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Halifax banks on future investment in culture and tourism

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:49 24 October 2015

Halifax viewed from Beacon Hill overlooking the town centre.

Halifax viewed from Beacon Hill overlooking the town centre.

© Steve Morgan / Alamy

Investment continues to give the capital of Calderdale a welcome boost, says Jo Haywood

The newly refurbished Piece Hall is due to reopen in 2016The newly refurbished Piece Hall is due to reopen in 2016

Halifax has a lot to shout about and, thankfully, a dizzyingly high tower to shout from. Wainhouse Tower to the south-west of the town centre thrusts 77 metres into the West Yorkshire sky, making it the tallest structure in Calderdale, and the perfect place from which to loudly – and proudly – share the area’s numerous attributes (as long as you’ve got a megaphone and can manage the hundreds of steps up the octagonal shaft without expiring halfway).

To be honest, you’d probably run out of breath before you’d had time to list all of Halifax’s boast-worthy features. You might just get a quick yell in about Eureka!, the fun and informative national children’s museum; Dean Clough, a former mill that’s been transformed into an arts, business, design and education complex; Shibden Hall, a 600-year-old timber-framed manor house; and the Victoria Theatre, which has been at the forefront of family entertainment in Halifax for more than 100 years. But you’d have to have a quick lie down before yodelling across the valley about the fantastic People’s Park, given to Haligonians in 1857 by Sir Francis Crossley; the impressive 15th century minster; and the Borough Market, which dates back to the early 1890s and provides a focus for the town’s wide and varied retail offering.

These elements – and many more we haven’t mentioned – are the heritage backbone of Halifax, but this doesn’t mean its future rests solely in its past. This is a town that believes in the power of investment, in terms of both effort and expenditure.

For proof, you just have to look at what’s happening at the Piece Hall. This extraordinary grade one listed world heritage attraction that’s survived against the odds for more than 230 years is currently undergoing an ambitious – but achievable – £19 million revamp to reinvigorate and reinvent the much-loved icon for future generations, adding a visitor and heritage interpretation centre, water features and a range of restaurants and shops to create a leisure hub.

Its hoped the £19m investment in the Piece Hall will bring more visitors to the townIts hoped the £19m investment in the Piece Hall will bring more visitors to the town

This landmark project, due to reopen in spring 2016, has just been given a significant contribution of £250,000 by the Garfield Weston Foundation, a family-funded trust that’s supported UK charities for more than 50 years.

Chairman of the Piece Hall Trust Wayne Bowser said he was very grateful for the grant, adding: ‘We thank them for supporting such an important heritage scheme. We believe that, from 2016, the Piece Hall will bring the history of the building and the area to life for many more people and will further enhance this historically significant town.’

Work has also recently started on the renovation of the beautiful, grade two listed Princess Buildings in Halifax town centre, as part of Calderdale Council’s plan to modernise and make better use of its offices.

It has already completed work on the Halifax Customer First Facility, which opened in November 2013, and Westgate House, which welcomed people back in from April 2014, so Princess Buildings, due for completion in spring 2016, will be the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place.

Halifaxs memorable townscape (with the Piece Hall to the fore)Halifaxs memorable townscape (with the Piece Hall to the fore)

‘The outside of the building is magnificent, but the interior has needed rejuvenating for some time,’ said Councillor Stephen Baines, leader of Calderdale Council. ‘The plans have been carefully designed to ensure the development makes the best use of the space available and highlights the beautiful existing features of the building.’

The council is also planning further investment in the cultural and tourism sector as part of its 2015 budget. As well as freezing council tax for the second year on the bounce, its proposing to spend an extra £500,000 on improving local heritage and cultural assets and £200,000 (from the Economic Investment Fund) to promote job opportunities in tourism and business development.

‘It’s vital we do all that we can to help local businesses,’ said Coun Baines. ‘We will invest in and protect our historic landmarks, which are so important to our residents and which attract visitors from far and wide, providing vital support to our tourism industry.’

This all comes on top of news that last year’s Tour de France brought an extra £12.5 million to the area, boosting Calderdale’s coffers by around £200,000 and encouraging more local people to get on their bikes.

All the signs are good for a prosperous future for HalifaxAll the signs are good for a prosperous future for Halifax

New research commissioned by Welcome to Yorkshire reveals that the race, which travelled through Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Ripponden and Greetland, has subsequently inspired 44 per cent, or an estimated 130,000 people in Calderdale, to cycle more.

‘I’m delighted by these findings, which show the clear benefits that participation in the Tour de France brought,’ said Coun Baines. ‘This can be measured both in terms of the immediate impact on our local economy and, in the longer term, the legacy.

‘We know there are keen cyclists who will want to tackle the challenges of the route themselves this summer. There are also spectators and viewers who will want to explore our beautiful landscape and quirky towns, bringing lasting benefits for our tourism industry.’

Quirky? Anyone would think that a 77m-high folly, a museum dedicated to children and the UK’s only surviving – and thriving – cloth hall were out of the ordinary.

Wait a minute – they are. Now, where’s that megaphone.

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