Public meeting on Tourism in Hebden Bridge - report

Friday, 20 November 2009

Yesterday evening, a public meeting was held at the Town Hall to discuss questions and issues around tourism in Hebden Bridge. The meeting was called by Calder Civic Trust and there were three speakers. The meeting was chaired by Gwen Goddard who started the meeting by explaining that the Civic Trust is going to hold occasional meetings like this one allowing the local community to have their say on certain issues. The next one will be on allotments.

Mark Humphreys, Mark Humphreys, Calderdale Tourism & Rural Development Officer, gave facts and figures relating to tourist trends in the area, and spoke of the relationship which was being built up with national and regional organisations, and Calderdale’s pioneering the concept of “Totally Locally”. The information he provided related to the whole of Calderdale, not just Hebden Bridge. Although the amount of money brought to the area by tourists was slowly going up, the amount of money spent on staying at hotels and B & B had stayed the same. (Declined if inflation is taken into account). Over two thirds of visitors ate out in our area and over a half went walking. A quarter come to visit friends and families. Mark Humphreys was quite clear that he didn’t think there were any problems posed by tourism.

Duncan McKie, of Pot Stop and Chair of the Hebden Bridge Business Association, said that from his point of view, many of the visitors come here to visit friends and family. Young people move to the area, their parents visit, buy things at the local shops, and then return again and again. “The best publicity”, he said, “is word of mouth.” He also observed that the canal brought many people to the area and had done a lot of good. Mr McKie bemoaned the loss of the old Tourist Information Centre which, he said, had lead to less tourism in the area. The town was still short of parking and there was nowhere for coaches to park. Previously, there had been 2-3 coaches a day several days a week. He pointed out that compared to many similar towns car parking in Hebden Bridge was relatively cheap. People appreciated, he continued, the lack of major high street chains and the uncloned nature of our town.

Sarah Nicholls, who runs the B&B Holme House on New Road, told how she had come to Hebden Bridge on a day trip 4 years ago and ended up buying a guesthouse. She was pleased to report that trade had increased year on year. Of those who stayed, 10% were business people, 30% visiting family and friends and the rest were general tourists. First time visitors to Hebden Bridge all report how they are really taken with the town. The Walkers are Welcome status has had a particularly positive effect on trade. The two problems she saw was the lack of parking and the noise at weekends - either from the Trades Club or “yobs in the park” or bus shelter. She had ear plugs available for guests although noise situation has improved greatly with better policing and the Street Angels. Many people come back again and again because they have come to love Hebden Bridge.

There then followed a period of general discussion. There were several complaints about the inspection scheme that Calderdale tries to impose on local hotels and guest houses. Proprietors are required to pay £200 a year yet often received very little in return. Most bed and breakfast organisations have pulled out of the scheme. Little wonder that more people are not staying overnight in our area.

Other points which were made include

  • Make parking free for residents while doubling it for tourists
  • Provide coach parking; there could be a drop off point and longer term parking on the outskirts
  • Shops should stay open later. Many people commute and can’t get to the shops in the day time. There’s little need to be open at 9 but being open after 6 would be very useful
  • Hebden Bridge has got an extraordinary amount going for it: cinema, duck race, arts festival, countryside, funky bars and cafes, etc.
  • Bad weather wasn’t necessarily bad for trade. Duncan McKie said he noticed that trade actually increased at such times.
  • There was general agreement that Calderdale needs to do something about the “blight” of the three empty, adjoining properties on Market Street.
  • The station could be a transport hub and coach car park
  • Nearly three quarters of those visiting Hebden Bridge arrive by car. Metro should be persuaded to encourage people to leave their vehicles at home
  • Hebden Bridge is already a brand name and we should use it.
  • Hardcastle Crags is very popular; it needs to have a regular bus service
  • British Waterways should be persuaded to allow more boats to pass through - only allow 4 boats per day are permitted each way over the summit - and should provide more visitor mooring facilities.

Liz from the Visitors Centre pointed out that, contrary to what most people thought and anecdotal evidence, the number of tourists coming in to the Visitors Centre had not changed signficantly from the number who visited the old Tourist Information Centre.

Anthony Rae observed out that there was clearly a breakdown in communication between Hebden Bridge and Halifax (or Calderdale). For example, the superb Handmade Parade is such a great asset that it was something even big cities such as Leeds and Manchester would envy. Yet it seemed that Calderdale, far from marketing such a great asset, does little to promote Hebden Bridge events like this. Others agreed, pointing out that the Handmade Parade may not happen in 2010 because of lack of funding.

Generally the tone of the meeting echoed the comment by a Scottish correspondent to the Hebweb Forum who wrote: “I am Scottish and passed through the town by accident after visiting Haworth. What a brilliant surprise. You have a lovely town brilliantly preseved. However, although well travelled, I had never heard of you. Well worth spending a bit on tourist adverstising further afield because you have a lot to offer. Meanwhile I will be passing the word and will be back for a longer stay.”

However, one or two at the meeting were surprised not to have more fundamental issues raised. Issues which have been touched upon by other correspondents to the HebWeb Forum. Paul D wrote in February of Calderale’s “failure to promote our town as anything other than an outdoor version of Aunt Betty’s tea room”. Another of our regular correspondents Graham Barker has written: “I'd like to see planners stop promoting us as a tourist town, which I see as a dead end, and start putting more effort into reshaping Hebden Bridge as a place to work and create businesses.”

There was an understandable assumption among the traders and council representatives present that the continued growth of tourism was a good thing for our area; consequently, there was no discussion of whether the town might benefit instead from other initiatives to develop employment and environmental improvements.

Use the HebWeb Forum if you have any thoughts on these issues

From John Morrison’s View from the Bridge
“Milltown’s Tourism Officer picks his way through the human debris in the square, like a fastidious rambler avoiding cow-pats. He's a worried man. His boss has just given him an ultimatum: "Get Milltown up there with Haworth and Holmfirth, pronto, or I'll shut down the Tourism Department and make sure you'll be filing paperwork all week". Read on.

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