The proposed £210 million Cultural Heart will transform Huddersfield town centre and a second round of public consultation is underway before a planning application is submitted in the autumn. Huddersfield Hub editor Martin Shaw sat down with Clr Graham Turner, Cabinet member for regeneration, and Joanne Bartholomew, Kirklees Council’s director of development, and asked six key questions.

QUESTION 1: Given that construction cost inflation is running at 10%-30%, interest rates are rising and there are fears of an economic recession why is now the best time to embark on a project to spend £210 million of public money?

Graham Turner: “Inflation is a problem and interest rates are rising but that’s all factored into our medium-term financial plan. Why is it the best time to do it now? If we don’t do it now, I feel we don’t do it at all.

“It’s all about being brave. This is a vision for the centre of Huddersfield for the next 40 or 50 years. Let’s do it now otherwise it will continue its slow decline. We are going to brave. Those that seize the day will win.”

Joanne Bartholomew: “We are sitting here in the Piazza looking out onto what was once a thriving retail sector. But those days are gone now. We are in a post-Covid world. We want a thriving retail heart in the town. This is not the right place for it anymore.

“We are looking at the old library and we are sitting in the end of the old market. Both of these buildings need significant investment. Even if we were not to do this, we would still have to spend a considerable amount of money just to keep us at steady state.

“We need to look at timescales. We are looking at opening this wonderful development around 2026. (If there is a recession) we will be coming out of a recession (at that time). These things are cyclical.

“To invest at this point now, for when we come out of a recession, will create something that our residents and tourists can enjoy. That is absolutely critical.”

Clr Graham Turner and Joanne Bartholomew with a 3D model of the Cultural Heart in the public consultation space in the Piazza Centre

GT: “We are offering something really unique. We know times are tough – and there are terrible times coming – but things will get better. As we emerge from this – and we will – we can show people what we can do for them.

“The option of doing nothing is not an option. These buildings will cost us a small fortune and we will end up with exactly what we’ve got and what we know doesn’t work anymore. People want different things from a town centre now.

“What we are doing, in some ways, is creating some green space in the town centre. We want to encourage people to live in the town centre. So if you are going to live here, what do you want to do? You want to go out and have a drink, see a band, have a walk in the park.

“That makes the place self-contained. What an attraction for somebody to come and live in Huddersfield and have all this on your doorstep! All major cities of the world have parks in the centre.”

JB: “The Cultural Heart is our showpiece, it’s a focal point but it’s the first part of a bigger Blueprint plan. To do it now is absolutely the right way forward.”

QUESTION 2: Is the £210m budget for the Cultural Heart ‘set in stone’ and what happens in 12 months’ time if you find you can’t deliver all the projects within the Cultural Heart for £210m?

GT: “We have a budget of £210m and we still believe we can deliver for £210m. It’s a challenge, we accept that, but we believe we can do that. It’s all costed out and we will have to see what happens in the next two or three years, won’t we?”

JB: “We are at well-thought through but high-level estimate-type stage. As we work through all nine different spaces across the masterplan that starts to get linked down but our aspiration for all of those nine different points will currently fit within the £210 million, and that takes into account an aspect of that for inflation.”

QUESTION 3: It didn’t prove viable to house the National Rugby League Museum in the George Hotel but the council seems reluctant to negotiate with Rugby League Cares to bring the museum to the Cultural Heart or anywhere else in Huddersfield. Why doesn’t the council want to bring Rugby League home?

GT: “We are not at all reluctant. They have an open invitation to speak to us. We are just waiting to hear back. My understanding is that they are looking at their own business model, their own alternatives.

“Once they have made that decision they will probably get back to us. We know they are looking at other options so they will make their own decision.

“I can assure anybody that when we build a new museum there will be space for rugby league in there. Why wouldn’t there be?

“That museum will tell the story of Huddersfield and Huddersfield people and that’s part of our heritage. We would welcome them with open arms to the new museum. Unfortunately, the museum didn’t prove viable in the George Hotel.”

JB: “That was absolutely the right decision. To get the hotel that we need here, we needed to get to a certain bed level and we could not get to that bed level with a museum in the building as well.

“RL Cares, we have given them information about the museum but they are currently considering their options. They will be thinking through what they want to do but the door remains open for them.

“It’s for them to take a decision. We have never closed the door on consultation, it’s always been open.

“We have been very respectful of the RL Cares position. Since the beginning of this year there has been an open invitation for them to understand whether the museum in the current library works for them. That probably doesn’t work for them but that would be a matter for them to answer.”

Temporary arts space in the Piazza Centre

QUESTION 4: The Piazza arts centre, where arts organisations have been given free space, has proved really successful and some say it’s a great example of regeneration in action. The Piazza Centre is going to be demolished but has the success of the arts hub given Kirklees Council food for thought?

GT: “We are going to build a gallery here so there will be a space for them. We will work with them. I am sure there will be space for them in Huddersfield. We are working with the Lawrence Batley Theatre who are really keen to support the project.

“People say ‘why don’t we leave it here?’ We are not going to lose these spaces. You said ‘free’ but this building, whether we like it or not, will need significant money spending on it.

