Car parking in Hebden Bridge

Chris in Garden Street Car Park

There is an ongoing debate in Hebden Bridge about car parking. Is there enough of it, do we have the right balance between short and long-term spaces, and are the charges correct?

Late last year, a group of Human Geography and Urban Planning students from Leeds Met University undertook a project to survey car parking in different areas of Hebden Bridge. This fell under the auspices of the Hebden Bridge Parking Working Party. Lesley McKay and myself introduced the students to Hebden Bridge, and went to Leeds to see the students’ presentations in December. A few students also came with their tutor, Lindsay Smales, to present the results to Hebden Royd Town Council.

The students came up with some interesting results, particularly the responses to questions which they had asked of residents, tourists and shop keepers. Most markedly, those who run the shops want cheap parking, but people visiting town would actually be prepared to pay a bit more. Currently most of the car parks are 30p an hour, which is very good value.

Following the report, the parking working party made a number of recommendations to the Town Council. At last week’s council meeting, the council voted to send those recommendations (with a few minor modifications) to Calderdale Council for their consideration. The main recommendations are as follows.

  • A review of car parking charges throughout Hebden Bridge, and a proportionate reduction in car parking charges for residents of Hebden Royd and surrounding villages
  • Residents protected parking times be reduced so that non-residents can park in residents spaces between the hours of 8am and 4pm [when many residents are at work]
  • The need for Calderdale MBC to work with Network Rail to extend car parking at the railway station, in line with the recommendations of the Department for Transport’s (2009) Better Rail Stations
  • The improvement of long and short-stay parking signage in the town centre
  • An investigation of ways in which local residents can be encouraged to walk or cycle, e.g. pavement displays of journey walking/cycling times to town centre/railway station, and greater promotion of Hebden Bridge as being easily accessible by public transport

It will be interesting to see what comes back from Calderdale. Unfortunately they don’t have a great record at replying to our requests on traffic issues!

A big development which will be happening in Hebden Bridge over the next few years is the redevelopment of the Town Hall, which today passed into the hands of Hebden Bridge Community Association. They have all sorts of exciting plans for extending the building, but strangely no provision for more parking. They say:

Our plans – if we can find the funding to implement them – will mean building on land which is currently used for car parking. […] We don’t yet know whether some or all of the current car parking places are likely to be lost. We anticipate that the seven places at the side will go, and some of those at the rear (facing the old health centre). We may be able to retain some limited parking.

I disagree with this approach and have responded to their consultation as follows.

I think the redevelopment of the Town Hall is an ideal opportunity to get some underground car parking in the new part of the development. If you’re trying to attract small businesses, people working in them will in many cases need somewhere to park, especially if they’re coming from rural areas not easily accessible by public transport. Your approach misses a golden opportunity to get a few more car parking spaces in a central part of town. Improving parking elsewhere would be welcome, but if you’re removing existing spaces, I really think you should look at providing an equivalent number elsewhere on site. Underground car parks work well in other places and can be built as part of a new development but not retro-fitted afterwards!

I’m all for encouraging use of public transport, but the fact remains that many people in rural areas rely on their cars to get to places. It will be interesting to see how things develop.

I can’t write a post about parking without mentioning Hebden Bridge’s most controversial proposed development in 30 years – the Garden Street development. It would put a multi-storey car park on the site of the existing Garden Street Car Park, but pay for it with a massive development on top. Whilst I wouldn’t object to seeing some development on the site, the proposals were simply too big – the Calderdale planners thought so, and their decision was upheld on appeal. Will the developers come back with a revised proposal? Only time will tell.

Youth in Hebden Bridge – not all bad news!

The young people of Hebden Bridge have not had the best of press recently. This week, The Times published an article alleging (without statistics) that the town has one of the highest suicide rates in England. This follows a previous article in the Independent on Sunday, and a general perception amongst certain sections of the population that youngsters in the town spend most of their evenings drinking and taking drugs, leading to dependency, social meltdown, and eventually death.

Whilst there certainly are young people drinking and taking drugs in Hebden, in my experience it’s not much worse than anywhere else. The smell of grass on the town’s streets – and I don’t mean the freshly mown variety – is no worse than in suburban Cheshire where I lived before moving here.

