen above Party politics and is prepared to bring in a Conservative minister Greg Clark, Minister of State for Communities and Local Government, to "intervene publicly and instruct Calderdale Council to hold full and proper consultation"

Lets not forget it was the Calderdale labour leader's last minute motion which offered the misleading and sham consultation on the Central Library. So for Ms Riorden to highlight this does her credit.

Keeping the focus on the undemocratic process whilst the LibLab Cabinet try to smokescreen us with their ideals for Halifax centre also does credit to those who have continued to oppose the Library move since 2009, from whom Ms Riordan takes her lead.

Those Cllrs who now feel they were misled by their party leaders should seriously consider resigning the party whip and join the growing ranks of independent councillors and thus start to represent the people who elected them not their parties.


From Jonathan Timbers

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

I think Linda Riordan opposes the closure of Northgate House because of her politics, not regardless of it.

I understand that Primark has indicated an interest in the site and that councillors are tamely going along with officer recommendations because:

  • the lifts need repairing
  • refurbishing the offices would be expensive
  • the building is 1/3 empty as a result of job losses
  • there is mould on the archives
  • the meeting rooms are windowless.

It's about time Labour councillors recovered their politics and acted to preserve public space in the centre of Halifax. I wonder if their advice includes a serious assessment of the economic impact on Primark on small business, charity shops, market stall holders etc. in central Halifax which contribute to its social and economic well-being.

I am glad to say that - having raised this issue at my local Labour party meeting - other members of the party believe that the direction of council policy concerning the library is wrong and the matter needs to be referred back to scrutiny.

From Mick Coughlan

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The claims that Primark are interested in coming to Halifax is an interesting one. A former CMBC councillor in a letter to the Courier claims that Primark have no real interest in coming to Halifax. This is because they have branches in all the local large towns already. They say they would consider it if offered 5 years free rent and rates. I asked Coun Nash about this at the Skircoat Ward Forum before Christmas and she said she had no idea where this story had come from and she wasn't aware of Primark's interest.

Looking back in the Courier it seems that the first mention was from Gregory Developments (the people building the Broad Street complex), one wonders if it was a shot in the dark but it seems to have been siezed on by some as further justification for the Northgate development.

I am currently going through the supporting documents for the present consultation questionaire and am not convinced that they represent anything other than propaganda and leverage to make the case for demolition. For instance some of the work marked as being required has already been done (Significantly the boilers have already been replaced in the last 5 years but still feature as part of the costs for re-furb). I know some may regard me as an idealist or even nieve but I really do think that truth is not a big thing to ask for from our public servants, elected or not.

From Chris F

Thursday, 12 January 2012

I would strongly recommend people take the time to read the three documents contained on the council's website.

The real scandal in all of this is not on should we move the library or not, but on the decision to sell Northgate house in the first please.

The report maintenance survey and report was conducted by independent 3rd parties and demonstrates that the changes to bring both Northgate and the library up to legal standards for 3 years is 507K and 5 years is 915K.

Not only that but the majority of this is backlog maintenance i.e. the council has ignored critical work including that identified to safety items like the fire alarm system.

The refurbishment cost document then manages to arrive at a figure of £14 million, seemingly focussed on stating the building must last for a minimum of 25 years and assuming the council need every facility replacing. Surely a pragmatic approach providing a serviceable facility for the next ten years would be significantly cheaper and far more appropriate in these times of austerity.

The Councils own report entitled 'Feasibility study and options appraisal' takes the exorbitant figure of £14m to 16m to refurbish Northgate and the Library and compares three options

Option 1 Refurbish the buildings
Option 2 Rebuild Northgate on a new site
Option 3 replace with multiple satellite offices

The report on page 49 states that the building is structurally sound and suitable for refurbishment to give a 25 year life span and that option 1 to refurbish the building is the lowest cost option.

What we are seeing is an excellent piece of political manoeuvring.

Despite the Councils own reports stating that refurbishment is the most cost effective route forward, even when inflated to replace all facilitates and extend the life of the building by 25 years the Council have voted to sell Northgate Why ?

They have now craftily moved the debate onto should we rebuild the library and archive or keep the current facility. I hope the save the Library campaign is victorious but it will be a hollow victory, as the true question is not should we keep or move the library given the sale of Northgate but why are we selling Northgate house at all ?

From Mick Coughlan

Thursday, 12 January 2012

I agree with Chris F and would add the examples that that the figures being used to justify the demolition of Northgate House include replace 3 boilers. These boilers have already been replaced and so to include them in the figure is at best mis-leading and at worse an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the council tax-payer. Also included is rental for temporary buildings for staf whilst Northgate House is refurbished. These are clearly not required as CMBC, if they get their way will move the staff permanantly into council buildings with extra capacity. So this figure should be removed from the bottom line.

Also CMBC aim to lease space in Broad Street at £300k a year, minimum term 20 years so £6m should be removed from the bottom line. This needs sorting out and I see that in todays Courier the Conservative group leader has requested the Mayor call an extrordinary meeting for this purpose. Let's hope it can be sorted out for the good of the community - not just the good of developers.

From Chris F

Friday, 13 January 2012

The report is very similar to the one provided for the Hebden bridge picture house where the figure quoted prior to the asset transfer was ludicrously inflated.

They wanted to take the 90 year old building and refit it to be as a 'new build' both inside and out.

They wanted to apply all building regs retrospectively despite this not being a requirement.

I'm sure someone could remind me of the figures but I believe the proposed figure was approximately a third of the original.

That said, even before the refurb cost of £14 is challenged the councils own document still acknowledges its cheaper.

I also have concerns around the retail space. Halifax has empty retail space as it is. There is a danger that too much space will be a detriment to the town centre. People do not like to walk large distances from one end of the town centre to another, especially passing empty shops to reach the next section. The latest library campaign compounds this further with the library 'around the back' near square chapel. All the library traffic currently passes by and will probably use retail outlets, in the new design this traffic is lost. The economic activity of a town centre can only support a certain amount of retail store space and a certain amount of physical space or economic density. How many people are going to cover the ground from the new library at square chapel up to Cow green and back as part of their daily shopping trip�.Hebden bridge is a good example of a functioning retail centre, if the current retail space was physically located over a much wider area the retail outlets would see a fall in consumer spending.

Whilst the council no doubt believe they are doing the right thing for the future of Halifax their over ambition could be to the detriment of town. Whilst we all like to criticise the use of consultants, I would like to see an independent report and strategy from experts in the field of retail and town center management prior to investing vast amounts and changing the focul point of the retail space in Halifax yet again.

See also

Hebweb Forum - Central Library/Northgate House (Nov-Dec 2011)

HebWeb News - Council Releases Information on New Central Library (5 Dec 2011)

Calderdale website: Detailed information on the condition of both Northgate House and the Central Library and Archive buildings can be downloaded

HebWeb News - Central Library threat (22 Nov 2011)

HebWeb News - Don't Bulldoze Central Library Jan 2011

Hebweb Forum - Halifax Town Centre Regeneration (Feb 2011)

John Hargreaves' presentation on behalf of of the Halifax Civic Trust and Halifax Antiquarian Society (Jan 2011)

HebWeb News 2009 - Calderdale Central Library and Archive

Hebweb Forum - Demolition of Central Library and Archives building in Halifax (March-April 2009)

Don't Bulldoze our Library