See earlier news item

Friday, 4 July 2008

On 14th April, and after failing to get answers at lower levels within Calderdale Council, the Garden Street Action Group found it necessary to write to Chief Executive Owen Williams with ‘10 Questions about the Garden Street proposed development in Hebden Bridge we would like answered’

The CMBC reply is from Ian Thompson, Group Director for Regeneration & Development; dated 13th May but not received until 5th June.  The [Developer] reply, from David Fletcher was received on 13th June. 

The document below is a compilation of the existing letter; the two replies; and the Action Group comment on those responses. 


14th April 2008

Dear Owen Williams

10 Questions about the Garden Street proposed development in Hebden Bridge we would like answered

Let me first of all explain why we are addressing this letter directly to you rather than another officer of the Council. On 12th February representatives of the Garden Street Action Group, together with our ward councillor Janet Battye, had a meeting with Ian Thompson Group Director of Regeneration and Development at which we considered a much longer list of questions about this scheme.  We hoped at the time that this meeting would have elicited the answers we needed, but disappointingly this has not proved to be the case.

So because this scheme has the potential to have a fundamental effect on our town, we are now addressing 10 questions to you as Chief Executive to which we would like an answer, please.

Question 1: How many genuinely additional car parking spaces – more than the existing provision – will be provided by this development?

1. Action Group: Ostensibly this development provides 136 spaces, but how many genuinely additional ones will there be when you subtract: (i) those restricted to the associated new residential development = 38; (ii) the increased demand on the public parking spaces associated with the new retail and commercial development = let us assume a minimum15; and (iii) maximum surface car parking provision of the development site = 66. These total to around 120 spaces, so – despite the huge scale of this development - the town might benefit from as little as 15 additional new spaces.

The Council appears anxious to ignore this crucial issue, which is not surprising since its own development brief incorrectly identified the actual and potential surface parking possibilities of the site by more than 50%. This therefore has the effect of misrepresenting the amount of additional provision that the scheme would provide.

1. Calderdale:   “The Development Brief (January 2004) states that there are 42 marked out car parking spaces, although it was expected that there were limited spaces for additional car parking.  The Brief also states that the development will include up to 180 car parking spaces and is the number that developers needed to target within their development proposal to be considered as the preferred developer.  Therefore the preferred developer was selected on the basis that their development offered the highest number of car parking spaces, which referring to the current planning application, currently stands at 129 total car parking spaces, 93 of which will be for public parking and 36 residential resulting in an additional 38-51 car parking spaces outside of the additional provision within the Garden Street car park.  However, there are currently discussions taking place with the preferred developer to increase the total number of car parking spaces further, details of which, will be submitted in the revised planning application.”

1. Developer:  “The proposed new development as presently submitted has 136 parking spaces in place of the current 55. A minimum of 90 will be available, all day, every day for short to medium term use by the public – as per the Council’s request.  Although in a town centre development it is not required to provide parking for new residential or commercial property a further 45 spaces are proposed and allocated for these purposes.  There will be two access/egress points, one on Albert Street and one in Commercial Street , to split the load. Almost all car parking will be underground and out of sight in order not to detract from the appearance of the town.  Given public concern about the seriousness of the parking problem in town, we are currently examining the possibilities of “squeezing” even more spaces into the project.”

1. Action Group response: Question – Not Answered!
Firstly they have misrepresented the figures. The existing main car park had at least 55 spaces, plus the parking potential of the Tan Pit yards extension (maybe up to 12 public spaces) – already designated for parking but conveniently forgotten - so around 67 in total.  But the development brief substantially under-counted the number of spaces, finding just 42, and then only required the developer to provide 60 short stay public spaces* in the new development – less than the existing provision!  [* page 8 – not 180, as claimed above]

Secondly, the emphasis of the question was on 'genuinely additional' public parking spaces.  To calculate the ‘genuinely additional’ public spaces you have to subtract from any gross total the spaces that would be privately and separately occupied by the new dwellings, or from the demand generated by new shops, and new offices (who would surely take the 8 ostensibly public spaces under the Tan Pit Yards block). When you deduct allowances for all these factors from the 80 basement spaces shown in Plan 217043, there are in fact very few 'genuinely additional' new public spaces available to the town. 