However, there is a bit of a problem with things to do for under-18s. There is very little provision in terms of live music, as the local live music club (Trades Club) has a policy of not hosting performances by young rock bands or DJs, and not allowing under 18s to Friday or Saturday night gigs. There is not really anywhere for young people to go with lighting and shelter. There is a youth club one night a week but that’s not for everybody. We do have an excellent cinema but on the surface of things that’s about it.

It’s important to say that the drugs issue is not being ignored, with Calderdale MBC working together with other organisations like Lifeline Calderdale / Step 2 to help address these issues.

Back to young people, though. Just before I was elected 18 months ago, the Town Council set up a Young People’s Working Party. One of the campaigning Focus leaflets for my election (see pic) focused on the issue of youth provision and I was pleased that Hebden Royd were doing something about it. Unfortunately that incarnation of the working party didn’t really get anywhere. However, in late 2009, things started moving again. The indomitable Lesley Jones resurrected the working party and we held a small meeting with Calderdale MBC Youth Workers and a few other organisations providing young people’s services.

One of the ideas that was raised was that of auditing youth provision in Hebden Royd, and getting everyone together for a big youth day on Calder Holmes Park later in the year. The second meeting was held this week, and I was expecting the same small bunch of people. I was surprised and extremely pleased when the committee room filled up… and people kept arriving. People were literally sharing chairs and sitting on other items of furniture. Not only were there representatives of loads of local organisations, as well as Hebden Royd Town Councillors and Calderdale MBC Youth Workers, but around a dozen young people as well. I wish I’d had my camera to take a photo for the press release!

Lesley somehow managed to keep the meeting on track and we heard from the young folk there as well as the adults. They raised issues like a lack of access to gigs and sports, as well as a general lack of things to do and places to hang out. A separate steering committee – led by the young people – has been set up to plan the event in Calder Holmes Park, and will invite anyone and everyone working with young people in the area, from skateboarders to the woodcraft folk, to be a part of it. The main working party will continue to review and hopefully move forward other youth provision.

One of the groups represented at the meeting was Project X, a social enterprise recently formed to work with young people in the Upper Calder Valley. On Friday, they held a fund-raising gig at the Trades Club (no under 18s allowed!) featuring local North-African band Maghribibeat. I went along and had a great time. The main band were good but they were followed, unexpectedly, by Recorded Filth, a group of local youngsters who were much more interesting. Their performance ranged from performance poetry through rap (in both English and French) to R’n’B/soul, including a stunning version of Bring It On Home to Me. And where else but Hebden Bridge would a group encore with a comic rap about Necrophilia?!

It was a great night, and goes to show that local youngsters do much more than just hang round on street corners smoking and drinking. I am hopeful that, with the involvement of local young people, Hebden Royd Town Council can help improve youth provision in the area and hopefully prevent future generations from going off the rails.

Edit 16 February 2010: Anthony Rae has dug out some official suicide statistics for the area which do not support the sensationalist headline in The Times, although it must be stressed that the figures are so low that drawing any kind of serious conclusion is impossible. Also, they presumably don’t include any deaths due to accidental drug or alcohol overdoses.

Hebden Royd Budget 2010/11

Hebden Royd Town Hall

Last week Hebden Royd Town Council agreed the budget for 2010/11, which is almost entirely funded by council tax payers in our area. The budget agreed is a total of £277,100, up from £255,600 in 2009/10. Taking into account our bank balance at the end of the financial year, and the grant of £8,941 from Calderdale MBC, the cost to a council tax payer in a band D property is estimated to be £58.64 over the whole year, a 0.7% increase on last year.

All the Lib Dem councillors supported this budget, and I personally am extremely happy with the final figures that were put together. Many Labour councillors also supported it, although a few – predictably – wanted a larger raise. Neither of the independent councillors were present at the meeting.

I have campaigned in the past for low council tax increases, and keeping the increase to less than 1% without any cuts is a great achievement. The country is only just emerging from the recession, and many people are struggling to pay bills, so a raise of much more than this would be hard to justify.

So what do the council tax payers of Hebden Royd get for their hard earned cash?

