Discussion Forum
Demolition of Central Library and Archives building in Halifax

From Prof Pat Hudson
Tuesday, 3 March 2009

I have learned with great dismay that serious consideration is being given to a plan to demolish the town centre Library and Archives building in Halifax. If this goes ahead it will involve the destruction (and writing off) of a modern, technically-designed and purpose-built facility, opened as recently as 1983 and of which any City should feel proud. More importantly it will remove a vital social and cultural landmark in the heart of the town, a resource used daily by hundreds of members of the general public, including students, social and study groups, and academic researchers from around the globe. The accessibility and efficiency of the Archive Unit, in particular, has helped to place Halifax very much ‘on the map’ historically speaking and this, of course, has a knock-on effect in bringing Halifax to greater prominence nationally and internationally.   

Many Halifax residents will rightly be angered and concerned about the potential loss of a popular and well used library that, located at the heart of the town and with its excellent meeting rooms, has acted as a social and cultural centre, as well as a place of study for almost three decades. My own particular interest, shared by many researchers and scholars worldwide, concerns the loss of the Archive Unit and any plan that would relocate Calderdale archives away from Halifax town centre. Since the early 1970s I have been researching the history of the textile industry in West Yorkshire and I was much aided by the opening of the present Library and Archive building. This was a landmark development, the result of the enlightened and far-sighted policy of the local authority at that time. A measure of the success of the transfer of the archives to the centre of town was that use of the service increased four fold within two years of the opening of the building. It is important to remember that the archives are constantly used, not just by University scholars and research students but by local government officials, solicitors, pupils from local schools, family historians and many other members of the local community for whom ease of access is vital.

The archive storage facilities are first class (fire and flood proof, air conditioned, protected by CCTV) and remain state of the art (built to BS5454) with capacity to cope with many years of further expansion of holdings. Very few towns and cities in Britain can boast such a state-of-the-art facility, easily reachable by public transport. Few other places, beyond the National Archives at Kew, have the security of knowing that their local and irreplaceable documents are safe from fire and flood. The facility also makes it possible for the Halifax Antiquarian Society’s uniquely valuable library to be housed and consulted within the same building: the perfect combination for researchers at all levels and one which is very rarely found. The facilities I have enjoyed since 1983 are the envy of colleagues working on other parts of the country, and they have been responsible for attracting large numbers of academics from far afield to Halifax.

I sincerely hope that the current plans to destroy a convenient, well designed and popular building can be urgently reconsidered and that town centre redevelopment plans can be adjusted to allow for the retention of this state-of-the-art library and archive repository.

I hope that the Hebden Bridge Web will be able to assist the general public in opposing the current plans. The building has been a key to raising the profile of Halifax, nationally and internationally in recent decades. Such provision of high quality public service is much more likely to serve the Town well in future decades than further retail development.

Yours sincerely,

Pat Hudson AcSS
Professor of Economic and Social History
Cardiff University
Hon. Vice President, Economic History Society

A version of this letter has also been sent to
Owen Williams, Chief Executive, Calderdale MBC
Kersten England, Director of Community Services
Gary Burrows, Head of Libraries, Museums and Arts
Linda Riordan, MP for Halifax
Editors of all local papers 

From Rev Tony Buglass
Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Good grief!

All together now - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If you've got so much money to spare for development, I'm sure we can think of something a bit better to spend it on.


From Adam W
Thursday, 5 March 2009

From my experience the library is pretty poor, apart from perhaps the music section. I wouldn't have expected it to contain resources useful for my MA, perhaps not even my BA, but even when searching for books relating to my A-Levels I recall the place was often rather useless.

And whoever goes down into the pit of despair that is the adjacent pedestrian area? As a skateboarder it provided a great alternative to a skate park when I was in my teens (until they put railings everywhere). But the only other people that went down there were prodominantly dodgy-looking folk and we were mugged on more than one occasion.

Having said that it is important that Halifax retains a library at least as big as the existing one and tearing the building down seems like a big waste of money. Lets face it, there are unlikely to be big pots of money available for investment in the coming years so surely the funds could be better spent.

From Prof Pat Hudson
Monday, 30 March 2009

This is now becoming critical and very urgent.

To fill you in about the detail, I wirte a second time to you about the plan to demolish the town centre library and archives building in Halifax opened as recently as 1983 and known to incorporate a state of the art archive store.

This is a rare asset and would be likely to cost more than £10m of tax payers’ money to replace at the same standard. Recent local press coverage (notably Halifax Courier 19th March) is completely misguided, and complacent, in reporting a commitment from CMBC to relocate the Halifax archives within Calderdale because no guarantee has been provided that the finance is there to replace the facility to the standard currently met. Indeed such a guarantee (if costed to the project) would probably render the redevelopment plans unviable!

The most important point about local and national opposition to demolition plans, apart from the insane waste involved in writing off a modern building, is that the town will be losing a cultural centre to be proud of - modern library with well used meeting rooms and research facilities (archives plus one of the best civic local history collections in Britain) easily accessible and all under one roof. There are no plans to replace this.

