Friday, March 19, 2010


March 10: The Guardian has a feature where it examines a town or suburb and this week it was Huddersfield's turn. But a favourable article was ruined by the headline and comment - 'The New Leeds'.

Writer Tom Dyckhoff decided to visit the town for rather strange reasons - a co-operative of artisan bakers featured on Radio 4, a grow-your-own veg community (I think Todmorden did this first) and the good schools. Very Guardiany - shame there were no sandal shops or he'd be frothing in his goatee.

He rightly praised the buildings, the Pennines on our doorstep, the great train services and the mild in the Rat and Ratchet. On a more obscure note he also liked the leftiness and the music scene (nothing out of the ordinary for me) and the property prices.

There was mention of the excellent Coffee Revolution, although nowt about the best caff in Byram Arcade and best restaurant the Thai Sakon.

But then he mentioned the dread words - the new Leeds. Huddersfield's appeal is precisely because it's not Leeds. Smart yellow brick for Huddersfield, dreary red brick for Leeds; countryside in Huddersfield, a few shabby parks in Leeds. While Leeds has a decent selection of boozers, Huddersfield's are better and it also has its own breweries.

There's also a sense that Leeds is constantly overblowing its assets (Harvey Nicks and the arcades). Let's face it, it's just a puffed-up town surrounded by grubby suburbs.

Photo: Me

Oct 09 update: St George's Square, in Huddersfield, is finally finished - £1m over budget and a year late.

I think it looks marvellous, especially at night with the fountains and coloured lights outside the train station. Yes the fountains did appear - although there's no indication they are there when the water's off. The trees opposite the George Hotel were also planted (no flowerbeds though).

The Examiner says the whole thing cost £4m and is seven months late. I think it's about a year to be honest - when Kirklees Council asked people to choose options on designs for the square, it said it would be finished in 'autumn 2008'

Worth £4m? Mmm, I'm not sure - the sqaure wasn't too shabby before. It's a bit like gilding a lily. As usual, the serial moaners who write to the Examiner don't like it, but then they probably complained when outdoor toilets were knocked down. The new layout does seem to have thrilled younger people in the town, though.

The original idea to change the layout of the square appears to come from (unelected) development agency Yorkshire Forward which is offering £6m for the 'renaissance' of Huddersfield.

Besides the square, they want the warehouse opposite the train station to be redeveloped, a link from the warehouse to the square, improvement of St Peter's gardens, the library and market, and development of the Waterfront Quarter.

"The vision is of a town where people can move about easily, with high-quality buildings rising above a lively and busy place," Yorkshire Forward says.

This 'vision' has been developed with town planners from Milton Keynes David Lock who were involved in sprucing up Holbeck, Leeds.

Yorkshire Forward is giving £31.5m to Barnsley, £13.5m to Wakefield and £3.5m to Halifax to revamp their towns.

Does Kirklees Council have to accept this cash and these ideas or risk losing funding? It's difficult to tell but I think the new square is a success.

Sept 09: In 2007 Kirklees Council announced plans to redevelop St George's Square in front of the train station. It gave people three options and 67 per cent voted for Option 1, pictured above.

But two-and-a-half years on and a year late the refurbishment, due to be completed next month, looks nothing like Option 1 - no fountains in front of the station or trees at the top of the picture opposite the George Hotel.

There's a ruddy great fountain there now, under wraps still, so it's hard to tell if the refurbishment has been worth it. One councillor is also saying the whole project cost £4m instead of £3m and is wondering why it looks nothing like Option 1. The council has agreed to hold an inquiry to discuss his points.

Better news 'on the waterfront' - Kirklees College has received government funding to move its campus behind the Rat and Ratchet on Chapel Hill. It's the proposed centrepiece of a waterfront quarter of flats and offices. The college will have to come up with a cheaper plan but without the funding the whole 'quarter' would have been mothballed.

Apr 09: I entered this pic in the Capture Manchester competition, organised by CUBE (Centre for the Urban Built Environment) in Manchester. Organisers wanted to capture the spirit of Manchester in postcard-size pics.

