Why we did it - and will do it again if need be

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Judging by the recent letters it is clear the ‘Time for Change’ petition and ‘Pants to ASDA’ event have achieved at least one of their goals, that of getting people to discuss what should happen in our town.

Whilst we understand some may disapprove of our hanging a line of pants on the front of the Ormerod building, this was done to highlight ASDA’s ongoing failure to take responsibility for the dire state of the properties they own on Burnley Road.

One of your correspondents asks what visitors to the town might make of seeing underwear temporarily draped over a prominent local building?

We ask the wider question, what impact do these decrepit eyesores have on perceptions of Todmorden as a whole?

Year on year they have been allowed to fall into ever more serious states of dereliction and decline, to the point where they are now incapable of being saved as this is no longer an economically viable option.

We managed to persuade Look North to send a reporter and camera to Todmorden on our Valentine’s ‘Love your Town’ Day’ on the basis that a relatively dramatic and unusual action like hanging nether garments on the front of a landmark building would spark their interest.

We were also able to bring the regional news team’s attention to the other crucial demonstration taking place in Todmorden on the same day as part of the important campaign to provide much needed disabled access to Platform Two of the Railway Station.

With regards to the current sorry state of the Halifax Road site it might be helpful to remind everyone why, at the Public Inquiry held in 2013, the Planning Inspector threw out what was originally Sainsbury’s, then ASDA’s, application to build a big supermarket in this location – a store that would have been 20 per cent larger than our existing Morrison’s.

Calderdale’s own expert retail consultant presented evidence to the Inquiry showing the local impact of the proposed store would be a 50% decline in sales at Morrison’s, an annual loss to local independent shops of some £400,000 and a yearly reduction of the income of the traders on Todmorden Market of an amazing £200,000. This would mean that one derelict site would be replaced by another, as Morrison’s would close down and many jobs would be lost. In a very short time our town centre would be abandoned and empty, its lifeblood having been sucked out by the big new, heartless vampiric monster in its midst. The Planning Inspector dismissed the application on this very basis – because he agreed it would have a significant detrimental impact on what he called ‘the vitality and viability of the town centre’.

Amongst others, Todmorden Pride have not objected to the same chain’s proposal for a much smaller supermarket on the Burnley Road site, even though this is not the ideal future use many would like to see.

The development that has planning permission, should ASDA ever act upon it, is at least in the town centre and will provide the chance for its customers to walk the short distance from a free car park, going over Burnley Road via an improved pedestrian crossing, to continue shopping in the adjacent market and other nearby independent stores.

The proposal for a Marina on the Halifax Road site was put forward on the basis that we must be more creative and imaginative in thinking about how to bring out the potential of flagship sites.

Not because it was a fully costed alternative, but on the principle that our community needs to aspire to more than the meek acceptance that its future can only be in the hands of those with the deepest corporate pockets.

All this raises the question of exactly who is in control of our town? Is it to be the likes of ASDA, operating from their HQ in Leeds, and controlled by the board of Wal-Mart who make decisions about the future of places like Todmorden from their board room in far away Arkansas, or the people who actually live here?

This is another reason why the elected members of our Town Council should work towards producing a ‘Neighbourhood Plan for Todmorden’.

Such a plan would be founded on the views and aspirations of residents and help us all take control of what happens here in the future.

It would enable us to properly use the powers of the planning system to fight off schemes that are damaging, insensitive or of poor quality, and to support and encourage those we’d like to see because we collectively agree they would make Todmorden a better place.

In the meantime it would be helpful if even more people put further pressure on Calderdale Council to enforce landowners to make temporary environmental improvements to these sites by signing the ‘Time for Change’ petition (https://www.change.org).

And if ASDA and others don’t act quickly and do something about the terrible state of their Todmorden properties, then we will engage in yet further direct action aimed at creating more unfavourable publicity.

Like many, we are fed up.

We feel it is time to shout from the rooftops that the neglectful shirking of their responsibilities by the folk who own these buildings and sites is no longer acceptable and is holding our town back.

Or, in other words, ‘pants’.

Dr Lindsay Smales

Todmorden