RESTORATION work on Dewsbury’s historic Pioneer House has reached another milestone.
The prominent town centre site is due to be handed over to its new tenant, Kirklees College, when restoration and structural work comes to an end shortly.
The town’s Chamber of Trade has welcomed the removal this week of hoardings from outside the old Co-op building on Northgate as the £7.5m initial renovation project nears completion.
Pioneer House will become part of Kirklees College’s town centre ‘Learning Quarter’ and is due to open to students in September next year.
“Work is still going on outside laying paving stones, but it is still a clear sign things are moving,” said Chamber president Paul Ellis.
Originally built for the Dewsbury Pioneers’ Industrial Society in 1878, over the years Pioneer House was home to a wide variety of tenants, including a theatre, cinema, library, French polishers, butchers, cobblers and a renowned Italian restaurant.
In the early 2000s it fell into disrepair and the local authority began legal proceedings in 2009 to compulsorily purchase it from notorious developer Stayton in order to protect it from further decay, resulting in a public inquiry in November, 2010.
Kirklees won Government permission to take it from Stayton in March, 2011.
After eight years, several delays and millions of pounds of public money, the building is finally close to being handed over to Kirklees College.
Kirklees Cabinet member Coun Cathy Scott (Lab, Dewsbury East) said acquiring and restoring Pioneer House had been a long and costly process, but well worth it.
“Next year 1,500 students and their teachers will be moving in and this part of Dewsbury will be regenerated,” Coun Scott said.
She added that the council is also looking at other eyesore buildings in the town centre, with a view to serving compulsory purchase orders on their owners. Cabinet approval has been given, in principle, for officers to pursue the matter.
“No decision has yet been made but Dewsbury people can be assured we are moving on this,” she said.
Despite well-known firms including Peacocks and Wetherspoons recently taking the decision to close their premises, town centre officials remain upbeat about the future.
Mr Ellis said the Chamber of Trade had been liaising with councillors and officers on Dewsbury’s regeneration plans.
“We are working with the council at the moment on their £750,000 spring cleaning operation to improve the appearance of the town centre,” he added.
“Trees and flower planting has already begun, and gazebos, lamp posts and litter bins are being repainted.
“The Chamber is also donating £5,000 for flower beds, trees and hanging baskets on lamp posts and premises in Market Place.
“Things are moving in Dewsbury and I urge local people to be patient and not to denigrate our town.
“It doesn’t help our hard-working businesses who are trying to attract people to the town if people keep knocking it.
“We aren’t the only town with empty shops. It is happening all over the country, but at least we have some new shops opening in Dewsbury.
“New businesses are investing in us and Dewsbury is bouncing back.”
Kirklees College did not respond to our request for comment.