From Andrew Bibby
Since there's a very nice news story on the Hebweb (thank you, Chris) about the proposals for community control of the HB Council offices and since my name features prominently in the story, I thought I might follow it up by starting a new thread on the forum.
Most of us know that the council offices are currently a poor shadow of what they once were, with the old Births/Deaths Registry office empty and the old housing department at the back barely used. The bulk of the building is also not wheelchair accessible. The first floor meeting room doesn't get used much either.
Yet this is a really important building for the town - the council chamber on the first floor is particularly impressive (and the building is quite rightly listed). We have to ensure that this building does stay as a public resource in the long term, and doesn't get quietly sold off.
Some people may know that the government is currently strongly supporting the idea that community organisations take over control of community buildings from local authorities. (The key report was published in the summer, and is called the Quirk Report). Whilst in an ideal world community buildings should probably stay under the democratic control of the councillors we elect, the reality today is that communities probably need to develop other strategies for ensuring we don't lose the public facilities which we enjoy. (Do I hear someone mention the sad story of the Pitt St Adult Education Centre...?)
There is now a window of opportunity for arranging for the council offices to come across into community ownership and control, and Calderdale themselves have told us that in principle they would be prepared to agree to this. There is also the possibility of applying to the lottery for capital costs to renovate the building, and a small team of us are working v hard to get a bid prepared.
In the slightly longer term, I could foresee a move to create a Hebden Bridge Community Land Trust, which would be charitable and which would be a holding vehicle for other public buildings.
I would welcome feedback (preferably supportive!) via this forum about our proposals for the Council Offices. We are particularly keen that the building once again becomes the hub of community life, and if we are successful in the lottery bid we will be working to create (a) a single access point for public services, delivered by both the local authority and vol groups (b) meeting room space which is accessible and actually used and (c) a function hall for the town. These things won't happen overnight, but the building has been in HB for 110 years and we're planning to make it a key part of the community for the next century.
And finally we want the building to be an exemplar in its use of energy. We don't know whether water power can be harnessed in this instance, but the Hebden Water is alongside and we intend to undertake a feasibility study to try to find out.
Posted by Jason Elliott
I think these proposals are extremely timely.
Whatever the village or town, the localisation of civic services and amenities is a key part of maintaining community interest and pride which, as we all know, makes people feel that they have a genuine stake in their surroundings.
This also leads to better local democracy as residents feel that there is a point to engaging with their councillors and voting them in or out as necessary, as well as diminishing the anti-social behaviour that alienation and lack of engagement causes.
In this specific case, the provision of a central meeting room and function room would be excellent and I can see a wide range of organisations making use of it, not least our own Ethical Business Network.
Posted by Blaize Davies
I was delighted and grateful to hear that a group is applying to the lottery to renovate the Council Offices. I am very happy to support this plan.
My experience is that it is hard to find decent community meeting spaces and also venues for people to hire for events in Hebden Bridge.
Additionally I attend yoga classes in very unattractive venues and I know the yoga teacher struggles to find a large, clean, attractive and warm room to hold her classes in. I can think of other activities which would also welcome hiring a similar facility.
The Council Offices would be an ideal location for community rooms, being right in the centre.
If there is any way I can help, do get in touch.