Plans for Huddersfield’s £210 million Cultural Heart have been approved, marking a major milestone in the development.

Kirklees Council’s Strategic Planning Committee approved the plans – but there wasn’t unanimous support.

One critic, Clr Bill Armer, said since the scheme was drawn up the “economic situation has changed” and he feared Huddersfield could end up with a “big hole” in the town centre as Bradford did when the financial crisis hit in 2008. He described the scheme as “very, very risky financially.”

Clr Armer (Con, Kirkburton) also criticised claims that the Cultural Heart was “inclusive.” He said Blue Badge-holders had nowhere to park and the design would deter disabled people from visiting. He said the scheme “wilfully excludes disabled people.”

Fellow Tory Clr Mark Thompson (Birstall) also disputed claims that the Cultural Heart would bring in a million visitors a year. And said if it did there would be nowhere for them to park!

“We are told there will be one million visitors but York has three million per annum and that’s the second largest tourist attraction outside London,” he said.

“I find that hard to believe. That’s 2,700 visitors a day and there’s only 350 spaces in the multi-storey so it’s wholly lacking in parking.

“I know people can use public transport or bicycles but it doesn’t matter how many bike lanes we put in, they are still not being used.”

The Cultural Heart

Clr Mohan Sokhal (Lab, Greenhead) welcomed the scheme, describing Huddersfield as a “ghost town” with no quality shops left. He admitted he goes to Leeds to shop.

He said he would like to see the new multi-storey car park being built before anything else and added: “If there’s no parking nobody will come into the town centre.”

Clr Sokhal said Huddersfield needed to attract big name retailers to get people back into town and said shops should stay open until 8pm instead of closing at 4pm or 5pm.

Clr Tyler Hawkins (Lab, Dalton) supported the scheme and said he understood concerns about the scale of investment but added: “This is something we can’t afford not to do.

“Huddersfield has a fantastic history of re-inventing itself and it’s time to do that again. We can’t go back to the good old days, there’s got to be great new days that we are striving towards. Our town isn’t dead but it has seen better days. I think this development will get us to better days.

“People say to me how Halifax and Barnsley have gone through a transformation and we are a good decade behind where they are. It’s time for us to catch up. I, much like many members of the public, will believe it when I see it but we need to get on with it.”

Inside the food court in the former Queensgate Market

Clr Carole Pattison (Lab, Greenhead) said: “This is just the most exciting proposal that we have seen in this planning committee in all the time I’ve been on it.

“The way we use our town centres has totally changed. It makes much better use of the town centre than just shopping.

“We want people to come back into the centre, meet their friends and relatives, go to the venue, eat in the food court, go to the library and go to the museum.

“This rarely gets mentioned. We are bringing the museum into the town centre. I bet there are so many people who live in Huddersfield and certainly Kirklees who have never been to our museum because you have to get a bus ride or drive out to it.

“Now there will be a museum in the town centre they can visit and that will be brilliant.

“The new venue will complement the Lawrence Batley Theatre and they can mix and match what goes on. And even in Huddersfield we don’t have that kind of venue.

“Halifax has the Piece Hall but we can do better than Halifax. The shops are no better in Halifax than they in Huddersfield but they have the Piece Hall and we will have something to match that.

“All in all the wonderful modern buildings we are going to see will really complement and show off the historic buildings we’ve got. I love the mix of old and new so I’m really looking forward to seeing all this come to fruition.”

Councillors voted 5-2 in favour of the development.

Council leader Clr Shabir Pandor in the Piazza

The Cultural Heart is to be carried out in phases. The first phase – the food court and library in the extended former Queensgate Market building and an events space outside – could start in 2024 with completion in Spring 2026.

After that work will get underway on a new urban park in the Piazza area, a museum in the former library building and a new-build art gallery in Queen Street, and finally, a new multi-purpose live entertainment venue with a 350-space multi-storey car park.

After planning permission was granted, council leader Clr Shabir Pandor said: “Today is a significant milestone for the future of Huddersfield town centre.

“Our Cultural Heart project is a transformational scheme that will, alongside our wider Huddersfield Blueprint plans, provide a huge boost to our local economy and existing businesses.

“The Cultural Heart is all about delivering genuine long-term community assets, where friends and families can gather, relax and socialise.

“We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and we understand that times are challenging right now for many. This reinforces our ambition to grow our town centre offer and give people more reasons to visit and spend time here.

“The public square, food hall, museum and library will be amazing new spaces that provide free and low-cost activities – ultimately bringing our diverse community closer together.”