Calderdale asked to suspend the sale of community assets in Hebden Bridge

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Report on Hebden Royd Partnership Annual General Meeting 23rd November 2004, 7.00pm, Birchcliffe Centre.

A well attended AGM of the Hebden Royd Partnership unanimously supported a motion proposed by Councillor Stuart Brown to write to Calderdale Council asking them to suspend the sale of the Pitt Street buildings and all council owned property (including land such as the Garden Street car park) until a strategy for Hebden Bridge is produced.

Adrian Rose, Regeneration Manager for Calderdale Council, presented the "Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Plan" to the meeting - advertised as "The Future of Hebden Bridge" - the first Renaissance Plan in the country to take on a rural/semi-rural area.

Introducing the meeting David Fletcher said that the Renaissance Plan was an "opportunity to make changes" in the area covering Sowerby Bridge to Todmorden.

In his presentation Mr. Rose explained how the Renaissance Plan came into being after an approach by the Yorkshire Forward Group to Calderdale Council, resulting in the end of the Pennine Rural Priority Area with a subsequent loss in grants available to the area. It was unclear why this decision was taken however, Mr Rose stated that this loss was an opportunity to progress a "valley wide strategy", with a goal of providing a "strategy led, not funding fed" vision. The vision is to be produced by the "Valley Team" and facilitated by the Council.

When the "vision" has been produced the 3.5M of funding available to projects will be distributed by the the Upper Calder Valley (UCV) Company, which will oversee the delivery of projects, approve actions, ensure the public is on board and take direct action itself.

Mr. Rose also stated that the current Calderdale Unitary Development Policy (UDP) would be replaced, in the next three years, by a "Local Development Framework" which had "broad brush policies" for Calderdale with a specific "Hebden Bridge Action Plan". Current UDP policies would be included in the Action Plan, he said.

Mr. Rose also outlined the plan for the Garden Street car park. The plan is to develop a multi-storey car park on the site with access to an upper level from Commercial Street. Four developers will be short-listed by the second week in January and their plans will be displayed on A1 size boards "somewhere in Hebden Bridge". However, in a point raised from the floor, it was pointed out that the Garden Street car park was only full on one day of the week, questioning if the the development was really necessary.

With the floor opened for questions it was pointed out by Penny Eastwood that a major point arising from the consultation stages of the Renaissance Project - the provision of sustainable and affordable housing - was not reflected in the presentation.

In addition, there was a major and reoccurring concern from the floor that there could be no long term "vision" for Hebden Bridge when Calderdale Council were taking unilateral and individual decisions, such as the forthcoming auction of the Council-owned Pitt Street building and the granting of planning permission for the mill housing Northlight Studios, without taking into account the wider views of the community and the impact on it.

Mr. Rose said that on the topic of Council property, some buildings will be sold due to the cost of adapting buildings for the disabled and that this did not exclude any building - even the Town Council Chambers - Mr. Fletcher added that there was a question mark over all of the Council owned buildings in the centre of Hebden Bridge and likened the situation to selling off the family silver while the family decide what to do with it.

Several ideas for the usage of publicly owned buildings were put forward to the Chair, including housing the Hebden Bridge Historical Society's Collections, band practice rooms, community exhibition spaces, or as homes to the artists from Northlight Studios.

Anthony Rea (Friends of the Earth) pointed out that these issues were arising because the coordination between Council processes seemed to be lacking, resulting in decisions (such as the auction of the Pitt Street building) being taken without the Communities knowledge.

The Mayor of Hebden Royd, Rev. James Allison, said that such events would result in a loss of trust between the community and the Council which, if not resolved, would lead to deadlock in future decisions and the direction of Hebden Bridge.

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