The Campaign to Stop the Kingsgate Shopping Centre Expansion: The threat it poses to Huddersfield’s music scene and a whole town

To the wider rock/metal community, this next post concerning the plight of a beloved local rock bar/gig venue (pictured above) isn’t going to be of too much major concern to you. And indeed, this particular venue only makes up a part of the wider picture which is to be affected.

The Parish, Huddersfield, has in recent years played host to a number of recognised national and international bands, including: Ginger, The Scaramanga Six, Humanfly, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Gama Bomb, Bonded By Blood, Dragged Into Sunlight, G.U. Medicine, OPM, Agent Orange, Dyscarnate, Evile, Sorry and the Sinatras, Boyhitscar, Left Side Brain, Wheatus…the list could go on and on. It already was and remains more than that. It is without question Huddersfield’s premier rock bar, not doing too bad for itself in the face of larger venues further afield in Leeds, Manchester, etc.
The building itself is steeped in history too. Before that it was The Parish Pump, The Cornerhouse, and several incarnations before that. The building is also a National Heritage Grade II listed building.  It’s been around since 1720, the oldest pub in the town, and in 2020 – it’s not that far off! – the building will be 300 years old. An impressive stat for you there.
Which is why the news that Kirklees Council have signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with Peter Everest, MD for WD Limited – a company specialising in bland shopping centre upon bland shopping centre -, paving the way for a £40m expansion of Huddersfield’s Kingsgate Shopping Centre, known as Kingsgate: Phase 2. This fact this expansion would swallow up The Parish as well as other landmarks, including Grade II listed buildings Oldgate House, and the Palace Theatre, is of major concern. WD Huddersfield previously tried to run through these buildings back in 2008, but the council then overwhelmingly rejected the proposals 13 votes to 2. WD won an appeal against the decision but plans went on hold due to the recession. Now WD think the time is right to proceed, and pictures showing Kirklees Councillor Mehboob Khan (one of the ‘2’) and W D Limited director Peter Everest smugly posing for photos with a pen and paper were plastered across the local Huddersfield Examiner newspaper. All this without proper consultation. The flashpoint for alarm was set off there and then.

While it’s all well and good investing in permanent jobs for the future it’s important to bear in mind the rest of the town centre, which already has several empty units, including several empty former shops running along New Street, one of the town’s main shopping streets. Every so often I walk down there and am almost running out of room to count the number of empty shops on my fingers alone. Look, there’s two for you right there (above)! Why the local council and W D Limited insist on further drawing people away from those areas and in effect creating a ghost town in its actual centre does not make sound logical sense, and anyone who’s walked through a town centre in the day time when there’s nobody about on the rare occasions the shops aren’t open will realise how eerie the sense of walking in an area full of empty buildings and no people can be.
The cannibalisation of the town centre is something that W D Limited say they are seeking to avoid – something which they initiated when the centre was originally built in 2002, with various high street names flocking to the centre leaving their former town centre units to pound shops, charity shops, or even simply vacant. There are empty units in town that haven’t been filled with anything for months, even years. The high street is a dying breed and expanding a shopping centre to take up a huge chunk of the town centre, destroying its local history and architecture and ensuring the town becomes as vacant as its empty units is not the way forward.
The claim that this development will create up to 900 new jobs (600 in retail, 300 in construction) doesn’t wash either. Why would we be against creation of new jobs? Well, we’re not – but the town’s centre has enough empty units without the need to build further, and in doing so you’d only have more shops shutting up, and more jobs potentially lost. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the figures don’t add up, and offer false promises in a consistently volatile high street.

Returning to The Parish, the argument of ‘save our local’ doesn’t hold up enough substance and never will, so regulars to the pub and anyone reading this post, wherever you are, should take into account the following points. It is worth bearing in mind the pub’s history (discussed earlier), it’s listed status (also discussed earlier), and it’s potential as a tourist venue in recent times – given that people will travel from further afield to see bands such as the aforementioned. In the face of venues in bigger cities such as Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, The Parish can be considered one of Huddersfield’s success stories in terms of an alternative venue outside the major cities, putting Huddersfield on the alternative scene map. Such things are nothing new, and Huddersfield is a larger town than many, but considering the live music power base lies within the cities; The Parish’s achievement is no small feat.

The Parish only makes up a small part of the wider picture here, but is still an important one, and make no mistake; the wider implications for Huddersfield‘s music scene and indeed the town as a whole are massive. It’s listed status doesn’t make it invincible, thoughh it is pretty damn important, and the wave of feeling within the community is huge. The project is expected to be completed in 2016, so the threat, while not imminent, still looms large, and given we tried to back The Well before its closure, its only fair we try and do the same for what is essentially our hometown venue and indeed our home town. The high street is in need of innovation – not overpopulation and cannibalisation.
That’s why a campaign has been launched to try to stop the expansion of the Kingsgate Shopping Centre in the wake of this news. A public meeting is due to be kindly hosted by The Parish this Saturday (31st March) from 2:00pm-5:00pm. Anyone can attend as the group aims to establish a plan of action to fight off this threat. All the points made above in this article and more will be discussed. I’m aware that this meeting is likely to concern local folk more than the majority of We Must Obey’s audience, but we aim to support our local scene where we can. Even if you’re not local, even if you’re reading this from another country, any support would be greatly appreciated, even if it’s just liking the group on Facebook. This is to be the start of a fight we intend to win, however stacked against us the odds may be.
You can find a wealth of information and discussion on the group’s Facebook page as well as a wealth of links to material and other resources to do with this particular protest. The reasons for our campaign are not fully listed here as this is primarily a music website and not one that always dedicates itself to external issues. Where they converge upon musical territory, and indeed where it looms large over our local burgeoning music scene, we must stand up for ourselves. History tells us councillors, politicians and suited fat cats do not listen to the demands of the people. This is something we must change, and change fast.
Peter Clegg