Face carved into dead tree at Timbercliffe
(Photo: Iain S Gerrard)
The Civic Trust movement has been concerned for some time about the impact of regional government in the form of Regional Assemblies on planning at a local level. Writing about these Assemblies in the Newsletter a couple of years ago, LCT member Betty Taylor described them as "unelected, unrepresentative and undemocratic" and "set up solely to enforce government policy".
The national Civic Trust has not been idle in this matter, as described in a recent article by Peter Colley, chair of the North West Association of Civic Trusts (NWActs) in which he says:
The Regional Associations which were established by the Civic Trust in response to the creation of Regional Assemblies do have an opportunity to influence decisions at this level of Government. In the North West this has been achieved both by direct responses to consultations and by membership of North West Environmental Link. This is a body that includes all the environmental organisations with a regional structure including the CPRE, FOE, National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts. Although often portrayed by the media as quangos, Regional Assemblies are actually made up of 70% elected councillors from County, District and Unitary Authorities and 30% of representatives from a wide range of non-governmental organisations including business, trade unions, faith groups, academia and the environment.
Because of my professional planning background, I was appointed by North West Environmental Link to the Regional Planning Group of the Assembly, so the Civic Trust has had a voice in the debate on planning policies which will affect the region for the next 15 years.
Initially, the document being considered was the Regional Planning Guidance, but this was superseded by the requirement to produce a Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). During its development, various drafts were prepared and changes made as a result of input from members of NWEL. The version which was prepared for submission to the Examination– in–Public did not, in our view, contain adequate measures to safeguard the natural environment or built heritage, so it was necessary to make representations before the panel of inspectors holding the Examination. The Panel's Report has been accepted and almost all of the proposed changes have been incorporated into strategy. These have now accepted by the Regional Assembly and the formal adoption is scheduled for later this summer.
We now have a document that has been significantly improved upon as a result of input from NWEL. However, even before it is formally adopted, work has started on a partial review and, in due course, it will be merged with the Regional Economic Strategy and responsibility for the new Integrated Strategy will pass to the Regional Development Agency which IS a quango! One immediate concern is that the Government has now stated that the housing figures in the strategy are not to be regarded as a maximum for each authority. This is intended to allow for the addition of growth points and eco– towns but there are, however, none in the North West. Removing these limits will make it extremely difficult to produce properly–balanced plans for sustainable development at local level.
It is now up to local Civic Societies to ensure that they are involved in the preparation of Local Development Frameworks and use the policies in the RSS to help them achieve the best possible plans for their own area.
Evidence to House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee inquiry into 'The Economics of Renewable Energy' by Dr. P. A. W. Bratby, a physicist and energy consultant, is highly sceptical of the value of wind power as a major contributor to the country's energy needs, and many of his statements echo the concerns previously expressed in this Newsletter. Below is a fuller report than the necessarily reduced one, which was printed in the hard–copy version of this issue.
Dr P A W Bratby
15th May 2008
This evidence is submitted on an individual basis.
Are wind turbines safe? Click here and see for yourself
As many of you will be aware, a developer (Persimmon Homes) has acquired part of the Birch Hill Hospital site and is proposing to build houses on it.
Reflecting local interest in the old hospital buildings, judged by many, including the Littleborough Civic Trust and Wardle and Smallbridge History Group, to be of high quality and of historical/architectural significance, RMBC has been seeking to establish a conservation area within the site to protect the buildings. Some time ago, in discussions, the developers agreed not to demolish any of the buildings while consultations took place on setting up the conservation area. Unfortunately they did not keep this promise, and demolished a number of buildings without authorisation.
On discovering this, Rochdale M. B. C. created an emergency conservation area around what was left of the main axis of the hospital buildings (Pennines Township turned down a previous application for a Conservation Area on the other hospital axis). What has been saved is the chapel, the main block with the tower, with the workshops and original chapel behind, the boiler house (rear east side), the reception house (front west side) and the two gateway buildings (originally housing gas and water supplies). This is welcome news, in that important buildings are safe for the moment, but the whole sorry saga is yet another reminder of the extent to which our heritage is under threat from unscrupulous developers and how vigilant we still need to be.
The national Civic Trust recently brought the attention of all its societies to a comment made by a member of the government.
During May, the Planning Minister told the Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee that local authority councillors should not be forced to receive planning training as 'they bring a lay perspective'. As a registered society we were asked for our views on this comment and for our experience of the impact of councillors on planning committees who have, or have not, some familiarity with the planning system. Only if the Civic Trust knew our views and experiences could they feel confident in taking up the matter with the Minister.
Frankly we found the comment bizarre and yet another indication of how our political 'masters' were so out of touch with the way things are, even within matters ostensibly under their control.
We replied as follows:"The idea suggested by the Government Minister, that bringing a 'lay perspective' to planning matters can only be realised if the members of the Planning Committee are ignorant of the laws of planning, could hardly be more wrong.
