REPORTS

 

54 years of celebrating, enhancing and safeguarding Halifax's built and natural environment.

2017 2016  2015  2014  2013  2012

2018 Annual Report

 

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT

Dr John A. Hargreaves

Halifax Civic Trust’s distinctive blue plaques commemorate the accomplishments of historically significant individuals from Halifax at locations associated with their achievements, and several new plaques have either been unveiled or will be unveiled during the current year. Moreover, when new plaques are placed the Halifax Civic Trust seeks to celebrate and understand more about the achievements of the individuals commemorated. Hence, when a plaque was unveiled last September at the Waterhouse Homes on Harrison Road, we celebrated with residents, staff and the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of Calderdale the life of Nathaniel Waterhouse, the Halifax merchant and benefactor, who lived in Halifax as long ago as 1586 to 1645, whose charitable foundation is still delivering care to older people nearly four centuries after his generous benefaction. Indeed, we invited Helen Caffrey a leading authority on almshouses to explain the significance of the Waterhouse homes in their wider historical context and why Halifax is so well-endowed with charitable foundations of this kind.

Moreover, this year Gwyneth Crawley, a member of the Civic Trust Executive Committee, liaised with the landlord of the Standard of Freedom and arranged a visit to the inn to explore the possibility of commemorating the Chartists of Skircoat Green, for whom the inn under its former name of the Waggoners’ Inn, was a hub of activity for the Chartists who held mass meetings on Skircoat Moor in support of the Chartist campaign for universal suffrage. Indeed, the well-known Halifax Chartist, Benjamin Wilson, was born and died in Skircoat Green, and his memoir The Life and Struggles of an Old Chartist reveals how he became a life-long campaigner for political rights and social justice. His life story which is still widely read, is one of the most detailed and evocative autobiographical accounts of a Chartist and Co-operator published anywhere. Hence, Halifax Civic Trust hopes to unveil a plaque on the Standard of Freedom in August commemorating Ben Wilson’s association with Chartism in Skircoat Green.  Moreover, since the centenary of women’s suffrage is also being commemorated this year the Halifax Civic Trust has supplied plaques commemorating women involved in this campaign, including Dinah Connelly, Laura Willson and Mary Alice Taylor, who all lived in Park Ward, which are scheduled to be unveiled on the day of the Halifax Trust annual general meeting at an event organised by Surraya Bibi.

The regular monthly Halifax Civic Trust Executive Committee Meetings, held here at Halifax Town Hall have been well attended throughout the year and have covered a wide range of issues relating to the Trust’s aims, namely the celebration, conservation and enhancement of Halifax’s outstanding built and natural environment. These meetings, which are open to anyone who wishes to attend, have been reinvigorated by the regular attendance of Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council’s Heritage Champion, Councillor Jill Smith-Moorhouse. We continue to respond to a wide range of conservation issues some arising from the regular scrutiny of planning applications led by June Paxton-White.

Besides commemorating the lives of individuals through our blue plaques, the Halifax Civic Trust flagship award scheme has enabled us to award three  plaques this year recognising the major refurbishments of the Halifax Piece Hall, which Halifax Civic Trust has also nominated for a National Civic Voice Award and also the neighbouring  Square Chapel and the refurbished Princess Buildings in the vicinity of Halifax Town Hall, which considerably enhances the setting of Charles Barry’s magnificent Town Hall and Halifax’s urban environment, which Ruth Harman’s recently published updated edition of Nicholas Pevsner’s classic survey of the town’s architecture has described as one of the finest examples of a Victorian town centre anywhere in Britain. Networking has continued throughout the year with several members attending the Halifax Urban renaissance Town Team meeting at Bankfield focussing on upgrading the hugely popular Eureka attraction and also improving access to Halifax Railway Station by utilising the outstanding Victorian Station designed by Thomas Butterworth. Members have also attended various meetings of the Yorkshire and Humberside Association of Civic Societies and Civic Voice, which are open to any of our members who wish to attend.

