Kirklees Council is proceeding with caution over plans for the £210 million Cultural Heart for Huddersfield town centre.

As the planning application for the Masterplan goes before councillors on Thursday (March 2) more details about the timescales for the two-year project have been revealed.

As recently as July 2022, council leader Shabir Pandor was bullish about how quickly the scheme would be completed.

Building work would start in 2024 and the whole scheme would be completed by the end of 2026 – “even if that’s Christmas Day,” he joked.

Since then the economic picture has changed dramatically and Kirklees Council is grappling with a £43 million budget shortfall for 2023-24.

The council has pledged that it will continue to invest for growth and the Cultural Heart remains a priority – but it’s clear timescales have slipped and the project will take longer to deliver, depending on the pace of economic recovery.

The council is using what it calls ‘gateways’ to examine costs at certain points as the scheme progresses.

The development is currently in Gateway 2 with the next review likely in June 2023 when the council will be asked to agree to move to Gateway 3.

Gateway 3 will be a critical point as it’s when a main contractor will be appointed to oversee the design and build – and it’s also when negotiations will take place over the actual costs of construction.

The council is currently seeking expressions of interest from firms which might want to tender in due course.

Council leader Clr Shabir Pandor (left) and director of regeneration David Shepherd with a model of the Cultural Heart

A planning application, which includes listed building consents, runs to more than 7,000 pages and includes 212 drawings.

It will be discussed by the Strategic Planning Committee on Thursday when councillors are being recommended to delegate final approval to officers, subject to conditions.

Unusually, the planning application seeks a five-year timeframe for development. Generally, planning permission is valid for three years and if the development isn’t started within three years, permission must be sought again.

A report to the planning committee says: “The applicants have requested a five-year timeframe with which to commence development. This would extend the standard timeframe of three years by a further two years.

“The scale of the uncertainty of the economy is such that…the applicant’s request is considered to be reasonable and justified.

“Officers do not oppose this request and should committee members wish to grant permission a five-year timeframe with which to commence development would be attached by condition.”

If that application is granted, as seems likely, the council would have five years to make a start on the development so that planning permission doesn’t expire.

Inside the food hall (top left), the new museum (top right) and the outdoor events space (above).

It also appears that work on the project – which includes a new library, museum, art gallery, food hall, events venue and multi-storey car park, outdoor events space and town park – will now be carried out in phases.

A progress report on the Cultural Heart, to be presented to a meeting of the regeneration scrutiny panel on Monday March 6, says Phase 1 will be the new library, food hall and outdoor events square.

The former Queensgate Market building will become the food hall with an extension to form a new library. The events space will be in front of the revamped building.

A report to the scrutiny panel says work on Phase 1 could start in the first quarter of 2024 with completion in the first quarter of 2026.

The council’s Cabinet has previously delegated decisions on the timeline to director of growth and regeneration David Shepherd, in consultation with Cabinet member for regeneration Clr Graham Turner, so the project can be “completed within an appropriate timescale reflecting the council’s financial position.”

There is no question the Cultural Heart won’t go ahead – it’s come too far with Queensgate Market stripped out inside, the old Huddersfield Library closed, the Piazza being wound down as a retail centre and several buildings around the Piazza having been bought by the council.

Clr Graham Turner with the council’s director of development Joanne Bartholomew in the Piazza

Clr Turner confirmed to Huddersfield Hub that the development was now being planned in phases, rather than all the projects being carried out at the same time as was the intention last summer.

“It’s very likely, given the state of the economy, that the project won’t be completed all at the same time and will be phased,” he said. “However, that doesn’t mean the phasing can’t be speeded up if things improve.

“We are promised the economy might start to recover at the end of the year and if that happens the phasing could be flexed.

“Big projects are really complicated and it takes a lot of planning. You only really find out about old buildings when you can get inside and carry out intrusive surveys. You won’t find out if there’s asbestos behind a wall until you take the wall down.

“We have already made a start and it’s moving forward. We are still ambitious for the Cultural Heart and we are going to deliver it.”