"In our opinion the planning laws are too complex and require an urgent reassessment from the bottom up, but that is another and a much larger matter. Under the present arrangements we have had serious concerns locally with the way the Members are often openly harassed by the Planning Officers who will clearly know more than they on planning laws even when, as is the case here in Rochdale, the members have been given a 'course' on the relevant matters.
"We have discussed this issue with Councillors who have been involved with the planning committee for some years and they are convinced that the course they originally attended was useful. This course apparently consisted of three sessions of an hour or more each and was run by senior officials from the planning department. This appears barely adequate to us and, when pushed, they admitted that, in their opinion, some councillors really didn't understand much of what they had been told; they further felt that some form of test ought to be sat which would exclude those councillors who failed it from sitting on planning committees.
"Without some knowledge of planning laws, even if in broad terms only, councillors are often not able to do more than rubber stamp the planning officers' recommendations. The planning laws are often rigid and inappropriate for some local issues and concerns, but many do offer the possibility for interpretation, which can allow some local concerns to have influence on the final decision.
"Having said that we are of the view that there should be considerably more autonomy given to Councillors to come to decisions which, whilst going against Government 'recommendations' and planning law, are what are wanted locally and which are not then automatically overturned by Government inspectors on appeal.
"Over the years the ability of local councillors to properly consider applications in the light of the opinions and concerns of the local electorate has been eroded by more and more interference from 'on high'. Government should only have the right to overturn local decisions were this can truly be said to be 'in the national interest'.
"We realise that some of this goes beyond the question you asked but we think it is all relevant."
We await the outcome of any meeting with the Minister with interest but would also be curious to hear any comments from our own members or for that matter, members of the public who might read this.
The government are seriously considering creating up to ten new towns in areas which are presently countryside. They claim that we desperately need umpteen new houses to meet the demands of the present, let alone the future.
It could be argued that we need more urban areas like we need an extra hole in the head. There is never any expression of concern from the government over the long-term effect of a continually growing population and the demands this trend makes on the country as a whole. Many scoff at such comments saying that there is still a huge amount left of our green and pleasant land and we can afford to lose some of it to urbanisation for the good of all.
But can we?
There really is a finite amount of land within our borders and we are continually using it for more and more purposes, not just for housing either: take for instance the large amount of land being proposed for use by wind turbines! (OK, I won't go further on that issue here).
Housing however is an eternal problem and can not be resolved by eating away at our landscape.
The landscape is not just something to be appreciated like a picture on the wall. It is a living, breathing entity in itself and we degrade at our peril. We in the Trust have long argued that our local moorland is needed in its relatively uncluttered state to act as the 'green lungs' for the nearby urban areas; a place where people can to ' get away from it all' without having to travel expensively around the world to achieve that end. It is also a place, which because of lack of pollution, visual, audible and olfactory, gives a real breathing space for us all.
To take huge chunks of the land for urban usage goes against all of this. (I hasten to add that I'm not aware of any intention to build a new town on the moors around us just yet!).
In addition we are of the view that creating new towns from nothing is not a good way to provide new housing even if it is accepted that new housing is needed in such quantities. New towns of the 20th Century were of mixed success for at least two generations of time. Milton Keynes was designed around the motorcar and is having a radical redesign to make it more human. Welwyn Garden City was created rather for the commuter than for families, being composed of large numbers of apartment blocks. Cumbernauld was designed somewhat along the lines of Le Corbusier's machine cities and has had to have its heart ripped out and rebuilt. I struggle to think what they thought they were doing with Livingston.
Of course all of these areas will probably eventually come round to being real communities but it has taken two or three generations to realise this status, if indeed it has yet been achieved. You can build as cleverly as you like but you can not create communities overnight.
A probably unpalatable fact to many is that all sorts of people simply do not like living cheek by jowl with those of different earning ability, job types and above all social class. It is never more so than now that discussions on such matters can not be addressed as politically they are not acceptable. This is another example of many such where the elephant in the room is ignored.
Place yourself in the position of someone who has paid a lot of money (or taken out a heart–stopping mortgage) for their home, are well–educated, want to share the same school, street, sports facilities, pubs etc. with people who share their values, and find they have someone living close by in an identical house but who have got it for considerably less and have quite different values. This situation is not entirely impossible but it has to occur in its own time.
Communities grow. They can not be created overnight and are easily destroyed by indifferent and ignorant government manipulation. Existing communities are to be treasured wherever they are and no matter what level they exist at.
Experience from the last century of new towns which had the above problems, existing communities destroyed to make way for new buildings but which could not be reconstituted in the new–built housing has apparently counted for nothing.
The whole idea of eco–towns is a political ploy to enable the urban development of green belt and other green areas. If we need to build new, so–called carbon–neutral houses then this should and can be applied to all new housing. It isn't necessary to postulate new towns to achieve this end.