We remain grateful to members of the Halifax Civic Trust and members of the public, some of whom have attended our meetings to express their concerns about potential parking pressures for visitors to Joseph Paxton’s magnificent People’s Park on Park Road, where two of the main entrances are situated, if a proposed multi-occupant residential development in a former office building with limited parking is allowed to increase such pressures. This may also threaten the ambience of the road which provides an eastern backdrop to vistas from the terrace of the outstanding Victorian People’s Park. We are also grateful to others for drawing to our attention further concerns during the year including the deteriorating condition of the Victorian drinking fountain at Spring Edge and the need to ensure that the Halifax Civic Trust blue plaque commemorating the Halifax scientist Oliver Smithies, removed from Copley School prior to its demolition, is restored to the new building when it is completed.

We also visited the former A and B buildings at Dean Clough, recently re-furbished by  Covéa, which was awarded a Civic Trust award in 2017 and were conducted on a tour of the building by Malcolm Knutton, the insurance firm’s estates manager. The spacious, beautifully restored building preserving many original features, now accommodates 720 employees, 82 per cent of whom live in Halifax. A preceding walk led by David Hanson toured other buildings on the extensive Dean Clough site, which remains a huge asset to Halifax through the vision of Sir Ernest Hall, the Halifax Civic Trust’s President. The Halifax Civic Trust is also grateful to David Hanson for arranging our enjoyable annual Christmas social at La Cachette in Elland which besides an excellent meal also included musical entertainment by the Brighouse Bard.

We remain grateful to all the officers and civic trust members whose support has been invaluable in ensuring that we continue our vigilance in celebrating, enhancing and conserving Halifax’s remarkable heritage, not least to our devoted Secretary, June Paxton White, for co-ordinating the reports; Gill Hurl for producing the accounts and Richard Lister for independently examining the accounts over a number of years. Finally, we look forward this evening to hearing our guest speaker, Ruth Garrett, the Canal and River Trust heritage adviser, about the importance of waterways in which Calderdale is particularly well-endowed, in enhancing both the rural and urban environment.

 

HALIFAX CIVIC TRUST

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Thursday 4 May 2017, 7.30 pm

Halifax Town Hall, room D

M I N U T E S

 

1. The Mayor of Calderdale, Cllr Howard Blagbrough opened the meeting  and welcomed members and visitors. Apologies: C and S Harris.

 

2.  The minutes of the AGM held on 8 April 2016 were read by the secretary  June  Paxton-White. It was proposed by D. Glover, seconded by S.  Andrew that they be accepted as a correct record.  Carried unanimously.

 

3.  Chairman’s report: Dr J.A. Hargreaves

 

4.  In the absence of G. Hurl the treasurer’s report had been circulated.  It  was proposed by D. Weaver, seconded by S. Russell that it be accepted.  Carried unanimously.

 

5.  Election of officers:  the following offered themselves for re-election.

Chairman:     Dr. John A. Hargreaves    Vice-Chairman:  David Glover

Secretary:     June Paxton-White    Treasurer:          Gill Hurl

Membership Secretary: David Witcher   Publicity officer: David Glover

It was proposed by A. Fantom, seconded by J. Gaukroger that they be

 re-elected. Carried unanimously.

6.  Election of executive committee: the following offered themselves for re- election:  Sara Andrew, Eileen Connolly, Stuart Crowther, Gwyneth  Crawley, David Hanson, Susan Hargreaves, Susan Russell, Dee Weaver.  

It was proposed by D. Glover, seconded by  D.Hanson that they be re- elected. Carried unanimously.  The following new nomination to the  committee had been received: Alan Goodrum.  It was proposed by J.  Paxton-White, seconded  by S. Andrew that  he be appointed.  Carried  unanimously.

 

7.  2017 Halifax Civic Trust Awards :   David Hanson representing the sub- committee who had visited the site, introduced the sole award winner:  the  restoration and conversion to offices of A and B mills at Dean Clough.   The Mayor presented the plaque to the representative of COVEA.

 

8.  As there was no other business the Mayor closed the AGM.

A presentation on The Future of the Civic movement was given by Paul  Bedwell, a trustee of Civic Voice.  He was thanked by the Mayor.

