SOAG's 2005 Campaign
The Closing Stages
SUMMARY: July to December 2005
Newfield receive their certificate of immunity from the Government. There is now nothing to stop a determined council from selling part of the gardens and nothing to stop Newfield buying and bulldozing the site.
Two more groups tell SOAG they do not support the lottery bid the Council has prepared. We write to the Charity Commissioners asking then about the registration of the gardens. We reconsult our barrister on a matter connected with the land disposal.
The Council announce they are starting the restoration (for which read dismantling) of the Ashton Institute and work starts on site. We claim the right of way has been blocked. The Chairman contacts the Council's auditors regarding the way the land has been sold and that other funding sources have not been considered.
The Institute demolition progresses as the scaffolding goes up, Then slates are removed, the roof comes off, and finally the building is gone. Fylde Council erect a notice to explain what is happening on the site.
1 July 2005
The Government issue the certificate of immunity from listing in respect of the buildings on St George's Road and the Ashton Institute. This is probably the log that has been holding up the development, and Newfield are now expected to send in the bulldozers at any time.
The pictures show what we will lose.
2 July 2005
Two more of the groups asked to send letters of support for the lottery bid make it known to SOAG that they have responded to decline to do so in respect of the current bid. Another organisation tells SOAG it has done the same, and another says it will not respond at all. Of the original 21 groups, seven have contacted SOAG to say they do not support the present version of the lottery bid. We can only hope the Council takes note of this and does not repeat the mistakes it made in the Square where it modernised and renovated rather than restored.
4 July 2005
SOAG write to the Charity Commission to say that the Council has not made any announcement of the charitable status of the land, and our members are concerned whether the registration process is progressing satisfactorily. We ask for information about what progress is being made.
4 July 2005
SOAG ask our solicitor to reconsult our Barrister regarding matters relating to the Council's sale of the land.
9 July 2005
SOAG meet friends old and new at their fund raising stall in Ashton Gardens. Membership forms amounting to 21 new members are received with thanks and a good time is had by all. The day raises just over £300 for funds, with stall costs and public liability insurance expenses to come from this sum.
12 July 2005
The Council issue a press release saying that they are beginning the careful restoration of Ashton Institute. This is untrue. They are beginning the dismantling of the institute, and will re-erect something like it if they get a lottery grant. They are employing the same specialist architects to oversee the work that were wrong about the building burning down. This does not fill us with confidence.
Deputy leader of the Council Roger Small said: "...This is the first step before we submit a £2 million Heritage Lottery Bid to renovate Ashton Gardens". (Note that "restoration" of the gardens has now changed to "renovation" - which is quite different)
He goes on to say "Funded by the sale of land, which was completed this week, and the Lottery bid, the ambitious plans focus on Ashton Institute as the centerpiece of the Gardens. Subject to a successful bid, this building will be restored and relocated between the entrance lodges on Garden Street." Note the use of the caveat "subject to a successful lottery bid"
SOAG is concerned the lottery bid will not be granted for a scheme that has overwhelming (94%) public opposition, and one that 8,000 people objected to, and that several groups are reluctant to support. The £150,000 it will cost to move the building to a new location could well be wasted.
SOAG issues its own press release. See the full text here.
12 July 2005
SOAG's Chairman writes a personal letter to the Council's auditors expressing concern that taxpayers money spent on removing the building will be wasted if the lottery scheme does not get approval. The Auditor has previously said that he expects the Council to consider a range of funding options for the lottery scheme once the outcome of the lottery bid is known. SOAG point out that repayments on a loan for the Council's match funding (which would cost £60k per year) could be met from the sale of sand off St Annes Beach (£80k per year) or half the income from St Annes Miniature Golf Course (which produces £120k per year), and that neither of these options would require taxpayers to pay more. See the full letter here.
14 July 2005
SOAG write to the council to say that the dismantling of the Institute has begun and the pathway that is a de-facto right of way along the side of the Plaza Bingo building has been closed off by the contractors for a period of up to 8 weeks.
The requisite notice of closure has not been provided, SOAG has asked the Council to advertise the closure in the proper way, or to maintain the way open for public use by creating a safe passage through the working as might be done with scaffolding and boards seen elsewhere in the town centre pavements during work to adjoining buildings.
Within an hour of being erected, three ladies who had been shopping try to use the pathway, two turned back at the temporary fence and one was determined enough to move the fencing to get through. The attached photograph shows the young man from the contractors (shorts & grey/blue top) escorting her through the other end of the pathway to continue her journey through the Gardens. It also shows an elderly man trying to use the path the opposite way at the same time as she exited it. He was refused access.
There is plainly a requirement for people to use this way and, as you know, it is not necessary for the way to be recorded on the definitive map, for the right to use it to exist.
14 July 2005
The scaffolding goes up around a much loved old friend.
