By Andy Hirst

A controversial café and restaurant can be built on Castle Hill … but Kirklees Council has imposed 30 conditions and critics say they remain unclear if the benefits will outweigh the harm to the historic site.

Weddings or other events are banned without written permission from the council and people must book online first before going for a drink or meal at the venue. They can’t just walk in.

At weekends no more than 70 people will be allowed at the venue at any one time and coaches are banned from Castle Hill on Saturdays and Sundays. The venue must close by 11pm.

Huddersfield Civic Society committee secretary Martin Kilburn said: “Even with a list of 30 detailed planning conditions it remains unclear whether the terms of the original planning approval have been met.

“Approval required the delivery of public benefits and mitigation of harm to the site to be formally specified by means of a S106 contract between the developer and the local authority – but this has not been released.

“Without sight of a signed S106 agreement it is impossible to determine whether the benefits to be delivered outweigh the extensive harm to the Grade II listed Victoria Tower.”

READ MORE: Permanent colour-changing floodlights to be installed on Victoria Tower

He said the restriction that people must book online first is simply unworkable and will cause more problems.

Mr Kilburn added: “Visitors will arrive, without knowledge and without booking. They will park up if they can and either attend without the benefit of facilities, book for a later slot, leaving their car parked or turn round and leave, creating chaos on the limited access.

“By suggesting the unquestionable harm caused by excessive numbers of visitors and traffic volumes can be mitigated in this way represents a huge weaknesses in the approval which will prove impossible to monitor.”

How the new building could look. Images: One 17 Architects and Interior Designers

The venue will be single-storey above ground and will also include six en-suite bedrooms, public toilets and an exhibition centre about Castle Hill’s history stretching back 4,000 years.

Kirklees Council’s list of 30 detailed planning conditions insist that developers the Thandi Partnership run by Huddersfield brothers Mick and Barry Thandi need to do a lot of work before they can even start to build the venue which must be constructed within the next three years.

The council also insists that the toilets and interpretation room must open before the rest of the venue can begin to operate.

The developers need to devise a scheme showing passing places on the narrow road up to the top of the hill, along with traffic calming.

READ MORE: How Castle Hill planning permission could set a ‘dangerous precedent’

They will also need to provide charging points for battery-powered vehicles and a place where cyclists can park their bikes securely under cover.

Kirklees is also insisting that the developers come up with plans to deter crime on Castle Hill, stating: “Prior to the commencement of superstructure works, details of measures to prevent and deter crime and anti-social behaviour shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the local planning authority.”

The council also wants to know every detail about the materials used to build the venue, including the walls and roof. They will want to see a sample of the stonework.

How the Castle Hill development will look next to Victoria Tower. Images by: One 17 Architects and Interior Designers

Kirklees also wants to know in detail just how the site will be landscaped and how that will be maintained in the years ahead.

Heritage England has yet to give Scheduled Monument Consent for building on Castle Hill which is an official ancient monument. If they refuse to give that consent then the plans could still be scuppered at the 11th hour.

Mr Kilburn said: “Huddersfield Civic Society has maintained from the very beginning this inappropriate development simply should not go ahead.

“Without full knowledge of how conditions are to be met and a signed S106 contract it’s simply impossible for Heritage England to assess the suitability of the development for Scheduled Monument consent. With significant uncertainties remaining, Heritage England should not give the development approval.”

The history of Castle Hill stretches back 4,000 years. It began as an Iron Age hill fort before becoming a Norman castle and then a medieval hunting lodge. Victoria Tower – built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 and finished in 1899 – is in green belt and can be seen for miles. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) in recognition of the range and variety of its flora and fauna.

Castle Hill at dawn. Pic by: SEAN DOYLE

The hotel was acquired by the Thandi brothers in the 1990s with plans to refurbish the hotel and remove later additions which had disfigured the building. Planning approval was given in 2002 but during the course of demolition works the tower became unstable.

Permission was granted to replace the original building but as construction progressed it became clear that the new building was larger than that for which permission had been granted. Work on the site was stopped.

Subsequently, an order was served for the demolition of the building. Since then, the Thandis submitted several new plans but these were all rejected until the present application was approved on October 28, 2020 and permission has now been granted after the Government rejected calls for it to look at the proposal.

The low-lying building – variously described as a much-needed facility, a monstrosity or as looking like a branch of McDonald’s – has been at the centre of an ongoing debate ever since.

The Thandi Partnership are leaseholders on the site as Castle Hill remains part of the Ramsden Estate which was bought by Huddersfield Corporation in 1920.

* Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR ( specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting. Copyright Andy Hirst.