The councillor spearheading the £210 million Cultural Heart which will change the face of Huddersfield town centre has vowed to be prudent and not do anything to put council finances at risk.
Clr Graham Turner, Kirklees Council’s Cabinet member for regeneration, said while the scheme was exciting and transformational the council would not get carried away.
Clr Turner said town centres were changing and doing nothing would mean a “slow decline” for Huddersfield.
“We must now change our town centres and doing nothing is not an option,” he said. “We don’t need reminding that times are tough and could get tougher but we must be brave and start transforming our town for the next generation.
“We have been through tough times before and the one thing we know is that the economy will recover, the trick is knowing when.”
Clr Turner, who took over responsibility for the regeneration portfolio after the retirement of former councillor Peter McBride in May, said the council was using a ‘gateway’ approach meaning a review and Cabinet approvals were needed at various key stages.
Speaking at a meeting of the Cabinet where £10.5 million of spending was agreed for Gateway 2, Clr Turner said: “I can assure our residents and elected members that I will be working closely with (director of regeneration) David Shepherd and the team to make sure that we can act on any change in circumstances.
“We are currently on budget and target and will continue to monitor it. Cabinet remains in control of the decision process and are updated on a regular basis.
“We have done several consultations which have shown considerable support for the plans we have. Of course, there are naysayers but the majority of those who responded wanted us to get on with the project.
“Since taking over responsibility from ex-councillor McBride I have made every effort to talk to those with a vested interest in the Blueprint and many of the groups who don’t necessarily have a vested interest but have an opinion on the plans.
“The feedback I have had is: ‘You have talked about this for long enough. Get on with it.’ They might be right but a huge amount of work has to be done before we can get a shovel in the ground. A lot of this has been done and we can now look at submitting a planning application shortly.”
The Cultural Heart, set to be completed in 2026, will be funded through borrowing and a report to the Cabinet revealed that rising interest rates had already seen estimated repayments for 2027-28 onwards rise from £6.8 million to £9.5 million.
Clr Turner (Lab, Golcar) added: “Much has been said about the issues around finances. Those of you who know me know there’s no way I will spend a penny more than is absolutely necessary. I am the best Yorkshireman, I’ve got really deep pockets and very, very short arms!
“I will be looking after every penny as I used to do in the private sector and every penny will be a prisoner. We will make sure we don’t put the council under any excess financial stress.
“There will obviously be big payments to come but we will not endanger this council and we will not make other services suffer because of this. We will keep a very, very close eye on this.”
Clr Turner’s pledge on finances was backed by council leader Shabir Pandor who said: “We are going to take a cautious, prudent and careful approach to this. We need to still be ambitious with our plans but at the same time we need to be careful.”
Clr Cathy Scott added: “Long-term investment in the town centre is critical. We have strong ambitions for the Cultural Heart and we want to progress it but what is good about this is we are being prudent.
“We are using the Gateway approach and that allows us to review each stage and ensures we are making decisions that reflect the economic climate and reflects stakeholders’ and citizens’ feedback.
“Yes, it will be delivered over a time period but it ensures we are being prudent. That’s what people need to know, that we are being prudent.”
Plans for the Cultural Heart would see the refurbishment of the historic Queensgate Market and Huddersfield Library buildings to house a food hall and a museum space respectively.
There will a new community-focused library, modern art gallery, multi-purpose live entertainment venue and a 350-space car park – all of which will be connected by public spaces and an urban park.