Lottery bid backed to give county archives new home

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Council chiefs in Wakefield have backed a move to bid for Lottery cash to build a much-needed new home for valuable archive documents.

Archive officials were warned to improve facilities after a building in Wakefield where crucial historical documents from across West Yorkshire are stored was condemned as being “not fit for purpose.”

Councillors in Wakefield have now approved plans to submit a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to secure funding to replace the city’s Registry of Deeds building.

The state of the building on Newstead Road was criticised by the National Archives Service, which warned it could strip the facility of its status as a “place of deposit” if urgent action was not taken.

An alternative home for the collections, which includes volumes of deeds relating to West Riding property transactions between 1704 and 1970 and local authority records, needed to be found to stave off the possibility.

Senior councillors in the city have supported proposals to give The West Yorkshire Archives a new purpose-built home at the site of Crown House, due to be demolished.

They also agreed that an initial bid for Lottery cash should be made this month.

Members of the council’s executive were told: “The development of a new facility in Wakefield would ensure that these collections could continue to be held in Wakefield and made available locally.

“Should alternative and much improved service and storage facilities not be identified, the National Archives would withdraw the appointment of the current Wakefield facility as a ‘place of deposit’ for archives, leading to the dispersal of collections to other repositories outside the district and in some cases outside West Yorkshire, and the resultant loss of local access.”

The focus of a HLF bid will be the creation of a new service which would contain not only the current West Yorkshire and Wakefield archives but also a number of other collections, including the coal mining collections, containing the former National Coal Board collections and the Nostell colliery collections, currently housed elsewhere in West Yorkshire.

Archives bosses would work at establishing links with relevant former mining communities, mainly in the Wakefield district, to encourage their involvement in preserving and understanding these records, key to the formation and history of their communities.

The archives currently has a range of documents from records of local authorities to families.

Council chiefs have said developing the site will help to regenerate the Kirkgate area and help link up The Hepworth museum with Wakefield city centre.

But the cost of building a new home could be around £4m. Council bosses hope to attract around £3m from the HLF.

Coun David Dagger, the council’s cabinet member for culture, said earlier: “Keeping the service in Wakefield will secure a long term future for the West Yorkshire archives and other records, improving the district’s cultural offer.

“Wakefield has been home to the archives for over 300 years. Losing the collections would be a great loss to the area.

“About one third of the archives relate specifically to the district, including records of successive local authorities, local businesses, families, charities and religious bodies. Keeping the collections where they belong will encourage understanding of the history of our local communities.”

It is hoped that the proposal to move the service to the Crown House site would also encourage further public and private investment into the Kirkgate area, leading to the regeneration of this part of the city centre.

Redeveloping the Kirkgate area is see as the next big step in the regeneration of Wakefield.

The archive service carried out public consultation on the proposals between September and November 2011, with the majority of those consulted favouring a Wakefield site.