David Wyles is the current chair of Huddersfield Civic Society. Qualified in town planning, David was, until retirement in 2010, the town and village regeneration manager at Kirklees Council, with responsibility for town centre management including the Huddersfield Town Centre Partnership.
Huddersfield Civic Society shares the hopes and opportunities articulated clearly by Sir John Harman in his opinion piece for Huddersfield Hub. The strengths, location and investment plans provide optimism for 2022 and beyond.
There is one area though that I should like to see greater focus being given to. That is the opportunities in both the town centre and its immediate surrounds for residential development.
It is a truism to say that towns need people. Beyond re-defining the attractions of the centre through initiatives being pursued as part of the blueprint, there is a key opportunity to see how the many vacant buildings and acres of land can offer a varied choice of residential accommodation to suit all ages, needs and pockets.
One of the best ways of ensuring the heritage, vitality and economic stability of the town is secured is by identifying, stimulating and promoting land and buildings for residential development.
Recent years have witnessed the revival in fortunes of some of our smaller towns and villages such as Marsden, Slaithwaite, Honley and Holmfirth.
Equally, in the scramble to meet government housing targets there has been an equivalent rash of significant greenfield housing developments springing up in the valley areas.
Much of this growth has lacked adequate links by public transport or ease of access into Huddersfield, while the failure to identify sites in and around the centre of Huddersfield and its urban ‘villages’, such as Milnsbridge and Lockwood, has been matched by industrial decline and obsolescence.
Furthermore, many people living in these outlying areas have little relationship with Huddersfield and, consequently, have little need or desire to visit, spend leisure time and money in its centre.
A recent national news article in which experts reviewed the post-Covid economy stated: “‘(it is) in the suburbs closer to where people actually live, that business is building healthily.”
Over the past few years the civic society’s programme of events and visits has provided many stimulating examples of how residents can be attracted back into urban centres.
Our annual joint lecture with the university has focused on formerly down-at-heel areas in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester with presentations by companies such as Urban Splash and Fielden, Clegg Bradley Studios, the latter having been recently appointed as a leading consultancy in development of the town’s Cultural Heart.
Our visits have demonstrated how formerly deprived, polluted and ignored areas, such as Kelham Island in Sheffield and Hull’s Old Town, have developed into vibrant housing areas combining old, new and energy efficient developments within easy reach of their city centres.
The past few years have witnessed a number of developments in the town centre but these have been predominantly aimed at the growing student population.
Equally, and largely because of an increase in vacant floorspace, there has been a surge in the conversion of the upper floors of commercial premises. Whilst the society supports this in principle – and there have been a handful of decent proposals – the majority have provided minimal space requirements and limited consideration of related factors such as refuge disposal and heritage issues.
There are many potential sites, from the former Infirmary off Trinity Street, post office on Northumberland Street, land alongside the river and canal and the courtyards and back land between New Street and Railway Street. These are neither difficult to identify nor discover who owns or manages them.
Next is the need to develop partnership working, the type of public/private venture that could ensure a mix of development types, with opportunities to create a wide level of provision whilst promoting economic recovery, improved investment values and wider benefits for the town.
Huddersfield Civic Society has, over the past few years worked closely with organisations such as Huddersfield Unlimited, Kirklees Cycling Campaign, Huddersfield Local History Society and many other organisations in driving forward our joint ambitions for the town. Many of these endeavours feature on the HCS website, www.hudddersfieldcivicsociety.org.uk.
I hope the revival of town and edge of centre living can become a further strand in our thoughts, activities and engagement with residents, businesses and, above all, with Kirklees Council.