Times are changing in South Yorkshire's Barnsley

PUBLISHED: 15:24 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013

Mediterranean colours brighten the walls of the new Barnsley Interchange

Mediterranean colours brighten the walls of the new Barnsley Interchange

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.

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