I didn't win but there were more than 600 entries and some corkers too.
  • Eight of the 10 winning entries are here

  • An exhibition, featuring all entrants, was at the CUBE gallery in Portland Street for a couple of weeks until April 18 and this picture and all the others will feature in a book. I'm not sure my pic has captured the spirit of Manchester, but I'd walked past Victoria hundreds of times without noticing all the place names outside, until last year. Newcastle, Hull, Belgium are three places you can't get to from Victoria anymore - and they just sound funny together.

    Apr 09: A year on from all the building plans and developments in Huddersfield, it's all gone horribly wrong for the town, with St George's Square development near the station lambasted, delayed and possibly over-budget, the Waterfront Quarter in trouble over funding and the council's plan to revamp the town centre (Queensgate) on hold.

    I still think St George's will look good in the end, but it was due to finish in autumn 2008, then February this year, then the contractors went bust in March and building work stopped for almost a month until the council took over.

    It's now looking like May for a finishing date, over a year since works started on the scheme to build a fountain, re-pave the square, close and re-route roads, put in trees and seating, and move Harold Wilson's statue.

    The council won't say if it will go over the £4m budget. It's getting most of the cash from development agency Yorkshire Forward.

    There's been a big hoo-ha about the replacement of some of the distinctive yellow Yorkshire paving stones with multi-coloured bricks, but for me the most annoying thing is the way pedestrians have been coralled and herded into narrow spaces, dangerously close to roads - all for a scheme that's meant to benefit pedestrians!

    Perhaps the biggest shock is the threat to the Waterfront Quarter, on a section of land behind and next to the Rat and Ratchet pub covering Sellers Engineering.

    Approved plans include flats and offices and a new £70m campus for Kirklees College - the latter is the centrepiece of the scheme but it may not receive money from the Learning and Skills Council. It's one of 79 building projects that have been put on hold because of a shortage of cash at the council. The government will decide this month what to do with these projects. Work was due to start this year.

    Meanwhile the £200m Queensgate scheme to transform part of the town centre is in the balance because of the recession.

    Kirklees Council needs £50m of private investment to help finance the plan, which includes a new library, art gallery and information centre, a three-storey department store, 100-bed hotel, 100 homes, a new market hall, bars, restaurants and up to 900 parking spaces, on a site that includes the market hall, the multi-storey car park, the former Co-operative store and buildings on New Street.

    Finally, no developments on the plan to turn the big railway warehouse into houses and offices, while there's no start date for Kingsgate mall expansion.

    Some info: Huddersfield Examiner

    March 08:
    Kingsgate expansion: Kirklees Council reject £50m extension to Kingsgate shopping centre. It would involve building one department store (M&S) and six other stores, creating 400 jobs behind Parish Pump pub. Councillors reject it because it would threaten their own:

    £200m Queensgate scheme: Plans include a major department store, 160 new shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, 170 residential flats and a 100-bed hotel. The market hall would be modernised and an underground car park would be built. A planning application has been submitted for this.

    A new library and art gallery would be built at the corner of Princess Alexandra Walk and Peel Street, while the existing library would be refitted for shops and leisure facilities. An application for this has yet to be submitted.

    Kingsgate man says Queensgate won't be ready for another 10 years. Council fears Kingsgate would steal its retailers and draw shoppers from other areas of town.

    I favour the council here although Queensgate is a bit bland - they need to follow Sheffield's lead and put some exciting public buildings/public art there.

    Tesco/Sports centre: A new sports centre on the car park opposite The Grove Inn, a new Tesco on the site of the old sports centre and surrounding flats, plus housing, offices, shops and a hotel on the site of the old Tesco.

    No planning applications submitted but council cabinet approves as deal means a spanking new sports centre. Mmm...what about democracy? MP Barry Sheerman's concerned and wants more talks. I think Tesco are pretty good but enormously powerful and I fear the council can't say no to this.

    £150m waterfront quarter: Offices, apartments, cafes and a new main campus for Huddersfield Technical College on a triangle of land between Manchester Road, Chapel Hill and the River Colne, behind the Rat and Ratchet on land owned by Sellers Engineering Ltd and Kirklees Council.

    An outline scheme was put forward two years ago, the scheme has been changed to replace three office buildings with the college. The buildings are up to six storeys high. If approval is granted, work could start next February.

    This looks like a great scheme, improving shabby land and opening up the canal.

    Info: Examiner

    Feb 08: After a year of uncertainty Manchester's quirky den of shops, Afflecks Palace, has been saved.

