The Campaign to Stop the Kingsgate Expansion: Palace Theatre approved!

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Resounding 11-0 in favour of redevelopment

Very recently, we promoted planned action against Huddersfield’s Kingsgate Shopping Centre by issuing direct support for a plan to redevelop the Palace Theatre, the historic venue that once hosted Harry Houdini, into twenty three student flats to accommodate 87 students, with an additional bar and restaurant. The owners of the Palace Theatre, Kirkgate Residence, argued that this would boost the local economy, the university and college, and indeed the surrounding area for years to come. We Must Obey, backing the Campaign to Stop the Kingsgate Expansion, wholly backed this, ourselves seeing it as a chance to additionally protect Huddersfield’s burgeoning alternative music and arts scene (with top music venue The Parish directly under threat from Kingsgate), and to retain vital aspects of its history and architecture.

After months of deliberations in an application that was vigorously opposed by W D Huddersfield and Kingsgate; that was yesterday recommended for approval for a THIRD time, we have some exciting news.

The plans were approved!

That’s right – Kirklees Council’s planning committee finally got decisive, not bowing to some emotive language used by W D Huddersfield MD Peter Everest when, among other things, he attempted to implicate that scaffolding work outside Kingsgate would endanger jobs inside, and efforts to state the flats would cause untold traffic problems in the area were described at one point as ‘clutching at straws(indeed, it overlooks the traffic issues that Kingsgate Phase 2 itself would cause). But the main devil in the detail is the decisiveness of the vote. 11-0. That’s right. All eleven sub-committee members voted in favour, with only the chair, Cllr Cliff Priest, and his Labour colleague, Cllr Ken Smith, abstaining. The decision was widely applauded in the council chamber and Everest was left to skulk off like the proverbial bulldog chewing a wasp. Face it Everest, you snoozed…you lost.

Mr. Simmy Sekhon, owner of Kirkgate Residence, says he has the funding and contracts in place to begin work in three months. The Palace certainly needs it – I pass it on the bus nearly every morning travelling to work and for such a historic building, it is in such a decaying state. I applaud any efforts to make it useful and proud again and more so for the overall good it will do for the town.

It’s just a shame that not everyone sees it that way, with local paper The Examiner skewing firmly in favour of Kingsgate by echoing Everest’s sentiments, from the off about disruption and loss of jobs inside Kingsgate. They’re still reporting that Kingsgate 2 offers 23 new stores and 900 new jobs, when a later report have suggested only 10 new stores, six of those large ones – therefore presumably less new jobs. Sure, I might be skewed the other way, but I’m a supporter of the Palace and against Kingsgate 2 and my views are purely those. Views. News outlets should be completely unbiased. Besides, if there are to be jobs lost at Kingsgate in the meantime – and believe me, I don’t want anyone to lose their job – the impact of Kingsgate 2 would surely have a detrimental effect across the whole town, as it already has. The loss of jobs in existing town centre stores, whether high street or independent, in the much greater cause for concern. So Everest, give me the proof of which jobs are at risk. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll believe you.

With media like this and the spectre of Everest hovering about, I personally don’t think the Campaign ends there, certainly if we’re looking at protecting businesses along Cross Church Street which are possibly still endangered by Kingsgate’s Phase 2 proposals – certainly the word is businesses along that street haven’t been consulted, and that even then the various owners are unwilling to sell. It certainly won’t stop W D aiming to swallow up whatever existing land they can get. I would like to think that the Campaign to Stop the Kingsgate Expansion doesn’t end just because of victory for a neighbouring building that potentially acts as a safeguard to the Parish. If we’re truly about something, I’d love to see us carry on our work and at least fight for an independent local economy. Therefore, if you’re reading this and you’re already a part of the campaign, and even if you’re not; this is one victory in a wider campaign. Kingsgate 2 might well be on its knees, but I personally suspect Everest won’t take this lying down, even if it means every dirty trick in the book. It isn’t over until it’s truly over.

For now though, we celebrate. Congratulations to Kirkgate Residence, and a big pat on the back for Ian French for organising the supporting action for the Palace to help get it over the line. In fact, thank you to everyone who has been a part of this campaign thus far. Its a pleasure to be associated with you all.

This is hopefully the beginning of the regeneration that Huddersfield really needs – with its place as up and coming hotbed of live music hopefully now assured, we should now look to encouraging boosting its high street in a way not really considered by the likes of Everest. Through diversity and innovation, without blinkers and a view to changing where and how people shop.

And if Kingsgate 2 rears its ugly ahead again – we will be ready.

Peter Clegg

Campaign to Stop the Kingsgate Expansion (Facebook)

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