23 July 2005
The slates are being removed
The Council engaged the specialist conservation architects "Donald Insall Associates" to advise how best to carefully dismantle the building and prepare it for storage and get it ready for restoration. We also heard Insall were going to oversee the work to dismantle the building, though there is no evidence of their
name board on the site.
SOAG's architect advised us that dismantling for restoration should mean numbering all the joints and pieces to be able to reassemble them in the right order, then storing the parts in an environmentally controlled and secure building ready for re-use in the future.
Looking at the pictures above, a non-expert might think the job was just cowboy builders stripping out an old building and trying to save a few of the slates to use again.
30 July 2005
The slates are all removed, and a considerable portion of the roof has gone. Windows and doors have been removed as well.
There is no evidence whatsoever that roof timbers and pitch pine interior cladding have been taken apart carefully, or numbered for re-erection.
6 August 2005
The whole of the building is now gone except for the dwarf walls on the right hand end and part of the back wall
View from the mound at the end of the Brick Cafe
Fylde Council has now put up a signboard on the site.
This illustrates how carefully one has to read what the Borough Council says these days. We have added the red underlining to this photograph to aid understanding of what is really meant vies
"We had no intention of conserving or restoring this building completely. We are unconcerned that it was the first public building in the new town of St Annes dating from the 1880's. As long as we get the Heritage Lottery grant, we will use a few of the best bits in a new cafe - but if we don't get the lottery grant we will have to junk them"
"record, carefully dismantle and store"
Do these pictures describe that process?
According to the Council, "Donald Insall was appointed to oversee and carefully record all the components of the Ashton Institute on 4th November 2004. They will be paid the fee of £16,000 for this work."
This £16,000 is not the dismantling itself, (that was estimated to cost another £45,000). The £16,000 payable to Insall was just for overseeing the job and recording.
We have been told the recording will take a month after demolition. So it would appear that the Council only intends to record the bits it has saved - which of course means that the bits it has not saved will not be recorded.
Would you pay the bill for recording and careful dismantling?
If you would like to see which Councillors made the decision to sell this part of the gardens that Lord Ashton gave to the people of St Annes, have a look at the "Hall of Fame" page.
9 August 2005
The resting place for the bits salvaged from the Institute. A far cry from the sort of secure and controlled environment one might have expected for something to be restored.
"Record, Carefully dismantle and store". The bits salvaged from the Ashton Institute are dumped in the yard behind the greenhouses.
Recorded, carefully dismantled and stored?
These are the carefully preserved copings and the slates (perhaps about 30% of the total roof area) that have been salvaged for future use
The remains of the windows, doors and one of the triangular "gables" with the moulding
31 August 2005
We applied to have most to the paths through the gardens registered as rights of way. The path of particular interest is the one (now closed), that runs alongside the Plaza building (map). This is where Newfield want to build their apartments, but they may build them further away if the path is added to the definitive map.
If our claim
that local people have been using them for more than 20 years as of right succeeds, the matter will probably go to a local enquiry, either in the autumn or next spring, because Fylde Council say they will oppose the paths being registered, as will Newfield Jones.
The County Council's "Regulatory Committee" considered our claim on Wednesday 31 August 05 in Committee Room B at County Hall, Preston. The advice from their legal officers (see the officers report), said that on balance our claim should not be accepted. The main reason for this is that because Fylde Council holds the gardens and provides them for recreation and pleasure, public use of the paths in them is not "as of right" but "by right" granted by the Council.
Whilst we accept this argument, we provided further evidence (copy letter) that our claim was not based
on recreational or pleasure use within the gardens, but by shoppers and the like, using the land as a shortcut to town from home. We contend this use has been "as of right" for more than 20 years. We also pointed out that the town has a parish council that was not consulted on the claim, and asked for the decision to be delayed to allow them to comment.
7 September 2005
Fylde Council submitted its bid for Heritage Lottery Fund grant aid. No changes were made to the plan as a result of the comments made by SOAG. Our letter to Fylde Council explaining how we fully support the principle of a lottery bid, but do not support this particular scheme has now been copied to the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Garden History Society, and the Lytham St Annes Civic Society.
20 September 2005
The Saint Anne's on Sea parish council considered a request from Lancashire County Council to provide comments on our application to register the paths as rights of way. We understood they supported the application, but await the minutes.
5 October 2005
Fylde Council receives a report to register Lowther Gardens as a Charitable trust. Councillors are unsupportive and threaten to "wash their hands of Lowther" now that they can no longer regard it as corporate property. Amongst the things that will change are the establishment of Trustees to govern the gardens and pavilion, and the separation of the financial affairs of the gardens and pavilion from the councils normal finances. In view of the criticism of the Civic Society for drawing attention to the need to register the gardens, SOAG issues a press release supporting their action and looking forward to Ashton Gardens being registered.