    There had been fears that owners Burntwood would not renew the lease and the stallholders would be priced out by higher rents. But Burntwood has bought the emporium, has promised to keep it as it is, and is looking for new managers.

    Hurrah - if it was in Leeds it would be turned into bland yuppie flats.

    Jan 08: Kirklees council has paid £2m for one of Huddersfield's most distinctive buildings - the old Co-op - to knock it down.

    The New Street building, with its Co-op stone sign, was Heaven and Hell nightclub for two years but has empty for the last year. It opened as a Co-op textiles department in 1936.

    A firm had wanted to convert it into student flats but has pulled and now the council has stepped in to buy it for £2m and knock it down to make way for the Queensgate redevelopment - which involves buolding a new library and art gallery, putting shops in the old library, attracting a major retailer for a department store, plus 160 new shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, 170 residential flats and a 100-bed hotel. No planning application has been submitted.

    The Co-op's looking fairly shabby now but it easily the best looking building in that part of town. A listing application failed in 2005. Shame the sign at least cannot be preserved.

    MEANWHILE The owner of Destiny Designwear, next to the cobbled track to the train station, intends to build a £1.5m new store on the site.

    The new store, which is as yet unnamed, will have four floors of designer brands and exclusive clothing for men and women. There will also be space for concessions, a cafe and the possibility of a restaurant.

    The drawings look very handsome indeed and in keeping with its Victorian surrounds.

    Owner Ghulam Rasool told the Examiner: “My vision is to make this the best independent department store in the area.

    “It will give this corner of the town a total facelift and make it so much more welcoming for shoppers.

    “I am doing it for Huddersfield – I was born here, I love this place and I want people to have something better."

    Jan 2008: Manchester's fabulous shopping emporium could close this weekend (19-20 Jan 08).

    Managers of the building say they haven't received a new tenancy agreement from the building's owners Burntwood and have given shopowners notice to quit.

    Burntwood say they offered a new agreement but negotiations have stalled. However building managers claim that Burntwood could raise the rent and price out shop owners.

    I'm probably too old for Afflecks with its trendy clothes but it's a real Aladdins cave of curios and a great advert for manchester amid the corporate samey big shop blandness.

    Dec 07: Wannabe London Leeds is about to get rid of another of its institutions by chucking out all the independent and quirky retailers and craftspeople in the Corn Exchange and turning it into in 'upmarket food emporium' (Jesus and Mary Chain).

    According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, the shop owners were told the centre had become 'unviable'. Some said they had been given until January 14 to move out and those with longer contracts had until May.

    Although Leeds City Council owns the building, it is leased to Zurich Assurance in an agreement spanning more than 100 years, so the authority has no control over the plans (oh how convenient)

    The proposals include opening a high-profile restaurant on the ground floor, with premium local, national and international produce on sale on the first floor and units selling related non-food cookware type goods on the upper floor. Talks are already under way with potential operators, including 'a number of branded restaurant occupiers'. (Hurrah! The same food places as everywhere else).

    If that wasn't bad enough, the craft businesses with Saturday stalls have been told not to come back. They were expecting to trade seven days a week throughout December as in previous years and make most of their money during this time.

    Well done Zurich! (The firm that shut down its insurance business in Leeds a few years ago leaving hundreds out of work).

    The Corn Exchange is one of the few places that's unique to Leeds and turning into a mall is another nail in the coffin in the blandification of the city. And if you want decent food, why not go to Kirkgate Market next door - one of the finest in the country for fresh meat and fish.

    Pic: BBC

    Dec 07: The mighty supermarket empire wants to move next door but one to Sainsbury's on the outskirts of Huddersfield on the site of the town's sports centre, keep its existing store on the other side of the ringroad with a £26m new sports centre in Springwood.

    According to the Huddersfield Examiner, Tesco and Kirklees Council are in talks over a deal which would fund a new sports centre on current car parking land at Springwood.

    Two of the three tower blocks of flats in Leeds Road, Ibbotson and Lonsbrough, would be demolished as part of the plan.

    The new sports centre, planned to be open in 2011, would be funded by a combination of cash from the sale of the existing site, using council funds that would otherwise have to be spent on repairs to the sports centre and other buildings running into millions of pounds, and other council capital budgets.