 

TREASURER’S REPORT                          Gill Hurl

for year ended 31st March 2018

 

Book balances at 31st March 2018 are £4,773 compared with £4,557 last year. Subscriptions totalled £647 compared with £753 (incl. £100 life membership) last year.

 

The total funds of £23,872 include £19,000, the value of the Soil Hill pots donated by the now defunct Friends of Soil Hill Pottery to Halifax Civic Trust. They are currently held at Bankfield Museum with the HCT acting as trustees. Also held in trust is the bronze statue of The Boy David by Jocelyn Horner donated by the Tallis family in September 2014 in memory of their late husband and father Peter Tallis. The statue is yet to be valued but is expected to be in the low thousands. It is installed in St Jude’s Church, Halifax.

 

 

REVIEW OF THE YEAR

June Paxton-White

At the close of another eventful year it is a pleasure to record some developments that have reached a satisfactory conclusion. The long awaited restoration of the Piece Hall is complete, apart from the extension between Square Chapel and the library which is still vacant, and it has gained nationwide publicity for the town. We have nominated it for a national Civic Voice award and felt the other awards it had received were well deserved, despite the reservations held by some people on the subject of the granite hard landscaping. It is worth pointing out that the stone setts were laid relatively recently. The extension to Square Chapel has also been completed with some spectacular glazing and the spaces created are well used. The scaffolding next to the chapel has now been removed to reveal a modern library that features glazing and cream coloured narrow bricks made by the traditional Georgian method. Interesting use has been made of the C19 Square church spire and windows in the Gothic revival style. HCT had asked for the restoration to use stained glass but it was thought that transparent glass would be more in keeping with the glazed curtain walls. However our request for the restoration of the church clock with a modern mechanism was successful. Unfortunately it has not yet been possible to transfer the archives into the basement due to the ingress of damp. Despite some fears that the industrial museum might be demolished, it is still standing following some necessary repairs to the fabric and the enthusiastic volunteers who run it report an increasing number of visitors. Many commentators consider that the innovations in this part of town definitely have the “wow factor”.  We hope that these new assets will continue to attract sufficient tourism to justify the immense cost.

During the year some of our members attended consultation meetings organised by the Town Team on the proposals for the improvement of the rail station and surrounding area including the Eureka site. Several alternatives have been put forward involving the removal of the approach bridge, with a view to bringing the 1855 railway building back into use and creating complementary new facilities for rail users. This will bring an extra platform back into use. Concerns have been expressed at our meetings regarding the future of the weigh station opposite the Halifax Minster, the listed coal drops and the former Hughes Corporation building which might disappear. Various ideas have been described by the management of Eureka involving the restoration and reuse of other listed station buildings on their site which were becoming derelict.  The necessary alterations to access points and roads may result in the provision of additional parking for both Eureka and rail users.  HCT is keen to see improvements in this area and will continue to participate in consultations. We would encourage all interested members to attend public meetings on these developments and to make their views known.

Despite feasibility problems Copley bridge has now been replaced by a metal equestrian bridge resting on the original stone piers and the environs have been improved by the raising of the river bank, stone walling and landscaping. Travellers along Wakefield Road will have noticed the metal skeleton of the new Copley school under construction.  We shall be sorry to see the demolition of the handsome C19 building. We are told that the blue plaque we unveiled there to the Nobel prize winner Oliver Smithies will be transferred to the new site.

