By Tony Earnshaw Local Democracy Reporter
KIRKLEES faces a £70m spending bonanza on arts, culture and leisure – but where will the money go?
That’s the question facing the Labour-run authority after it revealed it has submitted a bid for government cash plans to invest £25m in ‘a vibrant cultural quarter’ in Huddersfield.
The funding bid has now been officially submitted.
It follows on from an announcement last April to pump £45m into arts and leisure across the borough.
The Labour group’s manifesto pledge for Town Centre Arts and Culture was directed towards making the “best use of our artefacts, heritage and streetscape”.
Other election pledges included £13m for a North Kirklees leisure centre and £200,000 for town and village ‘champions’.
A council spokesman confirmed that if its bid to the High Street Fund was successful the resultant £25m “would be in addition to the £45m already allocated”.
In announcing the hoped-for £25m pot Coun Shabir Pandor, leader of Kirklees Council, said: “It’s clear to see that we are an ambitious and innovative council that is investing to ensure Kirklees is a great place to live, work and do business. It’s crucial that we get this right.”
Referring to the new bid Karl Battersby, director of economy and infrastructure at Kirklees Council, said it was “an opportunity we had to grasp with both hands”.
He added: “We want our town centres to have something for everyone, including families, and this funding would help us take a huge step forward.
“Whilst we’re bidding for funding for Huddersfield in this case, we’re working on a range of projects to improve our other town centres too.”
Members of the Conservative group reacted with caution and urged the Labour group to unveil its masterplan, which is scheduled to be shared in the coming months.
Coun Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) asked: “Why does Coun Pandor need an extra £25m when he hasn’t brought forward any plans for his £45m?”
His colleague Coun Richard Smith (Con, Kirkburton) urged the council to align its investment with a “coherent” plan that addressed the needs of business owners in the borough.”
And Conservatives’ deputy leader, Coun John Taylor, said he was wary that some of the elements being earmarked for investment were “merely aspirational”.
He added: “I would be interested in knowing what the £45m cultural quarter will deliver as we have seen no detail on this yet despite a year passing since Labour’s big launch.
“I’d then be interested to see what extra they are delivering with this additional £25m.
“In the past I have been told that there were no firm plans for the cultural quarter so it’s difficult to see if this is genuinely an additional £25m or not.
“I am fully supportive of the ambition to transform our town centres.
“My criticism is: what has this Labour administration being doing for the last 10 years, the ‘lost decade’ when all our neighbouring authorities were working on regeneration initiatives?
“You can now see these coming on stream and yet we are still at the starting point.”
The £25m bid:
Will pay for a ‘significantly enhanced’ town centre library and art gallery, and a new live music venue in Huddersfield.
The council hopes the new museum – which may replace the Tolson Museum – will be in the vicinity of the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
The location of the live music venue, which would have a capacity of 700-1,000, has not been made public.
The £45m allocation:
Includes investment in the library and art gallery, piazza and Queensgate Market Hall.
Includes £13m for the North Kirklees Leisure Centre to replace crumbling Spenborough Pool and £200,000 for town and village ‘champions’.
For the town and village champions, the council wants Kirklees staff to act as ‘fix-it’ teams for half a day a month, providing hands-on support to local voluntary and community groups.