Plans to demolish the vandal-hit former Kirklees College and rid Huddersfield of an eyesore on one of its main gateways have finally been approved.
Planning officers had been recommending refusal for a £43 million supermarket, apartments and office complex scheme on Huddersfield Ring Road.
The decision hung on how quickly the listed former Huddersfield Infirmary building on the site could be restored.
Officers weren’t convinced there was enough certainty but councillors decided to go against officers’ advice and unanimously approved the plans, amid fears the scheme could collapse and the site remain derelict for another five or 10 years.
Developers Trinity One want to clear the site, leaving only the former infirmary building and its two wings. The main building will become offices with apartments in the wings.
On one side of the site a new Lidl store will be built and on the other an apartments complex, though not student flats. In total there would be 229 apartments on the site.
Speaking at a meeting of Kirklees Council’s Strategic Planning Committee Clr Andrew Pinnock (Lib Dem, Cleckheaton) said it was a “last chance saloon” situation.
He said not giving approval meant “we might be missing a really good opportunity to do something about a derelict site that has put Huddersfield to shame for far too long.”
Clr Carole Pattison (Lab, Greenhead) – also a member of the council’s ruling Cabinet – said the major benefit had to be the removal of the “monstrosity” of the old college building and the restoration of the listed building came after that.
Clr Donna Bellamy (Con, Colne Valley) described the site as a “complete eyesore” which had to go.
Clr Charles Greaves (Ind, Holme Valley North) said the council had to be realistic and added: “I am keen to see something happen to this site.
“Without doubt a supermarket is not the most attractive option but it is a viable option. In all the years this site has been available there have not been many options.
“It’s finely balanced and I hope I don’t regret it but I feel I have to put my trust and faith in the developers.”
Councillors had deferred a decision last November for a compromise to be found. While the developers offered to bring forward urgent works to make the listed building watertight and secure in nine months instead of 18 months, planners were concerned they had no guarantees over when the listed building would be restored.
Paul Fox, development manager for Trinity One, told the committee contracts had been re-negotiated so that urgent works could take place within nine months instead of 18 months.
He said that since the plans were first given conditional approval by the council in February last year, building costs had risen by £100,000.
He said there was only a “small window” to get started, finances were tight and there was “nothing left in the tank.”
Trinity One says the development will take three years to complete. By the end of 2022 they expect to have the site cleared with work underway on the new supermarket.