An item which has taken up a large space on our agenda throughout the year is “Buildings at Risk”. This heading covers the increasing number of listed historic buildings in the town centre and further afield. They include the former county court and magistrates courts, the central post office, Harrison House, the Theatre Royal, Holy Trinity church, Somerset House, Ovenden Hall, Old Exley Hall, the Deal Street warehouses, Rawson’s mill, Martin’s mill.  David Hanson sent an illustrated article to Society Insight entitled “Empty Buildings put our Heritage in Danger”.  One of our meetings was attended by Cllr Smith-Moorhouse the Heritage Champion, Mark Thompson the lead on the town centre board, Richard Seaman, chief planning officer and Kate Peach planning officer in charge of conservation. They went through our list and detailed their plans for each and the progress made. Rawson’s mill caused us great concern. It is listed Grade II*, being the oldest and largest surviving example of a multi-storey, steam powered, iron framed mill, dating from 1825. At our request Kate Peach had visited Rawson’s mill in 2014 as it was in a parlous state then. A firm who had a scheme to convert it into flats and offices bought it then went into liquidation. Since then it has been seriously vandalised and current ownership is unknown. We learned that the owner of Ovenden Hall had had to take out floors due to dry rot and may take up a grant offered by Historic England. Members of our committee have attended a meeting at Harrison House with the new owners who have a good record with listed buildings and are keen to restore its historic features, including the lecture theatre used by the former Literary and Philosophical Society and their galleried library. During our visit there was heavy thunder storm during which many gallons of water came through the roof and cascaded down the main staircase into the hall below.  The new owner assured us that roof repairs were at the top of his list. We were so favourably impressed by the plans that we wrote a letter of support to Historic England.  It is hoped that uses will soon be found for the other buildings and that plans in the pipeline will come to fruition.  The council is keen to see more residential accommodation in the town centre, but not more houses in multiple occupation. They hope that investment through the transport fund will encourage further improvements.

Progress has been made on the replacement of the lost commemorative sign boards. A new one, written by David Glover,  will shortly appear in the garden of the bombed house on Horton Street, this time attached to a wall rather than free-standing.  The one for the site of the gibbet is still in the pipeline. Several people studied the proposed new constituency boundaries which would transfer Skircoat Ward to the Calder Valley and bring the Royds area of Bradford into Halifax and concluded that they were illogical both historically and geographically.  We therefore supported Lord Shutt’s alternative proposals.   The local plan put forward by the council has also been scrutinised closely.  There will be a further consultation later this year and members are urged to look at it in the meantime on the council’s website.

Waste tips still loom large in the area. Members attended meetings held by the Benbow group and supported by both local MPs to protest against the proposed privately owned incinerators in the Calder Valley. We decided we did not have sufficient professional expertise to participate in the technical opposition to the scheme but we would support their efforts as far as possible. We were later informed by Holly Lynch MP that she had petitioned the Secretary of State to reject the appeal and set national regulations. The latest news is that the scheme has been successfully opposed for the time being and the Benbow group is seeking crowd funding to pay for their barrister. Plans for the Swales Moor site have also given cause for concern.

Several events were held during the year. Following up our concern about buildings at risk, a walk and talk to look at vacant buildings in the town centre was held on Civic Day in June. In September a blue plaque was unveiled at the present almshouses on Harrison Road for Nathaniel Waterhouse, a local benefactor who founded the original almshouses in 1642. These were transferred to Harrison Road in the C19 and have since been rebuilt. The well-attended event included tea and an interesting talk by Helen Gaffney from the Almshouses Association. In October some of our members hosted a visit to the town by 90 Wharfedale Wanderers who have offered a reciprocal event in Ilkley next year. Members also enjoyed our Christmas lunch at La Cachette, Elland where we were entertained in festive style by Roger Davies the bard of Brighouse.

Members enjoyed meetings organised by YHACS (Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Societies) including a futures workshop in Wakefield, the AGM in Harrogate and a meeting in Bradford with a visit to Sunbridge Wells.  A study day on Yorkshire vernacular buildings was hosted by Skipton CS.  The futures workshop was followed up by a survey and a meeting at the industrial museum to analyse the results with the aim of producing a usable plan. This year Civic Voice held its annual convention in Wakefield on the theme of the “Great Conservation Conversation” which expressed nationwide concerns about the adverse effects of the loss of local authority conservation officers on conservation areas and asked what civic societies could do to mitigate this. We completed a CV survey on conservation areas and this subject was followed up by a walk and talk in the town centre on Civic Day to look at vacant listed buildings. Two committee members attended meetings regarding the neighbourhood plan for the West Hill Park conservation area. It is hoped that with the assistance of planning officers an illustrated booklet will soon be produced to show what is and is not permissible and that they will succeed in interesting the residents in conserving the history of their area.

