Major revamp of town centre will lead to disaster, MP fears

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POLITICIANS have clashed over the future of Huddersfield town centre after a big development scheme was given the go-ahead.

As reported in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, the Planning Inspectorate, a Government body, has given permission for a large store at Southgate, next to the ring road.

It will mean Kirklees Council can now demolish the Huddersfield Sports Centre and build a replacement leisure centre at Springwood, on the edge of the town centre.

The scheme is also expected to see the redevelopment of the current Tesco site at Viaduct Street, with the creation of offices and an hotel.

The Labour leader of the council, Councillor Mehboob Khan, welcomed the Inspectorate’s ruling but the town’s Labour MP, Barry Sheerman, predicted it would lead to “disaster” for the town.

The MP believes that the plan will lead to traffic chaos and poor air quality on Leeds Road which he said “already has the worst air quality in Kirklees”.

And he said the replacement leisure centre – paid for with money from the Tesco land deal – would be too small and the location, in front of a social housing development, was wrong.

And he believes a large Tesco store selling items such as clothes and electrical goods would have a catastrophic effect on businesses in the town centre.

Yesterday he said that the planning inspector who ruled in favour of Tesco obviously “didn’t care for my passion”, adding: “These characters will be long gone when our towns are empty, lifeless shells. A sad day for a lovely town.”

Green councillor Andrew Cooper, who also opposed the scheme, said other businesses would suffer and the end result would be a “dead heart” of a town centre.

The planning inspector’s report concluded that, if the development proceeds, there is “unlikely to be a significant adverse impact on the overall vitality and viability of the town centre”.

The report played down the potential impact on town centre traders.

“Whereas the development is forecast to draw 12.1 per cent of trade away from the primary shopping centre by 2016, 10.2 per cent of that is forecast to be accounted for by the closure of the existing Castlegate Tesco.

“As only 1.9 per cent of trade would be drawn from other town centre traders the development would be unlikely to harm the vitality or viability of the town centre as a whole.”

It said the store would enhance competition and create new jobs, estimated at 260 full-time and part-time roles.

The inspector said the development created the opportunity to improve the site of the current Tesco store.

“The ugly existing Tesco Castlegate store lies wholly within the town centre conservation area and close to other listed buildings.”

There is conservation area consent for its demolition although that is unlikely to proceed without an approved replacement store.

“Whilst no design for the redevelopment of that site has yet been agreed, it does create the opportunity to significantly improve the appearance of the conservation area and the setting of listed buildings there as an environmental benefit.”

In a statement, council leader Mehboob Khan said: “The independent planning inspectorate left no stone unturned in their assessment of the planning application and this decision indicates their support for the scheme which secures a good deal for the town.

“It not only provides a much-needed new sports centre but creates real benefits for local people in regenerating the area around the former Tesco store with high- quality housing and much needed hotel accommodation plus hundreds of construction jobs.”

Work could begin on the new sports centre later this year, with the new Tesco store expected to be built before 2017.

andrew.robinson1@ypn.co.uk