Note: In a separate letter to Councillor Janet Battye (21st May) the Council states that the developer is now hoping to increase the total parking provision 'to around 120 for the public and 30/40 traders and residents' – that is, from a claimed 129 to 150/160. We will wait to see how this increase has been accomplished within the development.

Question 2: If the Council wants to provide more car parking provision in Hebden Bridge, why don't you choose the quickest, cheapest, easiest, and better located way to do this instead?

2. Action Group: It is quickly obvious that there are a number of other ways in which parking provision in the town could be increased by between 50-70 new public spaces; thus many more than the paltry increase the Garden Street scheme might provide in 2-3 years time. Why isn't the Council properly investigating or proceeding with these alternative opportunities instead?  And has the Council considered whether the users of the public parking on this site will feel safe and secure in a 2 level underground car park?

2. Calderdale:  “This issue was debated during the Hebden Bridge Traffic Review, which began in 2001.  It was considered that additional car-parking spaces met only the needs of commuters and was less significant for shoppers in Hebden Bridge.  At this point in time no site was identified for this purpose.”

2. Developer:  “If the objectors can find an additional 70 “easier, cheaper and quicker” parking spaces in the town centre, why do they not indicate their location. Neither the Council’s Highways officers nor ourselves have been able to find any at all. Mr Rae was himself a member of the town’s Traffic Review working group (as I was) but never volunteered any such information during our many discussions/searches for opportunities.”

2. Action Group response: Question – Not Answered! 
Anthony Rae's message of 10th June 2007 to the Hebden Bridge website identified some 83 potential spaces (of which 25 are duplicates of those on the main site identified in Response 1 above), so nett 58 additional:

  • 23 in the Calderdale owned car park at Stubbing Holme Road, which at present is not charged for. This was twice proposed for public parking in the Traffic Review discussions but not acted on.
  • 35 in the proposed Town Council additional longstay car park on Station Road. Following the approach of the Traffic Review parking strategy, long stay spaces provided here release short stay spaces for shoppers in the town centre.

And then there is the potential for another 60 or 125 at the Rail Station – Anthony Rae's message of 2nd June 2007 - which would be dual use: for rail users and long stay for the town.

But the basic point is: there are plenty of cheaper, more easily available and better located additional parking spaces than the few additional available at Garden Street. But how many more spaces can we cope with?

Question 3: Why is the Council trying to encourage more cars to come to Hebden Bridge?

3. Action Group: We know that more than 120 new spaces will be provided in the approved Brown's site scheme; there would be about 70 additional spaces mostly servicing the new development in Garden Street; there are already plans for 35 new public spaces in Station Road; and we know that the station car park itself has to expand (there are plans for between 60-125 new spaces). These add up to a potential 200-300 new parking spaces, which would have to be filled with car trips in and out of the town, putting more pressure on an already congested A646. Yet at this moment the Council is consulting about its requirement to cut air pollution in the town, which will require a reduction in road traffic. The intention of Calderdale's own highly successful Traffic Review was to achieve a better balance between road traffic and all other modes of transport. Does the left hand of the Council not know what the right hand is doing?

So will you undertake a proper assessment of the maximum capacity of the existing surface parking, and other alternatives to Garden Street, and secure that evaluation within a coordinated and sustainable transport policy for the town as a whole before the planning application is determined, in order that the Council and the community can make the best overall transport choice for Hebden Bridge?

3. Calderdale:“Local shopkeepers have raised their concern regarding the lack of car parking spaces in Hebden Bridge and the impact this has on the viability of businesses in the town centre.  Therefore it was considered, for the overall viability and vitality of Hebden Bridge, that off-street parking is required close to the commercial core.  The Council is nonetheless committed to encouraging more use of public transport but accepts the present reality of numbers of people traveling by car.”

