Times are changing in South Yorkshire's Barnsley
PUBLISHED: 15:24 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013
You have to see the changes now taking place in Barnsley to believe them, says Bill Hearld who makes his first visit in many a year
If, like me, you haven't been to Barnsley for years, you will be surprised at how it has changed, almost beyond recognition. Gone is the cloth-cap image of the South Yorkshire town founded on coal, glassmaking and linen. Now it is re-emerging as a cultural, commercial capital with a huge pot of money available to make its 30-year vision a reality.
The world scoffed in 2003 when it was announced that Barnsley would be modelled on a Tuscan hill town. The plan - brainchild of international architect Will Alsop - was to create a wall around Barnsley in the style of the Tuscan town of Lucca. It also involved projecting a halo of light from the town hall tower, two thirds of a mile in diameter and more than 3,000 feet above the town.
But those were just the headlines and are still some years off. The 30-year Remaking Barnsley plan (2003 to 2033) involves spending hundreds of millions of pounds revitalising the town centre - a sort of municipal heart transplant.
Much has already been achieved in six years. Huge multi-storey buildings are sprouting up around the town centre and high-rise cranes pepper the skyline to demonstrate that there's much more to come.
The streetscape is being re-modelled with palm-lined pedestrian precincts and striking street furniture. In the next three years, the market area will be demolished and rebuilt in a 180 million project which will include a central market hall and open-air market stalls extending across the nearby railway onto a former commercial site.
In the last few weeks, a multi-million pound lottery heritage grant was approved to house a state-of-the-art museum in Barnsley's majestic town hall.