Anger at proposals to build new library but bulldoze the old one

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THE row over plans by Calderdale Council to build a new library in Halifax town centre intensified yesterday

Since the proposals to demolish the central library and archive at Northgate and to erect a new one next to the Piece Hall were revealed, there has been a steady groundswell of objections.

On Monday, Halifax MP Linda Riordan wrote to chief executive Owen Williams detailing her concerns and saying she had received numerous representations from people calling for any decisions to be halted.

The issue is a particularly sensitive one as it reignites simmering antagonisms which culminated in one of the largest petitions ever presented in 2009, when 16,000 people demanded a halt to proposals by the then Conservative-led administration to demolish the library.

The organisers of the Don’t Bulldoze Our Library! campaign have begged the 16,000 people to turn up for the key council meeting on December 7.

A spokesman for Don’t says: “New buildings may hold a novelty value but what will attract and retain library visitors are the facilities inside the buildings.

“Those in the present Central Library are already very good and could be brought up to the latest standard without demolishing the existing building.” The Campaign also questions the council’s claim that Northgate House – which was only built 30 years ago – is not fit for purpose.

The council says refurbishing the building would cost up to £15m and to refurbish Halifax Central Library and Archive would cost up to £6m.

Clive Lloyd, president of Halifax Antiquarian Society, said: “After the campaign in 2009 we thought it was dead and buried.

“I couldn’t believe it when I found it was back on the agenda. Everyone was absolutely shocked and horrified. Some of our 300 members were almost shellshocked by the whole experience.

“We thought it was dead in the water and now, not only is it back on the agenda, but the majority of the councillors appear to be in favour of it. It’s a ridiculous plan and has been ill-thought out.”

Calderdale wants to create a new central library and archive next to the Square Spire and linking into the historic Piece Hall but the plans have created a storm of protest and the new Lib Dem/Labour administration will have to steel themselves if the plans are finally to be pushed through.

Coun Ian Cooper, (Con, Todmorden), said: “The irony of Calderdale’s Lib Lab Cabinet proposal on this issue, is that when this matter was last discussed in council they were jointly and severally opposed to the idea. Then, under a Conservative administration, a truly inclusive and transparent consultation took place, the result being that the proposal did not receive the support of the council.

“That was then. The current Lib/Lab administration would have us believe that the situation has changed, it has not, the fundamental principles remain the same.

“I do, however, support the proposals for Northgate House. Not so for the Library.”

A Calderdale spokesman said: “While libraries are closing across the UK, here in Calderdale we want to invest in our Central Library, as well as maintaining our libraries in Calderdale.

“We also need to ensure that Halifax is a town which continues to thrive as a place where people want to shop and which also competes with larger towns and cities in the area.

“We can only do this if we attract popular high street retailers by making available sites large enough for them to offer sufficient choice and range of products. Lots of exciting things are happening in Halifax.

“The Broad Street development is now almost fully let, council has already voted in favour of moving out of Northgate House and, despite declining use, the council has already made a commitment in the current proposals to keeping the archive in Halifax.”

robert.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk