Barnsley, in the Heart of Yorkshire
Barnsley people have a great deal of respect for their old market town. Of that there can be no doubt.
Barnsley is a place with a history crafted by hard-working people. It is a place that stands no nonsense, with a style that like its people, says loud and clear – here I am take me for what I am. Barnsley’s very structure and architecture is as frank and straightforward as its populace.
Outside Barnsley the town has an image that has until very recently, emphasised the negative rather than the positive. Relatively high levels of unemployment, unsatisfactory educational performance levels and pockets of deprivation. Old fashioned buildings and unsatisfactory 70’s era “improvements”. Hit by the virtual disappearance of a mining industry on which much of Barnsley’s 19th and 20th century development was founded, and prominent on the borough’s coat of arms, it has taken time for structural change to take place. The closure of local pits one after another and the knock-on effect on suppliers and shop-keepers was a massive psychological blow to communities built on hard graft and local solidarity.
Not surprisingly Barnsley has been in an economic limbo for a while. Who would invest in what looked like a town in decline? Could the town keep the entrepreneurs it had or would they go elsewhere? Was it possible to quickly enough build up new expertise and re-train those in the mining industry so that new opportunities could meet with a positive response? Was it possible to stimulate new commercial initiatives and also make the necessary improvements to housing, health, education and social services provision? Was it possible to develop an effective public and private sector partnership?
Now at last there are very clear signs that the picture is changing and changing quickly. Barnsley has even attracted attention outside South Yorkshire and the north of England – not a regular occurrence! Even if you do not go along with the much publicised (and occasionally misunderstood) Tuscan Hill Village concept, it is impossible not to be attracted by the sweep of the up-beat approach of the Metropolitan Borough Council’s long term strategic development framework (2003 -2033) titled Remaking Barnsley. In the words of internationally renowned architect Will Alsop in the opening statement of the Framework Document, “Barnsley can rewrite the rules about post-industrial economies and communities in Britain and worldwide. The vision is in place for a fantastic development to emerge which will give a new definition to Barnsley and a potent new identity.” Or as David Kennedy the Executive Director of Development for the Borough Council puts it “four years ago we began to ask the question – why isn’t Barnsley part of the regional recovery?” Significantly he adds that “if you came to me a year ago I would talk of what I hoped would happen. Now I can say what is going to happen”.
So what is going to happen? As will be seen from the pages that follow, some considerable momentum has clearly developed across both private and the public sector. David Kennedy has no difficulty with a list of projects which are well past the early planning stages and in some cases moving into implementation. These include the re-development and reopening of the Civic Hall, the Digital Media Centre, the innovative Gateway Plaza, new Council Offices on Westgate, a massively improved Transport Interchange, re-landscaping of the area outside the Town Hall and the upgrading of the Mandela Gardens. All this plus the Market re-development project and a number of smaller but very significant private initiatives reflected in the greatly increased number of planning applications in recent months.
Kennedy points to a growing awareness of the great potential of the town and the scenic beauty and fascinating history of the surrounding area. He points to relatively cheap housing and overall living costs, good communications and ease of access to the M1, the adaptable labour force and the growing dynamic of partnership between the local council and private business.
These sentiments were also reflected in the statement by Alan Simpson, Head of Urban Renaissance for Yorkshire Forward in his introduction to the Remaking Barnsley framework document. Pointing out that Barnsley was one of the first six towns along with Scarborough, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Grimsby to be designated as “renaissance” towns by Yorkshire Forward he added that: “Barnsley has a plan fundamentally based upon delivering a high quality urban environment, amenable, accessible and attractive and, most important a plan by the people of Barnsley for the people of Barnsley.”
Fine words, but wherever local government is involved there will always be scepticism and reservation. Successful public and private partnerships require very regular maintenance and effective participation. In this respect, Barnsley is no exception and the practical, straight talking people of the town and surrounding area expect and deserve value for money. However, the signs are good and there is optimism in the air. Enough perhaps to put a smile on the changing face of Barnsley.