    The council says it will consult on the options for re-housing tenants from Ibbotson and Lonsbrough Flats before a final decision is made.

    Mmm, no planning application yet but once Tesco get their teeth into something like this it's very difficult to stop, especially as the council will be saving millions. There's a danger that the supermarkets could drag more trade out of the town centre but let's face it there's only one bread shop and butcher's shop left in the town centre and they close by 5pm.

    April 07:One of Manchester's greatest attractions, Afflecks Palace, looks set to have been saved from development.

    Stallholders in the rabbit warren of quirky clothes, astrologers, barbers and second-hand gubbins feared the building would be redeveloped into swanky flats when they weren't offered a new lease.

    The city council stepped in to negotiate between the stallholders and the building's owners and a new lease has been offered. The owners say they have no plans to turn Afflecks into luxury housing.

    Rentaquote Councillor Pat Karney believes Afflecks is safe, however no details of rent rises have been released and the building's owners "cannot make any firm assurances"..mmm.

    Not surprisingly there has been a huge hoo-ha about the possible closure of Afflecks - it is a unique place to shop and a lovely building. Its loss would make Manchester a duller place, especially after the Corn Exchange (books and bootleg heaven) had to make way for the Triangle after the IRA bomb. Hurrah! More antiseptic clothes shops for anorexic footballers' wives.

    June 07 update: Still no new rental agreement with landlord and shop owners - they're getting worried again...

    Jan 2007, update:First impressions of a strange town are often formed by the first view you get as you step out of the train station. Your heart sinks when you enter Peterborough, Doncaster or Stafford but it soars when you leave Huddersfield station and marvel at its square of grand buildings and the stone lion on the roof of one. It's like being in Rome!

    Kirklees council wants to make St George's Square even more impressive by removing the road in front of the station and disused fountain and mini-roundabout at the end of the square (by the green bus in the council's picture above), extending the pedestrianised part to cover it, restricting traffic on the road the bus is using, and adding more bus stops.

    The council asked developers to come up with three options for the redesign and asked the public to choose the best. The work will be completed in autumn 2008.

    The winner, with 67 per cent of the public vote is....Option 1. Hurrah!
    Option 1:

    This is my favourite although it involves moving the Harold Wilson statue in front of the station entrance to the centre of the square and replacing him with fountains in front and adding trees elsewhere. I like the way they've used the space for different features here, the other designs make the square seem a little barren.

    Option 2 (16 per cent of votes):

    Corporate bollocks alert! "St George's Square links the train station with the town and connects travellers with other modes of transport. Option 2, called Pennine Arrival, takes this idea of connection to create strong lines of paving and movement through the square."
    Movement of what? People? They move there already! There'll also be lights and fountains in the ground.

    Option 3 (6 per cent of votes):

    Bit of a seated area and circular stream-type water feature on the old fountain site.

    Pictures from:

    Kirklees Council site

    Oct 2006: Transforming the library and market area of Huddersfield is the latest scheme cooked up by the council. Officers had suggested knocking down the library and market in 2004 but both buildings have since been listed.

    There was a hue and cry (not the one-hit wonder Scottish band), especially about the library, and in truth the area around these two buildings is ok at the moment but the council wants to attract shoppers away from Leeds and elsewhere so it proposes:

  • A 100-bed hotel in the old Co-op building (recently a nightclub) next to the ringroad

  • A walkway over the ring road linking the town centre and the university on the other side of the road. (Another two-tier walkway linking the area with the rest of town)

  • A new library and art gallery, retaining the external appearance of the existing building, with shops and a health club upstairs (see top picture - glass building at far end)

  • Sixty shops (including big department stores) and 170 flats

  • Demolition of the Queensgate multi-storey car park

    Plenty of turquoise glass covering the walkways and the rest of the buildings, forming a sort of semi-covered shopping mall - pretty but fairly unadventurous and it's hard to see why the scheme will cost £200m.

    The council are asking for comments on
  • Kirklees Council site


  • A huge warehouse next to Huddersfield station, which has been empty for 30 years, is to be converted into 70 flats, offices, shops and even a hotel from next year as part of a £50m development. Planning permission was granted in August 2006 and its should be finished by December 2008.