The biggest spend outside of staff salaries is the £60,000 allocation for grants for community groups, a £5,000 increase from last year. These grants are extremely popular and enable many groups in the area to complete small projects. £25,000 has been allocated for environmental projects, and £10,000 for Christmas lights – although a large chunk of this will be taken up simply storing and putting up/taking down the lights we already have. £10,500 will go towards celebrations of the 500th Anniversary of Hebden Bridge this year, and £3,000 for the associated twinning events, as residents of both Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise (France) and Warstein (Germany) are visiting over the course of the year. The £30,000 we already have allocated for resurfacing the unadopted Central Street will remain, although we are struggling to get the help required from Calderdale MBC to see this one through. To balance the spend across the council area, £9,500 has been allocated for Mytholmroyd Memorial Gardens.

Finally – and as chair of the committee in question I am particularly pleased – we have increased the allotments budget to £7,500, in order to support three prospective projects across Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge which will hopefully be coming to fruition in 2010 and 2011. There is a real desire for new allotments in the area, not least because the majority of our houses don’t have gardens, and I’m hopeful that we will finally manage to get some more plots available. Allotments are one of the few things for which Town and Parish Councils are actually responsible. The lack of them is something we can’t blame on Calderdale MBC!

In the past, the budget has been decided at a somewhat acrimonious meeting of full council. This year, each committee made a recommendation for their own budget, and the Strategy & Review committee pulled together all of the recommendations, made a few tweaks, and produced a recommended budget for full council to approve. This worked extremely well, and enabled both Lib Dem and Labour councillors to have their say. However, the debate approving the budget at full council was rather short. I personally would have liked a longer debate with perhaps the chair of each committee outlining their plans rather than just waving through the recommendations. It worked out well in the end, though.

One final note – again this year, no one from the local media turned up to the budget meeting. Perhaps the discussion on how to spend over a quarter of a million pounds of tax payers money wasn’t of any interest to them?

Expenses and attendance

A certain “they’re only in it for themselves” attitude seems to infuse many people’s attitudes to politicians these days. A few months after being elected as a councillor, I went on a trip – at my own expense – to Hebden Bridge’s twin town of Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise. A friend’s immediate reaction when I mentioned that I was going was to ask if it was a council-funded jolly. In fact it cost me £75.

To set the record straight, the only Hebden Royd Town Councillor who receives an allowance is the mayor, with the deputy mayor also receiving some limited expenses. Additionally, the council occasionally pays for some councillors to attend training courses.

Just to make it completely clear, I have added a page to this website detailing what I have and (more frequently) have not received as a councillor, including a list of trips attended as a councillor at my own expense.

I have also added details of my council attendance. This is a somewhat thornier issue for town councillors! I am sad to say that I have never seen all eighteen Hebden Royd Town Councillors present in the council chamber at the same time. Councillor attendance records are published in the Town Talk newsletter, available from the council website. My own attendance is pretty good, although I didn’t quite manage 100% last year (2009) due to a holiday and meetings clashing with other things. Still, 21 out of 23 meetings is not bad. Congratulations to Cllr. Lesley Jones (Lib Dem) and Cllr. Dave Young (Labour) who both managed 100% attendance. At my suggestion, the latest figures list full council and committee attendance separately.

It is interesting to see that committee attendance ranges from 0 (two councillors) to 22 meetings (Cllr. Robin Dixon). Full council attendance also ranges from 2 to 11. Two meetings a year is the minimum attendance necessary to stay on the council as, by law, if a councillor does not attend for six months then he or she is automatically thrown off. Even though we’re all volunteers on Hebden Royd, in my opinion anyone with such a poor attendance record should consider very seriously whether they are adequately representing the people who voted for them. Of course, if some councillors attend no committee meetings, the net result is that the rest of us have to attend more.

What about Calderdale councillors? Some councils, for example nearby Kirklees, publish very comprehensive details of who is paid how much for doing what. Unfortunately Calderdale’s equivalent page is much less impressive and, importantly, doesn’t name names. For any given councillor, it is extremely hard to work out how much they have received. I am a strong believer in open democracy, and find it quite shocking that this information is not readily available on Calderdale’s website. If anyone else has better luck looking for it then please let me know!

2010: A great year for Hebden Bridge

Chris at the bridge

As 2010 begins, I am looking forward to a great year for Hebden Bridge for many reasons, but two in particular, both of which involve Hebden Royd Town Council.

