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Think tank calls for Kirklees Council to abandon plans to demolish a former shopping centre that currently houses artists, community groups and new business startups.

CGI image of the Our Cultural Heart plans showing the new food hall and public square

Our Cultural Heart

A council-led initiative offering artists free rent in exchange for public art programmes at a former 1970s shopping centre in Huddersfield could generate at least £400,000 per year for the local area if it is allowed to continue, a new report has found.

The think tank behind the research, Same Skies, has urged Kirklees Council not to proceed with the next phase of its £262m Our Cultural Heart redevelopment of the city centre, which will see the Piazza shopping centre demolished to make way for a new 2,200-capacity venue, library, food hall, museum and art gallery, and a public square.

Instead, the group claims that renovating the existing shopping centre buildings is a more cost-effective option and has already produced a “remarkable turnaround” for the area in the four years since Kirklees Council and Making Space, a local arts organisation, decided to temporarily open up empty shop units to artists, community groups and new business startups.


"Our latest figures show how the Piazza Arts Centre could be a national success story for Huddersfield," says Andrew Wilson, co-Director of the think tank.

"Its success is down to the architecture of the Piazza, which has proved to be a revolutionary design for an arts, culture and business startup venue."

"[Our Cultural Heart] has already been drastically scaled back, and phase two faces years of delays and uncertainty, while our continuing research demonstrates there is a viable, cost-effective alternative." 

Strength in numbers 

Over the past four years, the Piazza Arts Centre has hosted activities, including art exhibitions, a theatre company for adults with learning disabilities, and the Ame music venue.

Same Skies says that part of the strength of the current setup, with smaller individual art organisations, sole traders, and startups side by side, is that it offers a constantly changing programme driving footfall into the town and generating positive publicity.

According to Same Skies' research, the initiative creates additional value for the area by bringing together organisations that can apply for funding and investment independently, with one group awarded a £250,000 grant.

The group has previously warned that replacing a network of small spaces with one big box venue would be "commonplace and risky", especially given the strong competition from nearby Leeds, Manchester, and Wakefield.

Despite the cultural emphasis in the council’s regeneration proposals, Same Skies says that the project's original plans have already been significantly reduced in scope.

The new town centre initially included a museum and gallery in separate buildings, with the former housed in a Grade II-listed building previously occupied by the library. 

However, to save money, both facilities will be combined in the old library building to provide “the most cost-effective solution in terms of capital spend and operational costs" and free up the building previously intended to house the art gallery for private use.

Levelling up

Earlier this year, Kirklees Council announced it was facing a £47m budget shortfall and introduced savings across all departments to avoid bankruptcy.

The council also increased council tax by 2.99%, with a further 2% increase earmarked for social care services for older residents and local people with disabilities.

One of Arts Council England’s Priority Places for 2021-2024, Kirklees is also ranked a Priority 1 area by the government, meaning it represents places deemed in most need of investment through its Levelling Up Fund.

The council has so far been awarded over £100m in Levelling Up Funding across four projects, £17m of which is allocated to the development of the open food market.

In response to the Same Skies' findings, David Shepherd, Strategic Director for Growth & Regeneration at Kirklees Council, said that the Our Cultural Heart development will “boost the local economy and attract visitors from near and far” and that the existing Piazza will be demolished “to bring this vision to life.” 

He added: "The Cultural Heart project is on track; it will be delivered in phases to enable more financial flexibility, and work to refine the plans for phase one have been completed."

Construction on the project is due to begin this summer. 

A headshot of Mary Stone