3. Developer:  “Hebden Bridge “The Town for Great Little Shops” needs additional car parking spaces to sustain its town centre shops and services. These employ some 700-800 people. The town has about double the number of shops/service outlets that a normal town of this size (4,500 population) can sustain. Trade is very dependent on out of town money with turnover being about 25% the town, 25% outlying areas near the town (Mytholmroyd, Cragg, Heptonstall, Wadsworth etc) and 50% visitors from further afield. Therefore 75% of trade overall is dependent on out of town business – which must travel into town. 80% of this comes by car. If it can’t park, it goes away.  Recent pedestrianisation has made the town much more attractive and is popular with locals and visitors alike – but it has exacerbated parking problems and the town is losing much potential business. The town, and its parking availability, is also an important part of Calderdale’s Tourism offer and overall image.

The idea behind the Garden Street project is to create a large “Destination Car Park” where the public can be reasonable sure to find a space. Centrally located so that they can “Park + Walk”. Access is immediately from the A646 without the need to drive through the town. Therefore it may actually reduce traffic movements and pollution compared to the present situation where people drive round and round looking for a space.”

3. Action Group response: Question – Not Answered!
The Council response completely ducks the bigger questions of: the need for the Garden Street proposal to be located within a coherent parking strategy for all Hebden Bridge; growing traffic congestion on A646 (and consequences such as breached air pollution limits); preventing public transport use being undermined by the encouragement of more car trips; and yes, climate change.  And they have not agreed to carry out a comprehensive parking and traffic assessment for Hebden Bridge.

The developer's response just ignores the same questions, and advocates a quite different future for Hebden Bridge: a larger town centre with many more cars.

Question 4: Is the scale of this development appropriate in a small town like Hebden Bridge? 

4. Action Group: The proposed scheme will be in six blocks and totalling 7400 square metres. The design proposed is modernistic, up to 7 storeys high, and will be highly visible within the town and from the surrounding hillsides. Why does Calderdale Council think development of this size is suitable in a town that is renowned nationally for its carefully conserved historic town centre and small-scale?  At the moment we are not convinced that the development can be implemented in a way that is consistent with the requirement on the Council to protect the town’s Conservation Area status.

“The developer has to demonstrate to the Council’s Local Planning Authority that the scale of the development is appropriate to Hebden Bridge and in particular enhances the character of the conservation area.  However, the developer is currently evolving proposals for the site to ensure these planning policies are satisfied and that representations are taken into account.  It will be a matter for the Local Planning Authority to judge this, following the usual consultation, when the final revised scheme is submitted.”

4. Developer: “This is simply not true. The site is tucked away behind Albert Street , against a high retaining wall 7-10m in height, hardly visible from the town centre. Heights of buildings have been carefully designed to align with the site, adjacent buildings and hillsides. One small part is 7 storeys high (about 19m) sandwiched between the 17m Croft Mill and the 10m retaining wall.  The whole development will be in local stone to blend well with nearby double-decker (5-6 storey) developments on the hillside above.....indeed, being an updated version of the double-deck properties which formerly stood on the site prior to demolition in the 1960s.
Currently Garden Street is a bleak scar on the face of the town resulting from 1960s slum clearance. If/when current proposals are completed two thirds of the site will become landscaped open space accessible to the public in the form of a pedestrian arc around the town, mirroring that recently completed in Bridge Gate/ St. Georges Square.”

4. Action Group response: Question – Not Answered Yet, maybe later!
The Council response carefully ducks the question – even though it is the promoter of the scheme - which was: 'Is a development of this size suitable in a town that is renowned nationally for its carefully conserved historic town centre and small-scale?

The developers believes that their site and scheme will be 'tucked away' and 'hardly visible' - judgments that speak for themselves - whereas the current Garden Street car park is 'is a bleak scar on the face of the town', rather than, say, adroit use of a difficult edge of town 'slither' site.

Question 5: Why has the Council allowed the scheme to be transformed from car parking-led to the largest comprehensive redevelopment scheme the town has ever seen? 

5. Action Group: This situation has come about because the Council did not place adequate restraints in the development brief which it prepared on the amount and type of development that could be implemented. This has allowed the developer to completely transform the nature of the scheme it is submitting, to the astonishment of the local community. Why did the Council allow this to happen?

