BARNSLEY town centre is very different to what it was like just a handful of years ago. Ageing, unattractive eyesores are gone and a host of stylish, ultra-modern buildings have been built in their place.
Once ravaged by antisocial behaviour, the town centre was a place where you’d avoid and head for Sheffield, Wakefield or Leeds instead.
The picture now couldn’t be more disparate. Antisocial behaviour was down by 21 per cent last year, police continue to do a fantastic job thanks to their work alongside the council’s enforcement teams and a public space protection order - commonly referred to as a PSPO - has effectively banned known perpetrators for entering the zone.
Its transformation has happened at an alarming rate, too, and last weekend’s opening of Library @ the Lightbox represented another significant leap forward.
It hasn’t been cheap - costing approximately £5.3m - but the venue is not only a traditional library but a cutting-edge community hub which is set to host all manner of groups in the coming years. You’d hope even the dozens of campaigners who formed a human chain around the now-demolished old facility, on Shambles Street, would be impressed.
Barnsley Council recognised that a thoroughly modern library was a key part of the town centre’s regeneration, known as The Glass Works, and it’s hard not to be bowled over by what’s been achieved.
But there’s more to come in the coming two years. Much more, according to council leader Sir Steve Houghton, who is overseeing each part of the puzzle come together to create a vibrant place in which both locals and importantly out-of-town shoppers flock to.
“It’s all systems go,” he told the Chronicle. “Everything is heading in the right direction and at the heart of the project is creating a better town centre.
“The library’s opening was a big part of the scheme but there’s much more on the horizon: The Glass Works’ completion, the new bridge across the railway, the Courthouse’s ‘Digital Campus’ scheme and the ‘Eastern Gateway’ redevelopment.”
While many other towns have lost their traditional markets, Barnsley decided to put its market, which has been in existence since 1249, at the heart of its multi-million pound town centre regeneration.
It’s for this reason, Sir Steve suggests, that Barnsley’s bucking a national trend and already reporting an increase in footfall, with latest reports revealing an average of about 560,000 visitors per month.
According to the Local Data Company, the town has one of the most improved high streets in the country - despite much of it resembling a building site since workers moved in.
“It’s really positive as even though the town centre’s regeneration is way off completion, footfall figures show that shoppers are responding to the changes we’re making,” he added.
“The aim has always been to attract visitors and the market in particular has had a big impact on that. It’s important we’re not complacent and continue to do our best to improve Barnsley as a destination which people want to come to.”
THE town centre’s regeneration is about much more than just the market and surrounding shops.
The so-called ‘Digital Campus’ plan, which involves building on the Courthouse’s 838-space car park to add to existing creative businesses’ success inside the Digital Media Centre, has led bosses to look at increasing car parking elsewhere, with plans for a multi-storey in place at the Eastern Gateway site which lies between Schwabisch Gmund Way, Harborough Hill Road and Mottram Street.
The site, adjacent to Buzz Bingo, has been identified as the council’s next major project after the completion of The Glass Works in 2021.
A state-of-the-art Cineworld will join Superbowl UK and Next when it’s finished, backed by the wide array of independent businesses Barnsley is renowned for. It’s this mix, between big-name retailers and smaller, often local owners, that’s a key part of why the town’s set to flourish long-term.
“With Barnsley Market and the library now up and running, the standard has been set and it’s very high,” he said. “It’s a big investment but it’s paying off.”
Back in 2015, council bosses outlined their plan to create a modern town centre. Eyebrows were raised, its feasibility was questioned and more than a few people scoffed at what they thought was an impossible feat. A pie-in-the-sky way of thinking in times of severe government-imposed spending cuts, of which Barnsley was once again struck hard by.
However, the council’s stuck to its guns. It’s got on with the task at hand, progress is there for everyone to see and the regeneration model has shown that sometimes in life brave decisions have to be made to ensure a bright future.
The council has done exactly that.