“Futuristic, cutting edge and inspiring the next generation” – that’s how Kirklees Council leader Shabir Pandor sums up the £210 million plans for Huddersfield’s Cultural Heart.
The ambitious scheme, which could be completed in 2026, will transform Huddersfield town centre – and could put the town on the international map.
Public consultation into the plans is currently underway – there’s a 3D model on display in a shop unit on the Piazza next to the entrance to Queensgate Market – and the response has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Clr Pandor and director of regeneration David Shepherd.
“These plans will completely transform the town centre and the benefits will be felt throughout Kirklees and the wider region,” said Clr Pandor.
“But these plans are about much more than just bricks and mortar. For these buildings to survive for at least the next 100 years they have to be living and breathing and people have to take them into their hearts.”
A combination of new build and refurbishment will see a new 2,200 capacity music and events venue; a new art gallery, a new library, an extension of the existing library and art gallery to form a new museum; and a food hall in what is currently the listed Queensgate Market building.
Clr Pandor has urged the public to get behind the plans – and have their say. Access the public consultation HERE.
There’s public consultation online and in person in the Piazza and Clr Pandor said on his visits to the Piazza there had been a real buzz.
“It’s futuristic, cutting edge and inspiring the next generation and people can see our ambition,” he said. “This is something that people can be proud of in their town centre.”
Some have suggested it may be overly ambitious in uncertain economic times, with rising prices and a cost-of-living crisis.
But Clr Pandor says the scheme has been carefully planned and costed, and the council will be “prudent” with the public’s money.
“Yes, it’s a time of rising prices and uncertainty but that makes this even more important,” he said. “The Government still has to keep the economy moving. I believe a government of whatever colour will have to invest. You can’t turn the tap off.”
Previously the council has spoken of working with some “world class” private sector consultants and Clr Pandor says they have looked at everything and will keep monitoring the wider economic factors. “We have to scan 24/7,” he added.
The Cultural Heart isn’t the end of the regeneration, it’s a starting point or a catalyst. Other major projects in the town centre include the restoration of the George Hotel and the Station Gateway which will link into the University of Huddersfield’s £250 million National Health Innovation Campus in Southgate.
There’s other major investments too by both the public and private sectors in a new market and also the Packhorse Centre and the Kingsgate Centre.
Clr Pandor believes the value the £210 million Cultural Heart investment will deliver is incalculable.
He cites the examples of the Channel Tunnel and the Olympic Park in London where the benefits were enormous.
“What we have here is a vision and I believe the bang for our buck is going to be massive and I don’t think we can quantify it,” he said.
Director of regeneration Mr Shepherd, who has been involved in major regeneration projects in Bradford and Barnsley, said the council had held ‘meet the buyer’ events and were talking to “tier one contractors” and he was confident there would be a great deal of interest when the contract goes out to tender in 12-18 months.
The council was ahead of the game in that it already owned all the land and property within the Cultural Heart, including the £3.5 million purchase of the Piazza Centre.
Clr Pandor said: “We have put our money where our mouth is. It shows we are serious about it.”
Next up will be an outline business case presented to Cabinet in August or September and an outline planning application will also be submitted.
Construction, which is expected to take two years, could start in 2024 with completion due some time in 2026.
Clr Pandor described the Cultural Heart as an “international exemplar” which would be a “legacy that will live on for decades to come.”
He added: “The world is moving on and it’s time we put some inspiration into our communities and make them proud of their town. This is a springboard and we will do everything we can to make it happen.”
Clr Pandor is firm on the 2026 target for completion – “even if that’s Christmas Day,” he joked” – but the process will be robust and won’t be rushed.
“It’s taxpayers’ money and there has to be due diligence and checks and balances,” he said. “It’s taxpayers’ money – your money, my money – and you can’t short cut the process.
“It’s a big shout but it’s fully costed and the political will is there. I hope the other parties get behind it.
“Yes, tell us where we might be going wrong but let’s not get party political about it. Let’s get it right for the people of Kirklees.”