5. Calderdale: “When the scheme was promoted on the open market it was always intended that the development would comprise a comprehensive redevelopment scheme to cross subsidise parking provision.  The three developers submissions, which were made available to the public by local exhibition and local press, confirmed this point.”

5. Developer: “Far from being the largest development the town has ever seen, the Garden Street project is relatively modest compared to many in the past and even some current projects, such as that recently approved for Mytholm or the collective impact of projects built, approved or planned for Victoria Road/Valley Road.

The scheme has not been “transformed” but remains exactly as envisaged by the Council in its “Heads of Terms” agreement with the developers – i.e. that 120 car parking spaces be provided entirely at private expense funded through a private sector mixed use development.”

5. Action Group response: Question – Not Answered!
The Council response fails to address the substance of the question: that their own development brief – for a site which they own, and from which they would also be financial beneficiaries - did not place any restraint at all on the amount, scale, type or scale of development that would be used to cross-finance the loss-making car park.

The brief implies that three levels of parking will be provided above ground paragraphs 1.1 and 6.1; but then states very vaguely that the associated development will “possibly comprise residential units” 1.1, or will be a “comprehensive mixed- use scheme” 3.3, or that “above the car park residential or other development could be considered” 6.1 – and that's it!  

Council directions within the brief as to style are equally ambiguous: “Modern design could be incorporated to reflect a building of its time, but this should not detract from the character of the Conservation Area.” The Council will of course also be the judge of any such 'detraction'

So without identified limits, the developer has been able to use all the above ground space for non-public parking and a very large amount of development; whilst the Council – with all its conflicts of interest - has abandoned its responsibilities to protect Hebden Bridge and its Conservation Area from over-development and obtained in return only a very small addition to public parking, the ostensible purpose for the whole scheme in the first place!

Question 6: Has the Council made an assessment of the economic disruption and damage that this development, which it is promoting, could cause to Hebden Bridge and its businesses? 

6. Action Group: Because Garden Street is a difficult development site in the heart of the town, there will inevitably be disruption as roads are closed (for example, Commercial Street when a principal retaining wall has to be removed), and as the development period continues over a number of years. This will cause substantial damage to businesses and employment in the town.  Have you made any formal assessment of the scale of that damage, and consulted businesses in the town about their reaction to it?

6. Calderdale: “Any redevelopment will result in some short-term disruption.  Measures to mitigate this disruption will be addressed as part of the decision process in determining the planning application.”

6. Developer:  “There may inevitably be some disruption during construction but we are working closely with council officers to minimise this. Both Albert Street and Commercial Street have been partially closed for other reasons recently without any observable detriment to trade in the town.  We anticipate no greater disruption during our work. The site is quite self-contained and work underway should affect very few other properties.  Development will be phased to cause minimum disruption to existing car parking and alternative provision made when necessary.”

6. Action Group response: Question – Not Answered!
The Council's response appears to be: 'No, we haven't assessed the economic disruption and damage to the town'; however they do believe the disruption will just be 'short-term'.

The developer believes that the comprehensive development of the town centre's largest car park will cause 'minimum disruption' to parking, and that 'alternative provision' will be made – for large numbers of displaced cars. Where?

Question 7: Has the Council considered the risks to the town associated with this development? 

7. Action Group: There are a number of risks associated with development: technical (linked to the difficult site); economic damage (over the development period); financial and commercial (as the property market worsens); to our tourism; and finally because the applicant is a small local developer with no experience of undertaking a scheme of this size. Our town, and Calderdale to an extent as well, is dependent on the attractions of Hebden Bridge to visitors from far and wide. What happens if these risks materialise or, at its worst, the development is actually left uncompleted?

7. Calderdale:  “The Council promoted the scheme because of the identified need of additional off-street car parking.  Any adverse impact of the development on the town centre is to be assessed as part of the decision process in determining the planning application.”

