Todmorden residents packed into a meeting on Tuesday night as Aldi’s plans for the town’s community college site were discussed.
The proposals, which would see the supermarket chain acquire the Burnley Road site, create a bigger store than the one planning permission has been granted for and build a children’s centre and youth service facility, were put before the Todmorden Development Board.
Emotions ran high as the plans were discussed and eventually recommended to go before Calderdale Council’s cabinet.
Stephen Hoyle, Calderdale Council’s lead for asset management, discussed Aldi’s proposals for the site, which is currently home to council and non-council services.
He said the building is in a poor state of repair, not fit for purpose and largely underused. A report outlined that by May this year, 63.5 per cent of the building will be vacant.
Mr Hoyle added benefits of the Aldi proposals would include a brand new, “substantially improved” children’s centre and youth centre facilities, additional car parking for Todmorden town centre, improved landscaping, improved access and improved site layout.
A report into the proposals outlined a £1m gap between the price Aldi can offer for the site and the cost of the new children’s and youth centre, a cost which would need to be met by Calderdale Council.
Running costs of the new centre are estimated to be around £75,000 per year, which would also be met by the council.
The findings of a pre-feasibility report to look at future options for the college, carried out by the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance (UCVR) group, were presented to the board.
Its report outlined the building condition as being “satisfactory”, with an architect confirming it to be in good condition and repair.
A “hybrid” approach, combining a number of uses for the building including teaching rooms, community rooms, workspace, communal space and visitor accommodation, was met with cheers.
It is estimated it would cost around £4m to bring the building up to use and a snapshot poll presented by UCVR revealed that 84 per cent of people it surveyed said they did not want the college to be sold.
The report concluded: “There is enough evidence in our findings to indicate that there is a desire in the town amongst groups and individuals to see the college revitalised and offering wider community benefits than it does currently or did in the past.”
Steph Booth, board member and Todmorden town councillor (Lab, Central), spoke in favour of plans to revamp the college.
She said: “The pre-feasibility study which Calderdale Council and Todmorden Town Council has paid for has come to the conclusion that it’s worth pursuing.
“We have been told it is worth pushing. Children and young people are not the only age group in this town. We need lifelong education. We need to bring people into the town.
“I would like to see it as a community hub, a building for all of us.”
Fellow board member and town councillor Christine Potter said: “I don’t see why Aldi should not be content with what they already have.
“Why do we have to have a monster site in the town?”.
Aldi has existing planning permission to develop a new store, but has held off developing the site and required a decision on future options for the college.
Mark Thompson, Calderdale Council’s director of economy and environment, described the Aldi proposals as the “safer option”.
He said: “It would be lovely to have a long period of time to fully digest the report we have got, to think that through, but we have got this dilemma of a bird in the hand and whether we should clutch that.”
Meanwhile, Todmorden town councillor Janet Battye (Lib Dem, Stoodley) told the board: “I don’t think that the offer from Aldi is as good as you think it is.”
Board members voted seven to two in favour of the plans, with councillor Susan Press (Lab, Todmorden) saying a “clear decision” had been made.
Speaking after the meeting, UCVR chair Stephen Curry said: “We were disappointed for the people of Todmorden who came to us with some inspiring ideas.
“At the pre-feasibility stage it was always going to be difficult to make a stronger case for each proposal in the time scale we had to do the research and meet with the interested parties.
“We believe we made a good case for Calderdale to give the community an opportunity to take their ideas to a full feasibility study.
“And we were not convinced that the building could not be brought up to a fit for purpose standard. However, we always accepted that the economic argument of “a bird in the hand” would probably be a be a stronger pull for Calderdale than the application of community hub and community anchor policies that they have gone with elsewhere in the borough.”
Coun Battye added: “Around Todmorden, I get a sense of real fury of local people. The headline figure in the UCVR pre-feasibility report shows that a large majority of people want the college retained and that should be listened to.”
Councillor Susan Press, chair of Todmorden Development Board, said it costs the council £165,000 every year to maintain and more tenants are set to move out in the future.
“...Most importantly staff at the children’s centre have told us they need a new facility and that first-class services are more important than buildings,” she said.
“We heard some great ideas at the meeting about potential community use and bringing together educational leisure and business opportunities - but there is no reason why these could not be pursued in another location such as the Rose Street site which is once again on the market. Calderdale Council will be keen to explore any plans which come forward.”
The plans will now go before Calderdale Council’s cabinet.