  • The grey slabby high risers making up Huddersfield Technical College (next to the ring road) could be coming down. A plan has been submitted although the college has found out there are mineshafts under most of the college and they might have to move sites.

  • The owners of the Kingsgate shopping centre want to expand and build a second floor with space for bigger stores.

    A George Formby statue and some Wigan insults

    July 2006: It's been years since I saw Wigan on a gloriously sunny day. I only tend to visit for rugby league matches and beer festivals when it's either dark or raining, but when I visited this month (July) it looked - not beautiful exactly - but spruced up, vibrant and not as down-at-heel as I remember it.

    I always thought it was one of those towns where they'd ripped out the heart and replaced it with identikit shopping centres, but apart from the market you do notice that a lot of the old-fashioned mock Tudor buildings and fancy brickwork remain, above ground level at least (see picture).

    They're building a new shopping centre on the street where the cinema and Wigan casino used to be. It doesn't look to be any great shakes but hopefully it'll provide a different variety to the town's shops, maybe a decent book or record shop for example.

    As long the shops don't see off Smith's (THE Smith's not the WH upstart) which is still thriving selling much the same stuff as its mainstream namesake.

    As for pubs, the Bricklayers, near the bus station, is still boarded up. It's a handsome building, narrow but with four big bay windows. Next door the Colliers, with its purple-tiled exterior, looks closed and round the corner the Raven has a to let sign outside it. The Raven is a grand brownstone building but the ale was always very ordinary when I visited years ago.

    Perhaps all three pubs are suffering from the effect of the massive Moon under the Water Wetherspoon's in their midst, or maybe it's the Anvil - officially Wigan's best real ale pub and a great place to watch rugby league.

    I ended my Swiggin in Wiggin (the name of Wigan's Camra mag) here watching Saints v Leeds (there was surprisingly little anti-Saints feeling, more old blokes moaning about the ref - surprise, surprise)

    I started my mini crawl at the Old Pear Tree, the Camra pub of the season in Wigan which also has a to let sign on. I moved on to the Royal Oak in that impressive part of Standishgate which features Camberwick Green-type Georgian houses.

    The Royal Oak is opposite the Griffin, once owned by Billy Boston, arguably the greatest rugby league player ever, with an incredible turn of speed and ability to avoid tackles that left the opposition players in slow motion. I interviewed him once and he was such a humble, almost timid, man as if he couldn't see what the fuss was all about. But in football terms he's the equivalent of Bobby Charlton and Pele.

    Further up the roads is my own favourite, the Bowling Green - a great winter pub with its log fires, and opposite is The Millstone which was once owned by my great Auntie Annie. Further up out of town was her daughter's woolshop which looked exactly like the one in Wallace and Gromit's A Close Shave (another Wigan connection for the duo perhaps - the council are claiming they live in Wigan because of an A-Z in their latest film!)

    While swiggin' in the boozers, I had a chance to read the papers I used to work for (or for whom I used to work, if I was being a pedantic sub) - the Wigan Observer and Wigan Evening Post. Good to see Richard Bean's by-line still in there. Beano is one of those tremendous characters who has two modes - joking or ranting - and a vast cast of contacts to help him get the nitty-gritty stories which make Wigan tick.

    He seems like a relic of the past now where everyone is encouraged to be a happy-clappy yes man/woman, supporting your employers as if they are your favourite football team, even if they could sack you tomorrow.

    I remember Beano's stint as editor of Steam Railway News, which he did in tandem with his reporting, when he used to get calls from lonely trainspotters on some godforsaken platform shrieking to an orgasmic intensity about the shunting engine they'd just seen.

    Geoffrey Shryhane's still got his column. His beard is grey now but he's still got his beaming smile as if he's just polished off a large chocolate eclair. (He also lives next door to my wool shop-owning relative)

    It was his idea to erect a statue to George Formby in Wigan, sparking a tremendous letter in the Observer from JJ Kenyon from Beech Hill. Here's some extracts: "The last thing Wigan needs is a monument to that grinning oaf.

    "His raucous singing, grating voice, inane grin, horrible, unfunny films, and constant twanging on the most unmelodic instrument ever invented, scraped on the nerves like a hollow tooth and made George the worst artist this country has ever produced.

    "All he did for Wigan was perpetuate the myth of cobbles, shawls and clogs."

