Public responses to Batley, Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike town centre plans branded “pathetic”
Public responses to proposals to invest £1.5m in each of four towns across Kirklees have been slammed as “very poor”, “lamentable”, and “pathetic”.
The criticism comes as Kirklees Council has hired consultants to deliver masterplans for the future of Batley, Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike and Holmfirth, which will each receive a proportion of regeneration funding totalling £10m.
The cost of the consultants has not been made public but it will be taken from that £10m pot.
The remaining £4m – for other towns in the borough – has not yet been allocated.
When plans were first announced last March the council said a specialist team would be hired to run the project at an annual cost of £143,000.
Officers have now appointed two sets of consultants to take this process forward and to create masterplans over the next six months.
The exercise in North Kirklees will be led by ARUP, which has offices around the world.
In South Kirklees the Steer Group, another global brand, will work on Holmfirth.
The cash being injected into the four towns over the next three years is anticipated to go towards supporting retail, employment, community and “local centre activity” as well as sustainable travel and climate change measures, improved community safety, culture, art and leisure activities and landscaping, heritage, conservation, and better design – including shopfronts.
However questions have been asked about the validity of community engagement exercises as the numbers of people participating were not judged to be high enough to make the responses relevant.
The highest response was in Holmfirth, where 466 people took part. That is just 1.86% of the population.
In Cleckheaton it was 312 people or 1.88%; in Batley it was 253 people or 0.52%; and in Heckmondwike it was 157 people or 0.92%.
The figures were described as “disappointing and questionable” by Councillor Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) as well as “lamentable”.
His colleague Coun John Taylor (Con, Kirkburton) said the responses were “too poor to be considered viable” and called for a re-think on how proposals would be rolled out.
He said: “I am not convinced that there is sufficient volume of engagement to say that these are valuable.”
His comments were echoed by senior Labour councillor Peter McBride (Dalton), who said the figures were “frankly pathetic” and “meaningless in research terms”.
He said: “That is almost normal – that the responses are so regularly bad but we take them and assume that we have fully consulted with the public.
“It may be in part due to Covid but it’s a general inertia. We are too often too easily satisfied with the poor response we get from the public and think everything’s all right if they’re not particularly responding.
“That tends to be an attitude across the board.”
In outlining the plans thus far Simon Taylor, the council’s Head of Town Centre Programmes, said the investment was key to the long-term “support and survival” of the towns concerned.
He said the Batley plan was the “most advanced” and that officers were working to ensure “synergies” between their programme and other existing projects in the area.
He said consultants were vital if council staff were to be properly supported in delivering their projects within what he called “an efficient timeframe”.
He added: “It’s not possible that we can cover all the work that we need to do without their assistance.”