Senior councillors seemed bemused when asked for their views on major railway works which form part of a huge £1 billion electrification and upgrade of the rail line between Huddersfield and Dewsbury.
Members of the Strategic Planning Committee held what was described as an “informal virtual meeting online” to discuss a series of planning applications by Network Rail.
Included in the applications were requests for listed building consent for major alterations inside the Grade I-listed Huddersfield Railway Station.
The works include the demolition of two roofs, the creation of a new island platform, extensions and alterations to the existing platforms, the construction of a new footbridge and the dismantling and reassembly of the historic timber-boarded tearooms.
Other plans included works on: the railway viaduct between John William Street and Alder Street just outside Huddersfield Station; the demolition and replacement of Wheatley’s Colliery bridge at Bradley; the demolition of Colne Bridge Road Bridge at Colne Bridge; works on the viaduct at Newgate, Mirfield, and Wheatley’s Viaduct in Steanard Lane, Mirfield; and listed building consent for in-fill and works on bridges at Occupation Bridge, Toad Holes and Ming Hill just outside Dewsbury.
The committee was told that the Secretary of State would have the final say and they were just being asked to submit their comments and opinions.
The councillors were happy enough with plans for the inside of Huddersfield Railway Station and Clr Andrew Pinnock (Lib Dem, Cleckheaton) said: “I would like to welcome these proposals because we will end up with an enhanced interior to match the exterior which I am sure we are all proud of.
“The combination of older and modern will enhance the station and I look forward to it being completed.”
Clr Nigel Patrick (Con, Holme Valley South) supported the development as “progress” however he was concerned the committee wasn’t being given enough detail.
“It looks exciting but there might be matters we don’t know about – and we don’t know what we don’t know,” he added cryptically.
Councillors took the other applications one by one but as the meeting – which lasted two hours and 20 minutes – went on more concerns were expressed about a lack of detail.
Clr Mohan Sokhal (Lab, Greenhead) sought assurances over the future of businesses based under the railway arches in Viaduct Street in Huddersfield town centre but got no answers.
At one point Clr Pinnock said: “We have to be careful with listed structures that we don’t discard them without the most minute examination about whether this is the right thing to do.”
The Grade II-listed Colne Bridge Road bridge will have to be demolished and rebuilt to take four lines but there was no detailed design for the replacement.
Clr Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) was concerned over a hint that Newgate and Calder View in Mirfield could be closed for a time cutting off access for Hopton Care Cottages in Lower Hopton. He said the plans were “very light on detail.”
Clr Pinnock complained that he hadn’t received some of the plans with his agenda and couldn’t see enough detail on the computer screen.
Committee chairman Clr Steve Hall (Lab, Heckmondwike) replied: “I have a rather large magnifying glass at home but even then I couldn’t see it.”
Clr Patrick added: “We are being asked to give our views but it just feels like we are operating with our arms up our backs. Some members of this committee have not said a word through it.
“I am just a bit disappointed that we haven’t been given the opportunity before the meeting to see the detail.
“To some extent this meeting has been sprung on us. It’s just disappointing that we were not better prepared. I don’t think the reports go into enough detail.”
Clr Pinnock agreed and said: “We are doing this just after the election when everybody has been really busy.”
The council’s planning chief Mathias Franklin told the committee that all their feedback would be taken into account.
He said the committee was only being asked to “take a position” not “make a decision” as that was down to the Secretary of State.
Concerns over the lack of detail would be taken care of at the detailed planning stage when conditions could be imposed. This was just the first public part of the process, he said.
Summing up at the end of the meeting Clr Hall said: “I am glad it’s not us making a decision on all this today because at £1.4 billion if we turned it down we would never hear the end of it and if we accepted it we would never hear the end of it due to all the disruption.
“All in all it looks a hell of a lot of work to be done and a lot of traffic jams when they start doing all the bridges but there we go. Let’s see if we are still talking about this in five years’ time because you never know…”