We find that participation in meetings and events of Civic Voice at national level and YHACS in the north is useful in that it provides an opportunity for networking and exchanging ideas and also for consolidating the strength of civic societies as a campaigning organisation.  The All-Party Parliamentary Group, which is now well established and supported by MPs, provides a useful means of communicating our views to the legislators.  At local level we have cordial relations with councillors and council officers. In particular I would like to thank Cllr Jill Smith Moorhouse, the Heritage Champion, for her attendance at our meetings and prompt attention to our concerns.  We would also urge members to attend their local ward forums.

 

PLANNING REPORT
June Paxton-White

This year has been a busy one in which we have seen some interesting developments come to fruition.   There are still too many vacant historic buildings in the town centre, including the central post office, the county court and magistrates court but progress is being made.  

Somerset House has been acquired and internal alterations will turn it into a restaurant again, without touching the exterior or the Cortese plasterwork in the grand salon. We welcomed this scheme which will bring a major listed building back into use. The most recent application for the Theatre Royal will see the façade restored to its original appearance and the later rear will be demolished to enable a 91 bed hotel with underground parking to be built.  As the original theatre had burned down, the cinema that became a bingo hall and nightclub, was much newer than the façade so this was considered to be a good solution.  We were contacted by architects at work on Harrison House who were interested in preserving historic features and we are optimistic about the outcome as the developers have a good record in the restoration of listed buildings.  

Horton House, previously used by the council, is now included in the developments round Westgate Arcade. A recent planning application showed that the house will lose its ugly modern extension and be integrated into a uniform street scene incorporating retail and offices with canopies and improvements to shopfronts in Shakespeare Street, Union Street, Albion Street and Carrier Street and will improve the access to the Piece Hall gateway. The specimen trees will remain as will grass in extended landscaping.

There were a number of unused mill buildings in the town centre. It is pleasing to learn that Marshall’s mill at Dean Clough will be converted into flats, to include bat roosts and swifts nests.  The large vacant mill on Horton Street has been bought by Leeds Beckett University for training and business starter units with ground floor retail units. The derelict Martin’s mill on Pellon Lane is to be converted into 60 affordable flats. This handsome building dating from late C19 is not listed but is a “non-designated heritage asset”. It will keep the masonry features on the façade but lose the unsafe tower and turret details.  

The area will lose a number of tower blocks at Mixenden, Beech Hill and Sowerby Bridge, but as they did not harmonise well with their surroundings, they will probably not be missed. They will be replaced by affordable housing,  for sale or to let. The plans show low profile units in a pleasing layout. There were more units in the towers (324 becomes 141 at Beech Hill) but they had already been unoccupied for some time. Two remaining tower blocks will have recent rainscreen cladding removed and replaced by new insulation in the same amber colour. Together (formerly Pennine) Housing has a good record for refurbishing old council housing and building new units with an attractive homely appearance and also for involving the community, as in the regeneration landscaping at Beech Hill, which will retain the wildlife corridor and for providing employment opportunities.  Another regeneration scheme at Mixenden, to replace vandalized, boarded up, demolished buildings, aims to create a community hub with a surgery, pharmacy, library, retail, parking and landscaping with designed-in security to mitigate anti-social behaviour and crime. Some residents think it will exacerbate the problem, we think it is worth a try. Another worthy community project appears in the Park Ward neighbourhood plan.  They hope to create Brackenbeds Park with crushed stone paths, picnic benches, finger post, interpretation board and gates that permit wheelchairs but not motor bikes to enter.

On a smaller scale, the trend of adding extensions and dormer windows to houses to create more space continues.  The planners have a clear idea of what they will permit in conservation areas and outside them and are taking a firmer line. But some residents still build first then apply for retrospective permission if needed later and will appeal if turned down.  It is then much more difficult for the planners to get rid of unwanted features as enforcement is expensive and weak. We have objected to more plans this year in the hope of strengthening the hands of the planners and in many instances they were refused.  There have been instances where tiny back-to-back terrace houses had been converted into more roomy through-houses, probably before they were listed. More recently landlords have applied to restore the back-to-backs, particularly in conservation areas such as the oldest model village at Copley. These posed a tricky problem for the planners who have permitted some, presumably on grounds of historical accuracy. It is worth noting that Colonel Ackroyd had no back-to-backs in Ackroydon because he no longer approved of them and they were banned by legislation in 1909. However we are pleased that the planners have not passed any applications to restore underdwellings in the cellars of old terraces and that they are continuing to resist increasing numbers of less desirable developments in town centre streets designated for retail.

