A multi-million pound project to “green” Huddersfield town centre has been described as an 11th hour fix to a self-inflicted problem.
And the £2.5m scheme, dubbed the Huddersfield Town Centre Design Framework (HTCDF), comes as Kirklees Council continues to rip out trees and shrubs dating back hundreds of years.
Senior councillors say reintroducing greenery to urban streets benefits tourism by creating an attractive streetscape. It’s also good for people’s health.
But a former council gardener says he has accumulated ten years’ of evidence of how the authority has “systematically destroyed” green spaces.
It includes felling 18 holly trees in Wilton Park in Batley, which were planted in 1918 to mark the end of the Great War.
“I could hardly believe that they cut them down in the 100th anniversary year,” said Pete Fawcett, who was a council gardener for 32 years, retiring in 2010.
“From 2008 when austerity began people on the council used it as an opportunity to cut down the parks.
“It’s been wholesale destruction through stupidity.
“The council has wasted £1m at least on removing greenery over the last 10 years. Some of it was only done in January this year.
“And I hear that a historic terrace of 170-year-old English laurels is to be cut down at Bagshaw Museum within the next two weeks. Flower beds have already been taken out.
“The National Trust wants people to plant more English laurels because they are in danger.”
The funding announced by regeneration champion Clr Peter McBride aims to create green links through Huddersfield, encourage more outdoor activity and reduce car travel for short journeys.
Key sites earmarked for refurbishment and regeneration include the rail station and the Piazza.
Work will include the installation of large planters known as Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM) measures to be used as protective security – counter-terrorism – for crowded places.
Mr Fawcett, 69, from Cleckheaton, said he was cautiously optimistic about the HTCDF project and complimented Clr McBride for turning around a seemingly negative approach to green spaces.
“I’m glad that Peter McBride has become green. I welcome it.
“But it has got down to the 11th hour before the council reversed its policy.
“Now they will need skilled professional gardeners who are dedicated and have imagination to bring it back to life.
“The gardening staff at Kirklees are bewildered by what’s happened over the last ten years. Morale is low. The council has lost 40 gardeners since 2008. The skill base is very low.
“Thankfully we can bring areas back for not much money. It just needs someone to be enthusiastic about horticulture.”