“I am sure we can find somewhere for them. I think it’s proved a point and has shaped our thinking that these small events can attract real public interest.”

JB: “It’s been a brilliant ‘meanwhile use’, and that’s what we call it. When we purchased the Piazza knowing that we wanted to knock it down as part of the masterplan you cannot put anyone in there with any longevity. You can’t start a new business up.

“So all these activities that have gone in have been a brilliant ‘meanwhile use’ and what they do say to me is that if you have events and animations and things you can get involved in that this space becomes very busy and well used so absolutely that type of thing is key. The library and gallery will have space for activities.

“It proves that what we want to do here is the right thing. I understand the frustration that it’s working very well out of my very expensive ‘free’ building! But if this was to stay it would have to start paying its way a bit now, because it’s not doing at the moment.

“Having all this shows this is the right space to create a hub for people to come to. The arts community is quite right. This has created a buzz. We won’t lose that buzz.

“The stuff that’s happening now needs to go somewhere else while we do this so where does it go so we don’t lose the momentum? And that’s something we are working on now.”

A computer-generated image of the public park

QUESTION 5: The demolition of the Piazza Centre means the loss of two national high street retailers in W H Smith and Boots. What has the council done to try to keep these two retailers in the town centre?

GT: “Both these companies are very large and it’s very difficult to talk to the chief executive of Boots or WH Smith’s. Boots have an agent and we are working very closely with the agent to try to find alternative premises. But the decision is theirs.

“We are doing everything we can to encourage them to stay in Huddersfield. Both shops are a bit tired so they have the opportunity to create something really special for themselves. There are other spaces that would fit a modern offer from Boots and WH Smith’s.

“We are doing everything we can to encourage them to stay and we are working with them. It’s an agent with Boots so we are effectively their eyes and ears on the ground.

“As we become aware of properties we can pass that information on. We are constantly making sure they are aware of spaces that will suit their new business model. They will have a new business model as the existing Boots is probably too big, if we’re honest. But there are commercial opportunities available to them.”

JB: “They more than likely exist in their current buildings because that’s where they exist. It probably does not work for their current business model. Both those organisations can speak for themselves but if you look nationally both are probably moving to slightly different models.

“For us, our commercial estates arm continues to make them aware of opportunities that are coming up. There’s Kingsgate, there’s the Packhorse Centre and other owners have brought forward aspects of New Street in a different way. I think there’s still a space for them in town if that works for their business model.

“Retailers make commercial decisions and if this town has people who continue to shop and they believe they can continue to sell they will look to keep a presence here.

Boots and WH Smith’s in the Piazza Centre

“We can’t make retailers come here and sell their wares. We have to create a space and a town that’s vibrant enough for them to see enough footfall for it to be commercially viable for them to run a business.

“And one of the things we are doing by putting in the changes at St George’s Square and the changes at the Cultural heart is creating a more vibrant town which, in turn, should impact on a whole host of other socio-economic things including better quality retail and retaining retail.”

QUESTION 6: Car parking – or a perceived lack of it – is an issue for many people in Huddersfield town centre. The new venue multi-storey will have 350 spaces, which is 238 less than the full capacity of the demolished Market Hall multi-storey and the Pine Street temporary car park (159 spaces) will be lost soon as work starts on the University of Huddersfield’s Health & Wellbeing Academy. Does the council believe there is (and will be once the Cultural Heart is completed) sufficient car parking space in Huddersfield town centre?

GT: “We are currently reviewing car parking in the town centre. We have 350 cars in the venue. Events happening there will be events where you don’t go on your own. It’s a shared experience so it’s unlikely there will only be one person in a car. While it looks short, there will be three or four people in a car so that will work.”

JB: “It’s about peaking and troughing across demand in car parks. There’s different demand across different parts of the day – and it’s also about good signposting.

“We are trying to create a town centre where you feel you don’t have to park on top of what you are doing. For example, Springwood is a large car park and after lunchtime and into the evening that car park is not busy. The bus station car park is the same. Those car parks that people currently don’t use will be used a lot more.

“There’s just short of 5,000 spaces across the town, of very different types – from very short stay to long stay – across the whole geography.

Demolition of the Market Hall multi-storey car park

“It’s also about us remembering that Kingsgate car park is not open on an evening but Kingsgate is moving to a more family friendly offer which will take it into the evening so their car park will be open differing hours.

“It’s also about appropriate signage around the Ring Road so people know where to go to park and know what to expect.

“As well as that, and while we don’t want to disenfranchise car users, what we do want to do is make sure that the car doesn’t necessarily have to be your vehicle of choice to get into the town centre.

“The improvement to the bus and the rail and public realm connectivity are key to getting people to make different choices about how they access the town.”

Kirklees residents and businesses are encouraged to view and comment on the latest plans for the Cultural Heart here:

In addition to online channels, the council is facilitating a pop-up consultation exhibit in the Piazza, which will be open to the public for two hours every weekday throughout the consultation and on Saturday September 10. The public can also speak with the architects directly in extended sessions focusing on the proposed outdoor public spaces (August 25-27) and the building designs (September 6-7).

For more information, visit the website or get in touch with the consultation team at or phone 0808 175 4300.