Fury over sale of prized asset to fund ‘pie-in-sky’ library dream

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a BACKLASH is growing among users of one of Calderdale’s biggest training centres who say they will fight to keep it open despite attempts by the council to sell it for millions of pounds.

Heath Training and Development Centre faces being sold off to generate money for the proposed new library in Halifax town centre after councillors voted in favour of the closure.

The centre, in Free School Lane in Halifax, is used by more than 63 groups for activities including meetings, music classes and sport.

Accounts supplied by the Charity Commission from 2009 suggest the building could be worth as much as £4.9m.

The buildings and land, which used to house Heath Grammar School, are owned by the Heath Charity which has Calderdale Council as its only trustee.

But the Friends of Heath believe the council does not have the right to sell the buildings to fund a highly controversial new library.

Calderdale says council services based at present at Heath will move into the town centre, which will make them more accessible to the public.

Coun Marcus Thompson, (Con, Skircoat), in whose ward Heath is situated, said: “I think it is a terrible idea. I don’t agree with it at all.

“I don’t see why a valuable and loved building which is a byword for architectural excellence should be used to fund a library of uncertain need.

“I like the library where it is, it may need refurbishment but at a time of financial hardship I don’t think selling off a charitable trust and profitting it should go to fund a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ dream of the Cabinet.

“The Save Heath group are very strongly looking into all the legal status of the charitable fund and I think opposition to its sale is growing across the borough.

“Around 64 different groups use that facility during the year and in addition it’s a top place for educational excellence so from the vantage point of the children of Calderdale I don’t think that should be put at risk either.

“The building has had tens of thousands of pounds spent on it and is in great condition and good shape.”

Pauline Nash, cabinet member and ward councillor in Skircoat, said: “I’ve listened to what people had to say and I’m aware of the strength of feeling. When this was first mentioned I said there would be problems. Part of my duty is to reflect these views to the cabinet and that’s what I will do.”

And Coun John Hardy, (Con, Skircoat), added: “It’s all a dog’s breakfast and I am not happy about it.

“There are very strong rumours that it is going to be turned into a Sainsbury’s supermarket and as far as we are concerned it is not on.

“A lot of groups who have been displaced from elsewhere meet there. In addition the gates are extremely interesting - they are a war memorial and I hope against hope that it won’t happen.”

Graham McIntyre, who opposes the sale, said: “Any proceeds from the sale of the building or land should go back into the charity, and I don’t think relocating Northgate House is in the best interests of the charity.”

Kim Atkinson, of Calderdale Music Service, said: “We’re going to be made homeless just at the time we’re going to become properly established.

“In a fortnight we submit our proposal to become hub leader as part of the national music plan and using Heath is crucial to that.

“I thought it was a done deal that it was going to be sold, but now I’m hopeful that it might not be. If we could save it, that would be fantastic.”

Helen Roberts, from Halifax Convivial Society which meets at the centre, added: After the amount of money that has been put into this building. to make it what it is today, suggesting that it be sold is ridiculous.”

Coun Graham Hall, (Con, Hipperholme and Lightclife), also called for a full consultation on any possible closure.