THE leader of the opposition on Bradford Council has set out his thoughts on how to regenerate Keighley - with one suggestion being that the town is marketed as being the “Gateway to Skipton and the Dales.”

Councillor John Pennington, leader of the Conservatives on the Council, raised eyebrows last month when, during a meeting of Bradford Council’s Executive, he claimed Keighley was a “dying town.”

Despite criticism from Councillors and local business leaders, Cllr Pennington, who represents Bingley and lives in Riddlesden, stood by his claims about the town.

They were in response to a discussion about the town’s Business Improvement District, which he has criticised as an extra tax on businesses. Cllr Pennington had pointed to a number of high profile empty units in the town centre.

After his comments Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “I’m not writing Keighley off, we’re investing in Keighley and we believe in Keighley.”

Councillor claims that Keighley is a 'dying town' are criticised

Cllr Pennington recently doubled down on his claims - putting out a leaflet criticising Bradford Council for being unable to bring back buildings such as the Victoria Hotel on Cavendish Street and the former Abbey National building on Cooke Street. It also points out the number of empty buildings in Keighley Market and the Airedale Shopping Centre and says that under the current Council leadership Keighley can "kiss goodbye to shops and heritage."

The leaflet also includes details of his plan to regenerate the town, including free parking for up to two hours, returning police to the old town centre police station and free visitor maps.

He says there should be measures to boost Keighley through publicity campaigns, including “billing us as the gateway to Skipton and the Dales.”

A website should be set up to “correct those who ask if the town is rough” and bus companies and tour operators should be encouraged to run day trips to the town.

And more should be done to promote attractions like neighbouring Bronte Country and Keighley's Cliffe Castle Museum.

He says a new hotel should be built on the former Keighley College site that is earmarked for a public sector hub, with a “captain’s park” next to it.

There should be a push to get the Keighley Worth Valley Railway onto the National Rail network, and support the re-opening of the Skipton to Colne line.

Wetherspoons should be encouraged to open a new branch in the Victoria Hotel - he argues.

In response to the leaflet, Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “I think Cllr Pennington is doing Keighley a disservice. Keighley is a huge contributor to the economic success of the district. There are some major manufacturers in Keighley which most towns would give their eye teeth for. Whilst Cllr Pennington knocks Keighley’s hardworking people and businesses at every opportunity, we are getting behind them to get things done. After 10 years of his government’s austerity programme towns across the country were struggling even before COVID. As a Conservative politician he should take some responsibility for that.”

Cllr Alex Ross-Shaw, Executive Member for Regeneration, Planning & Transport, said: “I have spoken with local businesses who are rightly outraged by Cllr Pennington knocking their efforts and using their town as a political football. I find it unbelievable that he’s happy to attack these businesses who are working all hours to attract new jobs and businesses to the town.

“Like all towns, Keighley town centre has its difficulties which is all the more reason to bring businesses together as a collective force. As the council’s leadership we support the Keighley BID and the businesses, most of the small businesses who are driving forward positive change. BIDs are voted in by businesses themselves through a democratic process, they pool their resources to invest in the place, therefore Cllr Pennington is pitting himself against the business community as a whole by seeking to diminish their work.

“As for Cllr Pennington’s political leaflet – the council, the BID and other partners already identified many of these issues a long time ago and are now delivering much of what he’s belatedly calling for, so he seems to be out of touch with what’s already happening in Keighley. We have a marketing and visitor information push, free on-street parking, we’ve got the Discover Keighley website, we support the Skipton-Colne link and have lobbied his Government to invest in it, we are working closely with the police to enable their return to the town centre.

“We are delivering on our positive vision for Keighley together with partners by investing in the town’s infrastructure and revitalising its heritage. Our significant investment in the Towns Fund is a case in point.

"We are investing in skills and jobs, including through the new business development zones and the Industrial Centres of Excellence, and we have delivered on public realm improvements for example on Low Street and work to improve traffic flow at the North Street/Cavendish Street junction.”