Culture will be at the heart of Huddersfield town centre's revival - Shabir Pandor
This challenge is being faced up and down the country, but in Kirklees we believe we have the answer.
Retail still has a major role to play, and other areas of our ambitious Blueprint plans reflect that.
However, we need an increasingly varied offer that will encourage more people to visit the town centre and stay for longer periods of time. This in turn will generate more local and inward spend to support all new and existing businesses like shops, bars, and restaurants.
Our approach to these challenges revolves around the £210m Cultural Heart which, if approved later this year, will form the centrepiece of our wider ten-year strategy to create a thriving, modern-day town centre for Huddersfield and the whole of Kirklees.
The Cultural Heart aims to breathe new life and activity into the area between Queensgate, King Street and Victoria Lane – currently known as the Piazza. The Piazza has seen decreasing footfall and, sadly, more and more empty units over recent years.
Filling these empty units with more shops would be fantastic, but realistically what Huddersfield town centre needs – what town centres up and down the country are finding they need – is a more diverse offering that will attract more people, and for longer.
To do this, we need to level up our cultural offer. Our plans are about far more than bricks and mortar. They’re about people and place. We want to build on and celebrate the character and culture of our diverse and proud town, by creating spaces that are inclusive for all our Kirklees communities.
No-one who looks at these plans could question our ambition and strong desire to drive positive change in Kirklees.
Very briefly, the plans include a new multi-purpose live entertainment venue, a new central library and art gallery. The historic Queensgate Market and Huddersfield Library buildings will be refurbished to house a vibrant new food hall and a dedicated museum space respectively. All this will be connected by truly world-class public spaces and parks.
We are aware that, particularly in the North, culture has become a polarising term. To some, the idea of culture sounds alluring and exciting, but to others, it can be seen as somewhat elitist. I hear many of our residents say culture is for those ‘‘down south’’ or ‘‘theatre-going types’’.
That’s absolutely not what we’re planning here. We believe culture is for everyone. It’s about our ideas, customs, heritage, how we all live and our individual passions. The culture in this scheme will improve our quality of life, wellbeing and sense of place – key themes you can see running through the Cultural Heart plans themselves.
We see culture in basic terms. It’s the large public square that will host free community events and celebrations. It’s the live entertainment venue that can host a broad range of events – anything from big live shows with a two thousand-strong audience to trade shows and business conferences.
Maybe your interpretation of culture will be played out on the shelves in the new library, which will be a genuine community hub for the town, or in the food hall that will celebrate local produce and vendors.
Culture is subjective and means something different to everyone, and that’s why creating a vibrant and varied new offering within the town centre is so key.
If the new art gallery and museum aren’t your cup of tea, that’s fine – it’s the broad mix of ‘‘culture’’ we’ve got planned that will mark Huddersfield out as being different.
Even the building designs themselves are rooted in the region. Playing on the strong heritage in textiles, the architect has cleverly designed the entertainment venue to look like it is wrapped by pleated material.
Call this culture if you will. However you wish define it, it’s everywhere and we’re confident we can pull it all together in the Cultural Heart.
The second phase of public consultation on the Cultural Heart is now underway and we want the people of Kirklees to get involved, have their say and help us finalise our proposals.