Question Time at the Trades: report

Report: Ernest Jones

Friday, 31 July 2009

The people’s vision for Hebden Bridge was the subject at a Question Time session at the Trades Club last night.  The panel comprised architect Jacquie Milham, local businessman David Fletcher, Calum Paramor, a member of the Youth Parliament, and Gwendoline Goddard, currently organising the HB Walkers are Welcome Weekend.  In the chair was Trades Club President Dave Gee.

Question Time

Photo: Jason Elliott

The first question asked whether Hebden Bridge should expand or hang on to what it has.  JM noted that as a society we need to adjust our expectations of continual growth.  Given its popularity, however, it is unreasonable to expect no more building in the town.  GG pointed to the gaps in social provision, and doubted whether the existing infrastructure could sustain further growth.  DF commented that the town is unique and remarkable, and that the variety of the townscape gives HB its charm.  He urged the need for evolution rather than fossilisation.

Anthony Rae, from the floor, asked about the retail sector and the impact of increased online selling and the credit crunch.  Janet Oosthuysen’s concern was that the more the town became a tourist destination, the more it would be given over to coffee shops and charity shops, and that the really useful shops in town - butcher, greengrocer, convenience store - might be under threat.  JM pointed out that the planning system allowed limits to be set restricting the number of shops of a particular kind in an area.  The number of retail outlets cannot be sustained without visitors, and she advocated a modest increase in the number of townsfolk in order to make the retail sector more sustainable.  DF noted that local businesses were struggling, with turnover slightly down and costs rising.

Jason Elliott asked the next question, asking what should be done about young people drinking to excess in the park and other public places at weekends.  GG said her flat overlooks the park, and she regularly walks through it at night without ever feeling threatened.  She said the problem is exaggerated and Ern Jones agreed, referring to a sensationalist story in the Observer a couple of weeks identifying HB as a “party town” where police have had to stamp down on underage drinking.  GG and DF both said that the situation was improving.  Police, PCSOs and Street Angels regularly patrol the town on weekend evenings.  Young people who need help get it, and there have been few serious incidents this year.

The panel and contributors from the floor agreed that the level of youth provision was unacceptable.  GG explained the concept of a youth pub, designed to recreate the atmosphere of a normal pub, but without the alcohol, and thought something like that might work here.  CP noted that youth clubs in Calderdale were well attended, and John Rhodes pointed to the large number of youth football teams and the flourishing  local Woodcraft Folk.  He suggested the main problem was easy access to cheap strong drinks and drugs.

DF thought the government should consider zero rating non-alcoholic drinks, and increasing the tax on alcohol, and enjoined Hebden Royd Town Council to take the lead in improving youth provision.  CP pointed out that young people getting drunk is not a consequence of having nothing better to do – they do it because it is transgressive and because they enjoy it.

The discussion then switched to provision for social activity for the elderly, and GG noted the success of the Todmorden branch of the University of the Third Age.  It was suggested that the Town Hall and the John Fawcett Centre will provide spaces where older people can meet and organise activities, but public funding is needed.

Next up the panel was asked to discuss how Hebden Bridgers could take control of their destiny when Calderdale Council’s priorities lay elsewhere.  DF pointed out that the town council, having achieved Quality Town Council status, could take over specific areas of responsibility from Calderdale, such as Calder Holmes and/or the Picture House.  Janet O, the only town councillor present, said that although this was theoretically possible, there were problems with funding and the volunteer status of councillors.  Calderdale were unlikely to release sufficient funds for Hebden Royd to take over running facilities without an increase in the precept and this, however small, would be unpopular and opposed by some councillors.

Paul Clarke doubted that HB residents receive value for money from Calderdale for their council tax, but Matt Ludlam replied that HB residents were on average significantly better off than those in Halifax.  He observed that Bradford MDC employs an officer responsible for liaison with town councils, and suggested that Calderdale do the same.

There were brief discussions about the appeal of HB to visitors and residents, and about affordable housing.  GG regretted that the sustainability of the town had not been discussed, but that this could be the theme for a subsequent Question Time.  The chair noted that it had been an interesting evening, and that the debate will continue.

The next Question Time will be in three weeks, on Thursday 20th August at 8.30pm, with a return to the subject of youth provision in Hebden Bridge.  The panel has not yet been finalised, but will include skater Jon Gale and Carol Stone, Head of Calderdale’s Young People’s Service.



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