    Mr/Ms Kenyon suggests a statue to Billy Boston instead. I'm a fan of George, he makes me laugh and some of his songs are great, but I think Mr/Ms Kenyon's right - he'll perpetuate the myth of t' Northern cliche (just Pier).

    I recently found out that my great grandad and great-great aunt played in a trio with George Formby Senior before he was "famous" and he asked them to join him professionally but my great granddad carried on running the Minorca Hotel in Wigan.

    Other pub connections: My great-great uncle Joe ran the Springfield Hotel, in Wigan, in the early 1900s, my great-great grandparents were in charge of the Navigation in Gathurst and my great-great grandparents on the other side took over the Royal Oak, in Crooke. Beer's in the genes!

    Found some great Wigan words and phrases on the Wigan Shades site.
    Here's some insults:

    To someone who’s ugly:
    Who knitted thi face an dropped a stitch?

    To someone with a terrible memory:
    It’s a good job thi balls are in a bag

    To someone who’s miserable:
    Thaz a face lihk a line of wet washin

    To someone who’s going bald:
    Ah’ve sin moor air on bacon than thaz geet on thi yed

    To someone with large teeth:
    Art brakinum in fer an orse?

    To someone chatty:
    Ah bet thi teeths glad when thar asleep

    To someone who’s loud:
    Yon mon con whisper o'er three fields

  • Wigan Shades

  • Pictures from

  • Wigan World - great archive site

  • And

  • The George Formby Society

    Brilliant ideas, ground down by cash and conformity

    Barnsley as a Tuscan town: Surrounded by a wall wide enough to walk on, which lights up to form a halo. Looks unlikely at the moment.

    A lake in the middle of Bradford: In the shape of a speech bubble, outside the town hall as part of an urban park. He also wants to open up a canal which runs underground through the centre. Consultants say a lake could be built outside the town hall. Detailed plans for water features running through the city were submitted in March. Outline plans for a canalside village in the centre, by reopening parts of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, were submitted in November.

    Houses shaped like chips, Manchester: Next to the Ashton canal in "New Islington" (near old Ancoats). Three huge chips with newspaper wrapping exteriors. These are on sale (

    A city along the M62 from Hull to Liverpool: SuperCity featured in an exhibition in Urbis 2005, in Manchester. Idea is to preserve green areas by putting houses, shops along the motorway. Buildings include a high-rise village for 5,000 people, a multistorey vertical farm with a market at ground level and a restaurant on top, and a block of flats shaped like Marge Simpson's hair. Drawing board stage only.

    Peckham Library: The building that probably made his name, in this country at least. A rectangular box on stilts with a garish Library sign on the top. Transformed a shitty area of London and won a major architecture prize in 2000.

    Fourth Grace - The Cloud: A 10-storey globe, described as a diamond knuckleduster, was meant to be a key element of Liverpool City of Culture 2008 bid but public cash backers feared it would cost too much and pulled out in 2004. Never mind - if you want to see real Liverpool culture go down to Flanagan's near the cavern at 5.30pm when there's a blues band on and everyone's rocking like it's 2am.

    Some info from

  • The Guardian

  • Bradford T and A


    A £175m scheme to transform a 12-acre site near Huddersfield town centre into "The Waterfront Quarter", with 500 apartments, offices, shops, restaurants, and a hotel, has been given conditional permission by Kirklees Council.

    Approval will be granted towards the end of the year (2006) on the site bounded by Chapel Hill, Manchester Road and The River Colne, providing agreement can be reached on how much developers will pay towards the cost of road improvements around the site.

    RCD, who are handling the development, reckon 2,000 construction, office and retail jobs will be created. The apartments are aimed at "young professionals".

    The site (see top picture) is primarily occupied by Sellers Engineering and includes Kirklees Council premises at West Riding House together with Grey House Yard. Existing listed buildings fronting Chapel Hill, including the Rat and Ratchet pub, will be incorporated into the scheme. Most of the site is owned by Sellers.

    RCD have worked on retail and leisure complex The Light in Leeds and the city's Quarry Hill development of flats and offices.


  • RCD

    1. Anonymous11:16 PM

      Alsop's an idiot.

    2. You architectural Luddite Richard! I suppose you want everywhere to look like Leeds