Serious restoration of historic buildings continues, as in the removal of inapp-ropriate C20 window frames from mullioned windows, the replacement of missing mullions and other stone features of vernacular architecture and the replacement of UPVC by wood. An interesting development in Park Road is that some of the finest terrace houses in Halifax that were previously doctors’ or dentists’ surgeries, offices, flats and HMOs have now been turned back into single residences. The Old Vicarage at Boothtown has been turned back from offices to a single residence. C18 houses in the town centre conservation area, that had been converted into commercial premises, have been restored to residential units and blocked doors and windows have been reinstated.  This shows that people are generally more aware of the history around them. An application to convert offices at Carlton Street into 7 dwellings was refused because “the external alterations are too radical for a Grade II Georgian building in a conservation area”.

We find that applications for inappropriate shopfronts with gaudy coloured metal shutters have been refused in some conservation areas but not in others.  Old shops that are not in conservation areas, for instance at the top end of King Cross, have totally lost their original pilasters and masonry features due to a proliferation of eateries and takeaways that are closed during the day with the metal shutters down. It is an aspect of modern life that the planners have to take into account. They also have to weigh up the value of keeping premises in use to prevent an area from descending into dereliction.  King Cross went through a phase of closed shops when supermarkets put them out of business, but now most of the units are back in use, albeit only at night.

All is not doom and gloom. It is heartening to see that modern power sources such as solar panels, biomass boilers, ground source heating are coming into use, including on council-owned premises such as schools.  Electric charging points are being required on housing estates and are appearing on individual premises.  Members may be pleased to learn that the hospital wishes to demolish 8 vacant houses on Dry Clough Lane that provided accomodation for staff, in order to create 73 staff parking spaces and 2 electric charging points, with the possibility of building a multi-storey unit later. This should free up much needed spaces for patients nearer the hospital.

The long-awaited Pennine retail centre on Horton Street has again failed to materialise.  However, a smaller application was permitted for 2 mini golf courses with a spaceship and moon-crater theme, which looks rather like Disneyland but will be hidden inside the existing vacant store building.  An application for glamping pods (a cross between a tent and a pig ark) and a cabin at Causeway Foot was refused on the grounds that the cabin was as big as a house and the pods were “incongruous features in a special landscape”.  We still do not know what will happen to Northgate House and the library once they are totally vacated.  A Sixth Form College has been mooted.

As you can see it has been a busy year. Once again I would urge any members who are interested in planning matters to contact the committee. It is now easy to access the plans on line without actually visiting the planning department.

 

MEMBERSHIP SURVEY
Alan Goodrum

A survey of the membership was carried out in October/November 2017 to help plan the future direction of Halifax Civic Trust and inform the committee of priorities.

I have to say that we had a disappointing level of response (9), but this was counterbalanced by the quality and detail being very high.  The Trust held a workshop at the Industrial Museum to discuss the findings on 29th November 2017.  From that an Action Plan was produced which is periodically reviewed by the committee.

We did gain some very useful information on your priorities for Halifax as a ‘place’, particularly on how you would like to see the town improve over the next five years.  The station gateway, regeneration of the town centre around the cultural hub, making progress on the Hopwood Lane Triangle and rebuilding the Council’s conservation team were just some of the suggestions.  We will be taking much of this forward through our comments on the Local Plan.  This is due to be published for formal comments in the summer and we have a working group already established on this. The survey also highlighted the importance of our ongoing work on plaques, awards and buildings at risk.

The biggest challenge though is the membership base itself.  We are getting older, and we need to attract new younger members and members with skills to create an active  profile on facebook and other social media which will appeal to a wider audience. If any of you have time to devote to this, or ideas to contribute, we would be delighted to talk further.