Action is to be taken to at least make some of the eyesore sights around Todmorden town centre presentable.
The news that some improvements are in store at Halifax Road, owned by Spring Petroleum Company Ltd and Burnley Road, where supermarket giants Asda have permission to develop a store on the former Abraham Ormerod Medical Centre and Olympia Cinema sites, have been welcomed but also sparked a political storm.
Calder Valley Conservative MP Craig Whittaker and Conservative leader of Calderdale Council Coun Stephen Baines say the council have contacted the Halifax Road land owner and are preparing to issue a Section 215 Notice on the land to instruct the owner to tidy up the site.
Section 215 notices are a legal notice which councils are able to issue which compel landowners to act to clean up land when it is adversely affecting the amenity of a local area. The cojuncil expects all rubbish and rubble to be removed from the site; a solid fence which encloses the land to be erected and landscaping works to take place to level off the land.
The council has also held discussions with Asda who have agreed to undertake a number of works on the site that they currently own on Burnley Road, including removing debris and tidying up the site; painting out graffiti; cutting back overgrowing vegetation and re-securing parts of the current building.
Calderdale Council have been advised that the works will take place in February.
Mr Whittaker, who with Mr Bained visited the sites with some members of Todmorden Pride Board who have been pushing for imnprovements, said: “I am absolutely delighted that the Conservative-led Council has instigated action to clear up these sites.
“Both areas have blighted the approach to the town centre for many years and action to address these sites has been long overdue. Clearing up these sites can only help us in attracting additional investment into Todmorden and I’m sure that local residents will be delighted to hear that action will finally be taken.”
Coun Baines said: “The regeneration of Todmorden is a priority for this administration and clearing up these sites is a good place to start. I do not know why Labour allowed the sites to deteriorate so much and didn’t take any action during the four years when they controlled the council.”
But Labour hit back at the criticism with Todmorden Development Board Chair and former Town Mayor Coun Jayne Booth saying: “It is simply not true to say Labour has done nothing.
“Our approach has always been to work towards long-term solutions for these derelict sites. We found £400,000 in an attempt to buy the Halifax Road site for community-led development but at the last minute the auctioneers sold it off privately.
“Under the Labour administration, many months of detailed discussions led to a planning application from ASDA for the Abraham Ormerod site which is part of plans for a major re-vamp of Todmorden town centre. This site has now been tidied up following an intervention by one of Calderdale’s senior officers. There is also a planning application in for housing on the Cinderhill site.”
She said local councillors had helped ensure a major programme of development for Todmorden Town Hall including a new lift, external renovations and a successful Heritage Lottery Fund Bid made to restore the building as a community hub. It was also working on regeneration plans to pedestrianise Water Street and thanks to Labour over £7million was ring fenced for new buildings at Todmorden High School and a new primary school at Ferney Lee, she said.
Liberal Democrat leader and Calder ward Coun Janet Battye said her party knew what an important issue this was and has been lobbying the council to act for some time.
“The council has the power to act, but has not always shown the willingness we would like. The lack of action by the previous Labour administration was one of the reasons we voted to remove them in July.
“Since then, the matter has been pursued strongly by the Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel, chaired by Liberal Democrat Coun James Baker, and a way forward was presented to the new Cabinet last year. Even then we had to put some pressure on them to take action, but are pleased that this now seems to be having an effect.”
She said she would be repeating her request for the Conservative Cabinet to take action to get the appearance of the Halifax Road site improved at the next available opportunity.
“The Council seems to have been reluctant to take action because it believes that the site owner is about to make a planning application,” she said.
Todmorden Pride Board member and long-serving former chairman James Gregory said it was high time the nettle was grasped as Board members had become exasperated with the bad image these sites presented to visitors - the extent townspeople felt embarrassed when visitors came and felt it was holding back the town’s economy.
“It’s not a perfect solution for Todmorden Pride but the town deserves better - you could liken these sites to rotting teeth. Clearing them up is worthwhile,” he said.