Firstly, it is the 500th anniversary of the bridge from which the town takes its name. Well, approximately. The bridge was built in c.1510, so we’re having our celebrations this year. It replaced an earlier wooden bridge and has been repaired several times since. If you’re visiting, look out for three carved stones which mark the repairs. The Victorians raised the parapet (an early example of health and safety?) but apart from that it has remained largely unchanged.

Hebden Royd Town Council convened a working party, which has subsequently morphed into a committee comprising Councillors, including myself, and many other key people from the town. We are working to improve the bridge’s environment, including reducing the size of some of the self-seeded trees in the river, improvements to Old Gate, and flags and banners – very sensitively designed – to be installed for a limited period later in the year.

Of course, many local people and organisations are organising events this year. Either special events to commemorate the anniversary, or regular annual events with a special 2010 theme. The committee has done its best to co-ordinate events so that, for example, a children’s choir doesn’t try to sing from the bridge at the same time as a civil war re-enactment takes place. The calendar is kept up-to-date at the Hebden Bridge 500 website. Hebden Royd Town Council is organising several events itself, notably those involving the visitors from our twin towns of St. Pol (France) and Warstein (Germany), as well as a special commemoration event on 20 June which will be… Well, let’s just say it will certainly involve a surprise or two.

The other exciting event which is happening this year is the transfer of the town hall in Hebden Bridge from Calderdale Council’s ownership to a local community-based organisation formed to take over its management. Prior to 1974, the town hall was owned by Hebden Royd Urban District council. It then passed into Calderdale’s hands, and has been allowed to slowly deteriorate ever since. Hebden Royd Town Council is the main tenant, with offices as well as regular use of the council chamber and meeting rooms. However, several surrounding parishes also meet there, Calderdale have some offices, there is a small business in an attic room, and Hebden Bridge Youth Theatre/Light Opera use the upstairs hall at the back.

There were two applications for the asset transfer process – Hebden Bridge Community Association applied to take over the whole site, and the Youth Theatre/Light Opera put in their own bid for the rear part only. Fortunately the community application won through, and is one of the first asset transfers of this type to be approved in the country. I know the trustees will work hard with all existing tenants in their exciting plans to refurbish the existing building, and ultimately expansion into the neighbouring car park. As part of this, an Audit of Internal Architectural Historical Characteristics [PDF] was carried out of all the nooks and crannies of the place. It’s a fascinating read for architecture fanatics like myself. Spot the reference to the wonderful first floor Victorian gents which has survived.

Hebden Royd Town Council recently became a member of the community association – a little on the late side, I felt, but better late than never. I have personally been a member since the association was launched.

So, to summarise, it’s a great year to visit, and for two of the town’s best known landmarks. Come and see what’s happening – although probably best wait until all the snow and ice has melted first!

Edit 8 January 2010: Removed an incorrect statement about HRTC paying rent to the Community Association for use of the building. Janet Battye has pointed out that as part of the asset transfer, Calderdale Council have agreed to pay the rent due for parish councils.

Why start this blog?

I moved to Hebden Bridge exactly two years ago today. When I moved, I would never have predicted that I’d be elected to the Town Council in less than a year, become chair of the local branch of Liberal Democrats, and campaign organiser for our Parliamentary candidate.

One of the things that frustrates me most about the Town Council is how little the community know and appreciate about what we do. All the councillors are volunteers, and (apart from the mayor) receive no allowances. Most of us give up lots of evenings to attend meetings and events, occasionally at our own expense. The media don’t seem interested – the local newspaper print our press releases more or less verbatim, and the local news website report what we do occasionally, but I have never seen a journalist at any of our meetings, not even the budget meeting where we decide how much council tax to collect from residents. Our annual  turnover is around a quarter of a million pounds, hardly small change.

I have done my best to keep in touch with my own ward through Focus leaflets (which I’ve paid for), but they are expensive, slow to deliver, and only cover a small part of the council area. I’m hoping this blog will provide more information on what we do on a vaguely regular basis to whoever is interested. I’ll also comment on national issues that catch my eye, or that I have some involvement with.

Assuming that I follow my plan to publish articles once a week or so, and don’t just give up in boredom, I will begin to publicise the blog in early 2010. Readers’ comments are welcome!