The site is destined for retail development. There is to be a much smaller public library facility (computer terminals and popular fiction collection etc) incorporated in the new town centre development whilst all communal, research and local/family history facilities will be relocated outside the town. According to knowledgeable informants, the relocation looks set to involve housing that is well below present standards as well as being much less convenient and accessible to the many professional people, students, elderly residents, and others who regularly use the present facilities.

The decision to sell the site for retail was voted on by councillors, most of whom were almost certainly unaware of the building’s unique combination of library, archives, and specialist research facilities: a nationally outstanding resource.

I speak for a large number British Academics who have used the research facilities at Halifax and for many thousands of users and petitioners amongst the region’s population when I ask that the media do all they can to investigate the forces and the logic behind these decisions, before it is too late, and to ask that they be reconsidered urgently.

What is more important: a vital public, educational and community service or yet more shopping?

Pat Hudson Professor of Economic and Social History,
Cardiff University
Historian of Yorkshire

From John A. Hargreaves
Chairman Halifax Civic Trust and Vice-President Halifax Antiquarian Society
Monday, 30 March 2009

I am writing in my capacity as Chairman of the Halifax Civic Trust and as a Vice-President of the Halifax Antiquarian Society and Editor of the Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society to express my concern, shared by others in both of these organisations about the threat posed to the high quality cultural facilities currently available in a conveniently accessible central location of Calderdale for a wide range of community activities and for individual historical enquiry and research.

As recently as September 2003 when another proposed plan to re-locate the Archives and linked Local Studies/Library and Meeting Room facilities was successfully opposed, the Halifax Courier commented that this was ‘good news for historians’ since Calderdale District Archives ‘is one of the most modern, extensive and best-used in West Yorkshire’.  It was also good news for the wider community since archive facilities, which are conveniently accessible to the community, facilitate research and publication into aspects of local history, which in turn contributes to a greater sense of local identity. The quality of historical research undertaken by both amateur and professional historians into Calderdale’s history has earned the town repute regionally, nationally and internationally. Moreover the adjacent linked Local Studies facilities, related reference facilities and unique special collections, notably the Horsfall Turner Collection and the Halifax Antiquarian Society and Halifax Scientific Society Libraries provide valuable additional resources for the study of local history and the natural environment. Many items in these collections have been donated by local residents for the use of members of the local community and the generosity and good will which has helped to build up these collections would be undermined if access to them were to be further restricted.

If Halifax has serious intentions of developing a higher education sector for Calderdale a well stocked and expertly staffed public library would be a vital asset. Already large numbers of local students in secondary, tertiary and higher education value the use of these facilities for homework, revision and further study. Moreover, Calderdale Central Library currently provides centrally located meeting room facilities of varying capacities for adult education and community group use. I can testify that this year full use has been made of these facilities on Thursday evenings by participants in WEA Local History courses, First Aid training and Weight Watchers, all enhancing the life experience of individuals and communities. The cultural and social activities centring on the library bring vibrancy to the urban townscape and give a wide cross-section of the community, young and old of varying cultural backgrounds reasons to visit the town centre throughout the day and evening many of them using public transport, town centre catering and retail facilities. Halifax has an enviable tradition of cultural, social and community activities, which need the nurture and support of the local authority if the voluntary sector in Calderdale is to continue to enhance the quality of life of all its citizens. The existing excellent library, archive and meeting-room facilities, which have proved adaptable in various ways, for example to accommodate the increasing use of information technology, should be retained and are unlikely to be replicated in anything other than similar-sized, purpose-built facilities.

(Dr) John A. Hargreaves.

From Chris Foster
Monday, 13 April 2009

I'm amazed that more people aren't concerned about this. Yes, it's a Halifax facility but this is a needless £10m cost that we will be asked to pay off via our already extortionate council tax bill. How many better opportunities must there be for our community with £10m to spend.....

Protests over The Fustian Needle anyone? The stunning turnout to help ensure we won the peoples millions award for Calder Holmes park, 1% of what we are about to let our council throw away ?

I can’t put it better than the previous poster, if it isn’t broke…Especially not for our £10m, especially not to reduce the available facilities and especially not to move a public facility away from public transport links.

From Rev Tony Buglass
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The principal argument for the demolition of the library seems to be a new retail redevelopment of the area. If a new retail development is required, surely it could be designed to incorporate the library building, which is one of the newer structures in the centre of Halifax. By comparison, other parts of the town centre are nothing less than tatty, and in great need of improvement. Replacing a purpose-built library and archive centre will cost a great deal, which could surely be more efficiently spent elsewhere in the town centre.

I am still left with the question - why is this being done the way it is? Whose initiative was it? Who is driving the scheme - and whose money is involved? It's clear that a great deal of taxpayers money will be lubricating the process, but who will make the profits in the long term?

This could be dismissed be just another example of the incompetent machinations of a certain level of local government (small enough to be amateurish, big enough to do real damage), if it wasn't such a serious matter. It has to be reconsidered.

From Chris Foster
Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Demolition of Central Library and Archives building in Halifax

Body: As our council appears determined to press on regardless of public opinion I have created the following.

Petition to: Intervene in the planned redevelopment of Halifax central library and archives

Please add your name if you believe the development is misguided. Especially while we have empty retail units in Halifax


See also

Hebweb News: Central Library and Archive

Don't Bulldoze our Library