7. Developer:  “The Development Agreement provides safeguards for the Council should the development not proceed or is not completed. However, clearly we would not be entering into this project if we felt we were putting ourselves at risk. We have already expended about £250,000 on the planning of this development. We have much more “at risk” than the Council, or indeed the objectors.”

7. Action Group response: Question – Not Answered!
Again, the Council's response to the question appears to be: 'No, we haven't assessed the risk' but, fear not, it will be considered as part of the planning application decision process. But it’s not stated how that assessment will be undertaken.

The developers believe the question is about risk to them, or the Council. No, it's about the risk to the town.

Question 8: Will you address the many failures in the Council's process related to this development? 

8. Action Group: All the way through the development of these proposals, the process has been characterised by inaccuracies (for example, in the development brief), conflicts of interest, extremely poor public consultation and provision of information about the scheme (including the validation of the current planning application with elevation drawings below the scale of the required national guidance), and challengeable interpretations of the Council's UDP (which we have not had adequately answered). Most recently, we have been informed by our ward councillor that, following our complaints, revised drawings to a proper scale for the scheme have been requested from the developer, and that the scheme will then be re-advertised; but no officer from the Council has thought to inform us or the public about this important changed circumstance.

These many failures, which have not been addressed, have certainly undermined the confidence of the Action Group in the ability of the Council to properly assess the planning application, and to address aspects and implications of the scheme that cannot be evaluated within the planning process itself.

8. Calderdale: “Please clarify what is considered to be ‘failures’ in any of the Council’s processes.  Based on what these are we will respond appropriately.”

8. Developer: “We are not sure what lies behind this question. The objectors seem keen to find fault with everyone involved in what actually started out as a Regeneration project, part of the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance project, to enhance the vitality and viability of this Market Town.  The idea arose as a means to support the local economy, bring people into town to sustain local businesses and jobs, rather than only providing parking at the station to take commuters out of town (which applies to many of the objectors).  It is in the interests of all who live in the town to sustain the local retail/service infrastructure. It would be a sad town indeed if out of town trade ceased and half the local shops/cafes/pubs etc closed.  Surely, far from failure, the Council is correct in the positive action it is taking.”

8. Action Group response: Question – Not Answered!
The Council answer is: provide us with even more details and we might consider the issues.  But the original question already provided enough information.  As just two examples, the development brief undercounted the number of parking spaces actually on the site, and missed others out, thus inflating the apparent increase in new spaces that the development might provide.  Can’t that point be answered now?  Secondly, the developers’ principal representative was previously involved in the public process as an advocate of the development – before then becoming the actual developer - but did not declare a conflict of interest.  This issue is well understood by the Council, and they are able to address it now if they want. 

 But when the question about the challengeable interpretation of the Council UDP paragraph 8.66 were put to the Chief Planning Officer in great detail, it was never answered despite repeated reminders.

Question 9: Will you reveal the non-commercially confidential parts of the secret development agreement which the Council has signed with the applicant?

9. Action Group: The Council must know that, because of its multiple interests in the site – it is not just responsible for determining the planning application but also site owner, promoter of the development opportunity, and party to the development agreement – the potential conflicts of interest which are present must challenge the credibility of its actions in the eyes of the community. We have repeatedly asked for the non-commercially confidential parts of the agreement to be made available; this has not happened. It was only at the meeting with Ian Thompson that we found out that the Council was obligated to make the site available to the developer if the Council also approved planning permission, thus removing any opportunity for other policy considerations prevail. No-one in the town knew about this. How many other important commitments imposed on the developer, or the Council, are also contained in this agreement?

9. Calderdale: “The Development Agreement is a private agreement between the Council and the preferred developer, which can only be released with the agreement of both parties.  It is the usual nature of these agreements to remain confidential. At present, the developer prefers that the agreement remain in confidence.”

9. Developer: “The Council/Developer agreement consists of three parts – specifications; timescales and financial matters. The first two are already in the public domain. The third, quite properly, is not.  How many of the objectors put their private financial details forward for public scrutiny?”

9. Action Group response:   Question – Not Answered!
The question asked for the publication of the non-commercially confidential parts of the Development Agreement. The Council are refusing publication, even though the developers don't object.

