Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Well over 250 people packed into Riverside School yesterday evening to question the Garden Street development and officials from Calderdale Council.

All but a handful of those present were strongly opposed to the proposed development, and it was revealed that 2500 people have now sent in their opposition to the proposal and 7 people have sent in their support.

The lively but well ordered public meeting ended with developer David Fletcher, who had several times claimed the meeting wasn't representative, telling those present, "If I had power and influence I wouldn't put up with this nonsense, I'd just do it."

The meeting was chaired by Cllr Nader Fekri.

Adrian Rose, Calderdale Regeneration Manager, explained the background to the proposed development. The land had been compulsory purchased by the council some years ago and there had been plans to build 3 lots of 6 storey flats. In the meantimes, it was used as a "temporary" car park. Before embarking on the current project, the Council sent out 823 questionnaires and at the time 66% were in favour of some form of multi-storey parking. The council didn't have the capital so looked at commercial cross-subsidisation.

Studio Baad was chosen from a shortlist of potential developments but the details of the contract have to remain "commercially confidential". It was later conceded that any revenue from parking will go to the developer.

However, the development cannot go ahead without agreement from Calderdale's Planning Committee. In spite of the council's vested interest in the project, the Planning Committee are supposedly independent.

The planning meeting to consider the proposal was originally to be on 16th September, but Calderdale have decided they will need a larger than usual venue, so the meeting will now be on Thursday, 25th September at 6pm. (Update: meeting changed to Monday, 29th September at the King Centre, Halifax) Much will depend upon the planning officers' reports, and these will be available from 17th September.

David Fletcher spoke several times during the meeting. He compared the new project with Bridge Mill, saying they have much in common. He continually tried to suggest that the objectors were against all change and implied that they were the ones objecting to the recent pedestrianisation. He claimed that the development was "pretty generous" on parking. There would be 160 new car parking places of which 48 would be for the new residents. The development is for 24 houses, 24 apaprtments, 8 shops and 8 offices.

Anthony Rae, speaking for those opposing the development, gave full details of alternative ways to provide the parking, and said that the Council needs to consider these before it goes ahead with this large development. Each local authority has an allocation of new housing it is required to complete by the Government. Calderdale has already exceeded this by 3750 units.

Anthony Rae told those present that the business survey conducted by the Garden Street Action Group had shown that 95% were against the development, and particularly did not want 2-3 years of disruption to the town at this time. The Chair of the Business Association said that people have just started coming back to the town after the last disruption. We can't handle any more disruption just now.

Several people referred to the recent small roadworks on the Keighley Road in the centre of Hebden Bridge, and how it almost cut off sections of the town. For those living on the Foster Lane/Valley Road side of Hebden Bridge, "it will be almost impossible to get out of Hebden Bridge, and if we do get out, will we ever get back?"

Several of those present pointed out that Hebden Bridge already had empty flats and shops - there was no need to build more.

Barbara Green claimed that this public consultation was a cynical exercise. There was a small group of senior decision makers at Calderdale and that they had already decided that the development would go ahead. Just as they did with Heptonstall's Valley View in spite of very widespread local opinion.

Gwen Goddard urged everyone in the meeting to go along to the planning meeting on 29th September. If enough of us go, councillors will start thinking about their votes.

Issy Shannon expressed serious concerns about redoing the retaining wall - the wall with Birchcliffe behind it. "If you start excavating, who knows what you are going to find."

Residents and business owners from The Croft said they already had problems with sewers and water. One business owner from New Road reported regular sewage in the cellar. Yorkshire Water had so far been unable to solve the problems.

Prospective Liberal candidate for the Calder Valley, Hillary Myers, was one of a handful present who was sympathetic to the development which she described as "exciting".

John Rhodes said that as a trade union organiser he spent much of his working life being told he wasn't representative, but "'I don't know anyone in Hebden who is in favour of this."

There was some discussion on whether any of the housing in the development would be "affordable" - Anthony Rae pointed out that the develop negotiated the percentage down from 30% to 10%.

Cllr Fekri ended the meeting by congratulating all involved in being respectful to those with whom they disagreed, and promised that the local councillors for Hebden Bridge would continue to oppose the development.

See also YouTube videos from the public meeting at Riverside School

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