Gig going foodie who reads too much, watches too much film, likes gardening, cooking/baking, and sewing. Likes to go to the theatre and anything arty. Likes travel, likes planning travel....likes solar eclipses.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

What price your heritage?

In 2001 Urban Splash, pioneers of the regeneration of old buildings, bought Ancoats Dispensary in a blaze of reflected glory on how they would restore the building blah blah blah.  After 10 years of inaction - well not quite, they have managed to cover the building in scaffolding and then remove it's roof - they have finally submitted a planning application to demolish the building.  So much for "engaging the community" and making it a "landmark development"......landmark for their bank account no doubt when they build a new pokey apartment block on it.  Unfortunately changes and current economic restrictions on heritage funding mean that the promised £200,000 for essential works to the facade of the Dispensary from the North West Regional Development Agency never materialised before the Agency was scrapped last year.  Nor have charity Heritage Works been able to get a single benefactor to take on the building; although they have had interest the total cost of the restoration seems to be beyond most groups (which rather begs the question why don't they combine?).

I was lucky enough to work here in the early 90s and it wonderfully hadn't changed a bit from when it was immortalised in Lowry's work here:

Now a grass roots campaign is underway to try and save the historic building as per Urban Splash's promise to "make it a centrepiece of the New Islington development". 

Below is an e-mail sent today to to lodge an objection to the development.  Please feel free to use should you want to.
"Dear Sirs

096729/LL/2011/N2, LISTED BUILDING CONSENT for demolition of existing building | Former Ancoats Dispensary Old Mill Street Ancoats Manchester M4 6EB

I wish to object to the above application on the following grounds:

Urban Splash purchased this building some 10 years ago and yet despite their ability to build new apartment blocks have been "unable" to do anything other to this building than to allow it to deteriorate, not least of which leaving it without a roof over the Winter - what did they expect to happen to it? They should have stabilised the building immediately following purchase as was their implied intention in all the "puff pieces" they provided for the regeneration of the New Islington area, yet the developer did not apply for NWDA funding until 2009/2010. I appreciate the developers were drawing up plans for reuse schemes in the time between, but surely the stabilisation of the such an historically significant building should have been ongoing given the developers "proven commitment to conservation and a track record of successfully saving and bringing listed and historic buildings back into use".

The key policy of the Manchester UDP, as highlighted in the Paul Butler Associates report is DC19 on Listed Buildings -

"the Council will:
a. not grant Listed building consent for the demolition of a listed building other than in the most exceptional circumstances, and in any case, not unless it is satisfied that every possible effort has been made to continue the present use or to find a suitable alternative use;"

I would argue that Urban Splash have not made 'every possible effort' to retain the building and the building's current condition has been caused by the wanton neglect and inaction of Urban Splash themselves. Submitting 2 planning applications in 10 years does not constitute a "commitment to conservation". Their current efforts at finding a buyer seem to be limited to a 'for sale' sign (as described in their own report) and falls far short of the amount of time and energy they obviously expend publicising their "luxury" apartments. I cannot believe that in the current economic climate to demolish such a landmark building as this listed architectural gem and to replace it with identikit housing blocks is a cheaper alternative. Surely to use such a building to anchor the development would mean any apartment contained within it's redevelopment would carry a substantial premium at re-sale value? Not only that but the ground floor would provide prestige retail/dining areas.

Practically, the building is now in the most appalling state, and is dangerous. I would suggest that a further reprieve be granted for the building, that Urban Splash market the sale of the dispensary with the obvious vigour that they demonstrate for the rest of their portfolio for a reasonable period of time. Any further support adjustments should be made to ensure the stability of the building whilst this goes on.

Failing this, perhaps the council should step in with emergency funding, having also watched this grade II listed building deteriorate for a much longer period. At at what price do we value our heritage? This building is one of the few remaining in this part of Ancoats with any architectural or historical significance - New Islington will be a place of diminished character and quality without it. Should a developer be allowed to neglect then demolish a culturally valuable building as it is not 'economically viable'? Will this Council go down in history as the one that allowed corporate greed to outweigh one of the last remaining heritage buildings in the city centre? I'm sure I do not need to tell you that this is one of the few remaining old buildings immortalised by L S Lowry in his work and to allow it's calculated neglect to be rewarded with consent to demolish it will make the Council little more than a sop to business in the eyes of many.

I strongly request that the council refuse this application to demolish a listed building, until a genuine last effort is made by the developers and/or the council."
So many of our landmark buildings in all our cities have been demolished and, whilst progress is sometimes a good thing, we cannot forget our past especially when we have lost so much of it already.

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