Question 10: Does the community in Hebden Bridge want this development, and does the town need it? 

10. Action Group: You will know that many hundreds of formal objections have been received to this scheme; and we hope that a petition with over a thousand signatures will be submitted to the next full Council on 23rd April. Whenever people are shown drawings of the development, residents and visitors alike are astonished when they understand the scale of the planned buildings and the type of architecture being proposed. The level of public consultation over the last years, either by the Council or the developer has been woefully inadequate. On the whole, Hebden Bridge is not a town that requires major 'regeneration'; on the contrary, it is reasonably successful at the scale that it is, and it is this existing success that requires careful management and protection. You will have seen in the recent article in The Times newspaper (A bridge too far? Not all regeneration projects are welcome 11th April 2008) how disregard for community views, and for the basic facts and justification for the scheme (as we have outlined above) can attract negative publicity.

10. Calderdale: “Discussion, which emerged as a result of the Hebden Bridge Traffic Review, included a desire from the community to see additional off-street car parking in the town centre. The Council promoted the development as a means to secure an off-street car parking development on the basis that the preferred developer secures planning considerations for the proposals by applying relevant UDP planning policies.  At this point in time the scheme is being refined to reflect representations made. As we agreed at our meeting in February 2008, and confirmed in my email of 13 February 2008, once we have revised proposals we will ensure they are properly publicised and that the public will have the opportunity to make comment on them prior to consideration of the planning application.”

10. Developer:  “Yes, the business community of Hebden Bridge is desperate for additional town centre car parking to sustain their future viability – as evidenced by their views expressed in the recent Calderdale Council survey.  The “Hebden Bridge Retail Survey 2007” carried out by Regeneration and Development achieved a remarkable 62% response rate. In answer to Question 20 on the survey, all but 4 out of the 90 respondents listed “lack of parking” as the foremost impediment to their business. This was backed up by their unsolicited comments in answer to the open–ended question 25, of which 25 out of 32 highlight the parking difficulties experienced by their customers. There can be no doubt about the desperate need for significantly more central area car parking.

This has to be at Garden Street . There is nowhere else to put it! It has to be paid for by someone – so it is either added to everyone’s Council Tax bill or it is paid for through private development, as proposed.  The Council have decided that raising Council Taxes to fund it is not an option. They preferred instead to launch a national competition for a private developer to fund and create it. We, the developers, have accepted the not insignificant financial risk and have spent £25,000 to design a scheme which respects the form and character of this wonderful town whilst hiding 135 ... possibly 150.... perhaps more, cars out of sight below the town.

Perhaps the objectors should collect money instead of signatures in order to develop their own answer to the problem.  It is easy to object – so much more difficult to design and implement solutions. No action is not an option, unless once more the town is to go into a decline.”

10. Action Group response:  Question – Answered after a fashion

The Council are now responding to the comments made by the community when the scheme was first published, and it will then be re-advertised, providing a second opportunity for views to be expressed.

The developers' view of Hebden Bridge is that without a substantial increase in public car parking (although, paradoxically, they aren't going to provide it!), Hebden will 'go into a decline'; and 'it would be a sad town indeed if out of town trade ceased and half the local shops/cafes/pubs etc closed'. How many people believe this judgment about the future of our currently thriving town?

So our final question is: why on earth is the Council promoting this development opportunity at all?

Calderdale: See previous answer.  I trust this is a satisfactory response to your ten questions.  It is understood that David Fletcher of Hebden Royd Development LLP has also provided you with his own responses to your questions.

We hope that finally you will be able to answer this and all the other pressing questions we have identified – and answer them before the planning application proceeds any further and before it comes to be determined.  We would you to confirm that you will do this, please.

As the promoter of this scheme, Calderdale Council has a 'duty of care' towards Hebden Bridge which it now must discharge.

Yours sincerely
Anthony Rae
on behalf of the Garden Street Action Group
copy to Ward councillors

Yours sincerely

Ian Thompson
Group Director
Calderdale MBC

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