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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Central Library threat

On Monday 31st October Calderdale Council's Cabinet members agreed plans which would see:

  • A new central library and archive next to Square Spire and linking into Piece Hall
  • Disposal of Northgate House and central library premises as a redevelopment site targeted at non-food retail business
  • Sale of the Council's Heath site in order to locate Council services together in the town centre

Statement from the Halifax Civic Trust

Halifax Civic Trust remains strongly opposed to the loss of the current library. It is a popular facility in a modern, airy, attractive building, well situated at the heart of the town centre.

An extraordinarily high proportion of the local population and many others numbering in total over 16,000, have specifically expressed their desire that the library should stay where it is. The rejection of such a strong expression of public opinion, reinforced in a succession of consultation exercises organised by the local authority itself and the abandonment of repeated public assurances that the current facilities would be safeguarded on their existing site makes a mockery of the processes of democratic consultation and undermines trust in local politicians.

Calderdale Central Library has a range of well-used facilities, including extensive local archives and capacious meeting rooms as well as public lending and reference facilities. If the library is demolished there is no guarantee, in the present financial climate, that a new one will emerge containing the full range of facilities of an equally high standard provided at the Northgate building. The strategy for re-location must be viewed as extremely high risk, dependent on the sale of another property at the anticipated price within the anticipated time scale whilst retaining the interest of developers in the Northgate site in a potentially deteriorating economic climate.

The proposed site for a new central library, in Square Road, is ill judged. It is on the edge of the town centre core instead of at its heart, in contrast to the present location of the library and indeed libraries in other West Yorkshire towns.   We have noted the very high percentage of library users who access it from the bus station and most people, including older users will find the proposed site much less convenient and accessible than the existing library, especially after dark. Moreover, the vast majority of local library users will not find the nearby railway station a feasible alternative for visiting the library.

The proposal for a shuttle bus service to and from the new library is equally ill-conceived and a tacit acknowledgement of the inconvenience of the proposed re-location. Shuttle buses have been tried a number of times in Halifax and have never succeeded. A library shuttle would either fail again or require an expensive ongoing financial commitment by the council to maintain it.

The published impressionistic designs for the proposed new library, in Square Road do not appear to be derived from any realistic consideration of the building?s multiple functions including silent study areas, extensive secure special collection and archive storage with service access for frequent deliveries and meeting room facilities with accommodation for audiences of varying sizes ranging upwards to over 120, which can be housed comfortably in the existing building.

Moreover, the site is significantly smaller than the existing library accommodation with its convenient servicing and parking facilities and arguably not sufficiently extensive to display the building?s design adequately. The library would be sandwiched between the Square Church spire and the Calderdale Industrial Museum and its impact on major heritage buildings in close proximity would require careful assessment by English Heritage and local conservationists.

While the spire and transept of Square Church would appear to be retained in the proposed library scheme the proposal would mean the loss of the footprint of the partially demolished but historically important, grade II*-listed church building, which is the earliest and only surviving example of Dissenting Gothic architecture in the centre of the town. With its Crossley associations, it should be considered as an important heritage site in its own right and its integrity respected, since it relates to the story of the adjacent restored Georgian Chapel and its offshoot, the former Sion Chapel, Wade Street, now skilfully incorporated into the town?s bus station, a model of how heritage features can be preserved in a re-development. Surely an exciting museum feature focusing on the town?s social history, incorporating the surviving ruins on the site and complementing the industrial museum would enhance the attraction of the Piece Hall to tourists more significantly than a library designed primarily for the needs of local residents and sustain its regeneration which we strongly support.

The scale of the retail development envisaged for the Northgate site (and potentially extending to the Royal Mail and Bus Station sites) is huge and arguably out of keeping with the scale of the adjacent town centre streets and buildings, including the admirably constructed Woolshops development, which was strongly influenced in its conception by Halifax Civic Trust. In that instance, the existing streetscape with individual shop fronts and an irregular roofline was preserved on one side of the historic route. On the other side a curved fa?ade followed the line and retained some architectural features of the previous Art Deco unit, but without the arcade. By this means the character and some of the idiosyncrasies of the original townscape were preserved, with a scale and mass that harmonised with the town centre. We do not believe that the viability of new stores has been nor would be damaged by a continuation of this approach and hope that any new buildings will complement the existing townscape.

Retail units close to the heart of the town should be designed so as not to overwhelm the existing streets and buildings. This might be achieved by partially enveloping any new development by existing buildings or newly created ones on an appropriate scale. To allow a single retailer to occupy the extensive 100-yard frontage along Northgate from near the top of the Woolshops to the bus station and the long frontage facing the bus station along Wade Street might prove to be a visual disaster.
We are aware that the, as yet unfinished, development at Broad Street is already being heavily criticised for its overbearing size at an important gateway to Halifax from the north and its obscuring of the setting of the historically important Halifax Town Hall as well as views from the town centre towards Claremount and the grade 1-listed All Souls' Church. The recently announced scheme for the Pennine Centre site between Horton Street and New Road proposes a second very large retail development. A similar development at Northgate would provide a third very large commercial development within the Halifax town centre conservation area, which would be entirely out of scale and character with the existing town centre and in the current economic climate might even jeopardise the take-up of units in the proposed Pennine Centre.

We consider that the retention of the central library in its present location would continue to enhance the townscape by preserving an interesting late-twentieth century building constructed in fine quality Woodkirk stone, which does not dominate its neighbouring Victorian buildings. Moreover we are concerned that the figure of £6 million cited for its refurbishment must be considered unsubstantiated until the reports into its condition are published. The demolition of the purpose-built library, archives and meeting room facilities, the newest and finest of their kind yet constructed within West Yorkshire, would be a costly mistake and would deprive all members of the community of a much-valued, conveniently located, accessible cultural asset, which they have clearly indicated they wish to preserve on its existing site.

Dr John A. Hargreaves (Chairman), June Paxton-White (Secretary) and the members of the Executive of Halifax Civic Trust.


See also

Hebweb Forum - Central Library/Northgate House (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

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