Council to decide future of college

Todmorden group bids to turn college into hub but Aldi proposes a larger store in its rival plans

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Plans by Calderdale Council to let Aldi buy and demolish Todmorden College are being challenged by a charity that has devised a business plan to take over the building for community use.

In January, Todmorden Development Board recommended that Calderdale Council sell the college, opened in 1955, on Burnley Road to the supermarket chain, which already owns the adjacent site.

Aldi would knock down the college to open a larger store and also build a new Children’s Centre and Youth Services facility. Aldi and Calderdale Council would contribute to the £1.4 million total cost of the facility.

The council contends that Todmorden College is “in need of a significant upgrade and modernisation [and] only 40 per cent is currently occupied such that in its present form the building is unsustainable”.

Community value

The Council’s cabinet decided to sell the college site in April, by which time the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance project (UCVR) had, under the Localism Act 2011, successfully nominated the site as an asset of community value. Under the act this triggered a six month moratorium giving a community group the chance to raise the money to buy it. The act does not require Calderdale Council to transfer the asset to a community group.

Now a new community group, Todmorden Learning Centre and Community Hub, is aiming to buy the site. It is composed of community campaigners and business owners including the highly successful Incredible Edible Farm that has inspired similar ventures nationally and the School of Natural Building.

Under the banner of Save Our College in Todmorden (SOCIT) it has been seeking the backing of local people and suggestions for further uses.

Current proposals include training courses in subjects such as natural building, converting the cookery room into a dormitory for international students and the hall roof into a garden, and generating electricity from solar panels. An old gym at the rear of the building would be improved for use by local sports groups.

In a series of public events, Barbara Jones of SNB has pointed out that the building is structurally sound and fully accessible, but poorly ventilated and in need of insulation.

“We have got a long term plan for improvements,” she said, adding: “What is needed is some imagination.”

One visitor at the public event, Diana Taylor, a lifelong Todmorden resident, said: “My children attended the playgroup and I did my GCSEs here later in life. I was active within a local community centre that closed due to lack of funds. Will the plans here be viable? I hope so as the interest today is fantastic and the people’s desire is great.”

Viable business plan

Wayland Gilley, part of a café group thinking of renting space in the proposed new hub, said: “We propose to run a vegetarian community café where visitors can have healthy food and discover more about the other services in a relaxed atmosphere. We have a viable financial plan and I am confident the other proposed tenants, many of whom are dedicated and multi-skilled people, will be similarly prepared.

“Calderdale Council should back the plans just as they did at Hebden Bridge Town Hall, where local people had two years of council support before the building became a community asset and was transferred to the community association there.”

SOCIT campaigner Emma Leeming, a massage therapist who studied at the college, has some sympathy with Calderdale Council as it decides between the two proposals.

“They are strapped for cash and can’t maintain all their buildings,” she said. “But our business plans are viable.

“They include generating ongoing income by using the building more efficiently and thoroughly throughout the whole week, whilst also improving the facilities within the college.

“There would also be additional space in the future for Calderdale to run its current Youth Centre and Children’s Services.”

Calderdale Council’s cabinet will be forced to consider any new bid along with the one received from Aldi. The deadline for potential bidders is 9 November.

Barry Collins, Calderdale Council cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said: “The process allows for full and fair consideration of all propositions, which will be considered by the cabinet in the New Year.”

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