Barnsley’s vision for the next twenty-five years is to develop a town with a bustling commercial heart – a 21st century market town, building on Barnsley’s heritage as a centre of trade.
This sentiment is encapsulated in the Council’s Remaking Barnsley project. It puts the borough’s historic market firmly at the heart of its regeneration plans.
The ground-breaking plans for the markets are described elsewhere in this issue, but what of the present-day market? How is it coping, and do the four district markets have a future?
Around Barnsley speaks to Markets Manager Eric Medwell.
“Barnsley’s market goes back many years, indeed its charter was granted in the 13th century,” says Mr Medwell. “Its heyday was back in the 1980s and earlier. However, stiff competition from burgeoning supermarkets and retail outlets, coupled with the demise of the mining industry, caused a decline in the level of trading.”
As a result traders have had to rethink their role and that of the markets as a whole. This thinking has been fed into discussions on prospective changes taking place in Barnsley over the next few years. Already in Barnsley “the development of specialist markets, with supporting town centre activities, has been a success. We now have complementary streets fairs, like the annual pot fair and Christkindlmarkt – a speciality craft fair with a German theme. In recent years the monthly farmers’ market in Penistone has become increasingly popular”
The Markets Manager adds that “the market as a whole is now one of the strongest in the North, with visitors from surrounding counties attracted on traditional market days by some excellent bargains.”
Peter Kwapicz, President of a Market Traders Federation with close to 300 hundred members and a trader in Barnsley since 1969, echoes these sentiments. “This is the best market in the north with reliable well-established traders. We have the freshest traditional meat, fish, vegetable and bakery produce available at low margin prices but we also have new fashion stalls to cater for young trends” He adds that “market traders are receptive to new ideas and we know that a well developed and managed market will attract people to the town”.
“These markets play a slightly different role,” Mr Medwell continues. “Though smaller, they are important to the communities they serve, both economically and socially. They are places where local people meet, as well as buy and sell local produce. In short, they add to the vibrancy of outlying rural and former industrial areas, and they are here to stay.”
The recognition of this is reflected in current Council policy which is to upgrade the markets in Hoyland and Goldthorpe and to consolidate the Wombwell outlets as a high-street market. The refurbishment of the traditional and historic Penistone Market is scheduled to take place in the near future. Find out more about Barnsley markets at www.barnsley.gov.uk
Barnsley’s aspiration to become the 21st century market town for the region, if not the country, is set to become reality, with work due to begin in less than two years time on the multi-million-pound redevelopment of Barnsley Markets and Metropolitan Centre.
Under the current plans, in late 2009 Barnsley people will see an outdoor market area under a dramatic curving-glazed roof, indoor markets on interlinked levels, together with leading retail stores, a multi-screen cinema, amphitheatre and residential apartments, where the current Centre stands. The new Market is due to open in mid-2008.
The flagship project – the largest ever delivered in the town – will give shoppers from across the North world-class shopping, leisure and residential facilities.
“The development will provide fantastic facilities for Barnsley people for many years to come and will be a magnet for visitors, businesses and investors right across the country,” says Cllr Steve Houghton, Leader of Barnsley Council. “Barnsley Markets Project is a massive step forward for the borough and heralds its renaissance as a great place to live and work.”
Situated on the existing Metropolitan Centre and adjoining plots, the project will be delivered jointly by Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency, and Barnsley Council.
They have named The 1249 Regeneration Partnership as their ‘preferred developer’. Taking its name from the year the borough received its market charter, 1249 is a joint venture involving Ashcroft Estates Plc, the Guildhouse Group and Multiplex – the company currently developing the new Wembley stadium.
Yorkshire Forward’s Terry Hodgkinson confirms the long-term vision for Barnsley town centre will be transformed into reality with the redevelopment of the markets, while 1249 spokesman Tony Baker promises “architecture of the highest quality and a shopping, leisure and residential development which will be truly world class”.
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