A WAR OF WORDS has erupted between councillors over regeneration efforts in Dewsbury.
Coun Khizar Iqbal, an outspoken critic of Kirklees’ recent regeneration strategy, has again called for action after an update on the ‘Improvement Plan For Dewsbury’ was delivered to the Cabinet last week, which he branded “yesterday’s news”.
Leading Labour councillors have hit back and slammed Coun Iqbal for “achieving nothing” during his own time in office.
The Dewsbury South councillor, now back in the Conservative Party after a period sitting as an Independent, attended the meeting of the Labourrun Kirklees Cabinet at Dewsbury Town Hall but said he was fed up with reports and feasibility studies.
The council’s Improvement Plan For Dewsbury 20102013 sets out what has been achieved in the town in the last year and outlines key social factors in Dewsbury’s decline – and what bosses think should happen next.
But Coun Iqbal wasn’t impressed with the latest in a long line of reports and said: “I want to know what genuinely practical things have been done – several of the items they included are yesterday’s news. Some are not directly related to the town centre, with things like street improvements in Ravensthorpe and Savile Town included in the report.
“They were desperate to add anything to it to make it look like something has been done. Dewsbury is NOT a priority for the council, but when I put my point of view to the Cabinet members, I was accused of talking the town down.”
Coun Iqbal hit out at the perceived lack of urgency and the Cabinet’s claims that Government spending cuts were hampering their regeneration efforts.
“We’re great at talking about talking, having consultations about consultations and feasibility studies about feasibility,” he said. “Dewsbury’s decline didn’t start when the Coalition Government took power, it’s a long legacy of neglect because Kirklees is not committing its own resources to Dewsbury, they prefer to invest millions of pounds on big schemes for Huddersfield.
“The first thing I would change would be a fair distribution of council funds between Huddersfield and Dewsbury – real money for real projects.
“Money in Dewsbury is being spent on petty schemes here and there. The plans for capital spending for the next three years are unfair and unbalanced.”
Kirklees’ plans for Dewsbury’s iconic Pioneer House building also came under fire after a scheme to house a ‘business generator’ there was included in the report.
The derelict building has been compulsorily purchased by the council after years of struggle with developer Stayton, with detailed plans due to be announced in the next few weeks.
A £500,000 ‘business incubator’ to set up new businesses will form part of the Pioneer plan but Coun Iqbal said: “We already have one of those in Batley, I think people want to see a retail development with private businesses and shops using Pioneer House. They say it will take at least five years to develop Pioneer House – I think we should make it our top regeneration priority.
“They’re not bringing in private investment and other businesses are leaving town. I’d go out and approach and interact with private companies and investors to bring them into Dewsbury, and look at things like rate relief to help them thrive and compete.
“Nothing’s been done about car parking charges either, which deter shoppers and makes businesses suffer. Kirklees have produced a 25year masterplan for the regeneration of Dewsbury town centre. A 25year report? I don’t think Dewsbury can wait another 25 years.”
Coun Iqbal was also scathing of the effectiveness of Dewsbury’s Town Team, the open public body charged with helping to lead the regeneration of the town centre.
He said: “It’s really nothing personal against any of the people in the team, I respect them for being civicminded and concerned about the town and there are some good people there, but it won’t deliver longterm regeneration. It’s another attempt at smoke and mirrors, it should be us, the elected members, to spearhead the efforts.
“I don’t claim I’m Mr Perfect, I don’t excuse myself from this, we are the elected members and it’s time to get something practical done. I’m fed up of going round in circles.”
Coun Paul Kane, the chair of Dewsbury Regeneration Board, said Coun Iqbal would be better adding his voice to the efforts the council and the members of the town team are making.
He added: “Coun Iqbal refuses to come to Regeneration Board which is where he could have input and work with the rest of us to create the place we all want to see.
“But even though he chooses to rubbish the efforts of others, he is failing to recognise the fact that we have now brought Pioneer House back into our ownership and will use it as a catalyst for improvement. Our enforcement strategy is ensuring buildings will not be allowed to become blots on the landscape.
“In addition, our shop front grants scheme is making a visible improvement to the town, the free town bus is extremely popular, the town hall is back to its former glory, and we will soon see a new council customer care centre in the Walsh Building which will mean more employment and people benefiting the local economy.
“Coun Iqbal is right on one point – the Council cannot do it all alone. But we are creating the conditions which will allow the private sector to see Dewsbury as a positive place to grow a business and benefit the local economy.”
Coun Mehboob Khan, Leader of Kirklees Council, said: “We have said since taking the leadership of the Council that Dewsbury is our priority. Coun Iqbal has been a councillor for 12 years and in that time he has not managed to deliver a boiled egg for the town.
“He has achieved nothing. Initiatives like bringing Pioneer House back into use, and the new £1 million investment in the new council customer care centre increase employment, footfall and spending in the town.
“Bringing influential people like Neil McLean, the chair of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and our link into government, puts Dewsbury in a high profile place when it comes to funding bids. These positive steps are vital in creating the conditions for businesses to thrive.”