Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Greening the Huddersfield Blueprint

The drawings and visions of what Huddersfield Town Centre could be in the Huddersfield Blueprint have been generally well received. Huddersfield could certainly do with a new look and re-imagining for the rest of the 21st Century. But what about the detail? What are the things that will help make the Town Centre a destination for people both from our area and further afield? How will we attract people of all ages and interests to spend time there and also some money perhaps? 

Here's some ideas.

Promote locally owned and managed shops as a priority - The future is local. The demise of big town centre stores, the loss of places like Marks and Spencer and BHS owes a lot to the rise of internet shopping.  Town Centre retail in the future should be more about unique, quality, local products with shops and services that are owned and managed by local people and are not readily available on the internet. Quite apart from anything else this means that more money will circulate in the local economy with shops being a key part of a local supply chain. A key question Kirklees need to ask themselves again and again is "How do our proposals help locally owned and managed businesses?". Too much emphasis can be placed on pursuing big national anchor retailers when their precarious future is best protected by having a diverse offer which brings a variety of people into the Town Centre looking for a mix of offers.

A Bilbao drinking water fountain
Lots of drinking water fountains - I saw this in my recent visit to Bilbao. There were public drinking water fountains all over the place. If we really do want to see the end of the plastic bottle then one way is to make our refreshing Yorkshire tap water more accessible to more people. We want to encourage a culture of people carrying their own water bottles. These drinking water fountains should be attractive, sculptural and more of a feature than simply a utilitarian municipal provision.

More pedestrianisation - the most successful Town and City Centres are the ones with lots of pedestrianised areas. There is always resistance to pedestrianisation from people who claim that it will diminish trade  by making the town centre not car- friendly but all the evidence actually points in the other direction.

Huddersfield Town Centre Clean Air Zone - Parts of Huddersfield Town Centre are already Air Quality Management Areas due to polluting vehicles. Leeds and Bradford have plans for Clean Air Zones where they will charge the most polluting vehicles to enter their City Centres. This will undoubtedly mean that the most polluting buses will be operating in towns like Huddersfield and the clean low emission ones will be in Leeds and Bradford. Establishing a clean air zone within Huddersfield Town Centre will send a message that this is a cleaner, safer and healthy environment for people to bring their families. It will also help accelerate the adoption of lower emission taxi vehicles and delivery vehicles coming into the Town Centre.

More Electric vehicle charging points - The electric car, van and truck are coming and the number of electric vehicles is growing quickly. The council needs a much greater number of electric charging points than the few that are currently planned. As electric vehicles become more common the Council could offer free parking for electric vehicles but charge for charging them up. Any new parking facilities planned like the one next to St Georges Warehouse should all have electric charging points

Childrens Play Areas - Other than the Childrens Library
what is there for kids in Huddersfield Town Centre? The Huddersfield Blueprint says it wants the town to be "family friendly" but no play areas in the visuals. I have seen numerous European city centres where there are lots of play areas and the places are alive and are welcoming to families. For many years Greens and particularly ex-Cllr Julie Stewart-Turner have pushed hard for more play areas in Huddersfield

Giant spider sculpture - Bilbao
Street art and sculpture - When I visited Bilbao a key part of its revival as a city was about embracing public art. There are murals and sculpture in so many places in the city centre. Some are modern some are traditional but they all add vibrancy and interest to the area. We need to think big on public art. On a visit to Sweden I remember seeing a 30 foot tall Pinnochio statue striding across a roundabout. It was striking and one of a number of art installations across the town. 

Embrace the night-time economy and make it safer for young people - Young people and students love a night out in Huddersfield with clubs and bars staying open till the early hours of the morning. Its great and it's all part of the experience of being young but we need to do much more to ensure they feel safe and better resourced policing and Kirklees licensing officers would all help. 

Free WiFi - Free Wifi in Huddersfield Town Centre  would be hugely attractive and definitely make the Town a destination for many. Many coffee shops and some pubs offer it now but to make it free across the whole town centre and particularly in public spaces would be hugely attractive

An outdoor gym in the Civic Quarter
Free to use outdoor gym equipment - or play areas for older people if you like. What if we had a number of locations across the town where outdoor gym equipment was available and you could charge your mobile phone by using it? A number of places spring to mind but top of my list would the empty space between Civic Centre 1 and Civic Centre 3 that I call "The Civic Expanse of Doom". It is one of the most depressing places in Huddersfield in my opinion

 A more democratic plan - If this is a plan that is to have the 'buy in' we so desperately need for something of this importance we need a broad range of involvement in its formulation and implementation. It needs other Huddersfield voices and interests involved other than one or two Cabinet members who happen to be members of one particular political party. We need broader political representation but also more involvement from bodies like the Huddersfield Civic Society and local businesses. They need to be the driving force behind the plan, the 'Huddersfield Blueprint Board' and not just recipients of information or consultees.

Personally I'm more than happy to back a plan that has a clear vision for the future of Huddersfield Town Centre  but it is vital that it is a Peoples Plan formed by many and not just the few.

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