Iain S Gerrard
The first blooms in the Flower Meadow
The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers has now completed their work on the meadow having ploughed and seeded three separate areas in the spring.
The photograph above shows one of the seeded areas, with daisies, poppies and cornflowers in bloom. Do go and have a look for yourselves — but please don't be tempted to pick them so that they will be able to seed themselves!
The various types of flower seeds sown are as follows with a few brief notes about them:
Highest point of field: Summer Meadow Seed Mix.
Yarrow (apparently was a love charm of high repute and in Greek mythology Achilles used the plant to heal the wounds of his soldiers and to stop bleeding).
Lady's Bedstraw (In the past the dried plants were used to stuff mattresses, the coumarin scent of the plants acting as a flea killer. The flowers were also used to coagulate milk in cheese manufacture and, in Gloucestershire, to colour the cheese Double Gloucester. The plant is also used for dye giving a red madder–like colour and the stems and leaves give a wonderful yellow).
Betony (Another plant used as a medicine for centuries on just about every continent in the world, and for just about every ailment known to man: the flower colour can vary from white to pink, purple, red or pale yellow).
Ox-eye Daisy (A typical meadow flower, it is also known as the marguerite and is one of a number of plants to be c alled by the common name daisy. It is also sometimes called moon daisy or dog daisy).
Field Scabious (A perennial having bluish–lilac flowers).
Selfheal (Of the purnella genus and so–called because of its use in herbal medicine. The common name "self-heal" or "all-heal" derives from the use of some species to treat a range of minor disorders. It is reported to have an antiseptic and antibacterial effect and to be particularly good in cases of food poisoning).
Lesser Knapweed (A weedy perennial with tough wiry stems and purple flowers).
Ribwort Plantain (A low herb with broad spreading leaves, and slender spikes of minute flowers. It is a native of Europe, but now found near the abode of civilized man in nearly all parts of the world).
Wild Carrot (Also known as bishop's lace or Queen Anne's lace, it has flowers which are bright white and rounded when fully opened with stems up to a yard in height Similar in appearance to the cultivated carrot, which is believed to have been derived from this plant).
Meadow Buttercup (If you don't know this one you're clearly not a flower person; also known as the 'Tall Buttercup', or 'Tall Field Buttercup').
Lowest point of field: Damp Meadow Seed Mix.
Cowslip (Also known as English Primrose having fragrant yellow flowers or Marsh marigold).
Ragged Robin (Native to Europe, where it is found along roadsides and in wet meadows and pastures. In Britain it has declined in numbers because of modern farming techniques and draining of wetlands and is now no longer common).
Devil's Bit Scabious (A perennial of damp grassland, marshes and woodlands. It has rounded, pincushion– like and violet–blue flower heads that appear from July to October).
Meadowsweet (Too woody to be used as an edible plant, it has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans as a herbal tea).
Teasel (Commonly called Sweet Scabious, Mourning Bride, or pincushion flower (for its head of small, lacy flowers; Fuller's teasel is a noxious biennial weed whose small flowers bear sharp prongs and has been used in the textile industry for teasing or raising the nap on wool).
Red Campion (As per the name the flowers are dark pink to red and besides the aesthetic value the crushed seeds have also been used to cure snakebites. The nectar of the flowers is utilised by bumblebees and butterflies, and several species of moth feed on the foliage).
Either side of path by Brown Street entrance: Butterfly border mix.
Foxglove (Also known as the purple foxglove or lady's glove, although the flowers of some plants are white).
Red Campion, Field Scabious, Ox-eye Daisy, Selfheal, Lesser Knapweed,
Evening Primrose (Most are yellow, evening–flowering annuals or biennials. The common evening primrose is common in Europe, where the roots are sometimes used for food).
Cornflower (It is called bluebottle or bluet in England and bluebonnet in Scotland. The long-stemmed blue heads of the flowers yield a juice which, mixed with alum, has been used as a dye. In the past it often grew as a weed in crop fields. It is now endangered in its native habitat by agricultural intensification, particularly over-use of herbicides, destroying its habitat).
Corncockle. ( In the 19th century it was reported as a very common weed of wheat fields and its seeds were inadvertently included in harvested wheat seed and then re–sown the following season. It is very likely that until the 20th century, most wheat contained some Corncockle seed. In parts of Europe such as the United Kingdom inten sive mechanised farming has put the plant at risk and it is now uncommon or local.)
Pikehouse Cottages, situated north of Littleborough, was, when I was growing up there in the 1950s, a row of six houses adjacent to the eastern side of the Rochdale Canal. The Cut, as it was known "for short" was my playground, and an Aladdin's cave of, what, to an eight year–old boy, was treasure trove. Almost anything that floated, or submerged would be 'fished out'. I became an expert at using a long piece of string — with a stone tied on one end — as a means of retrieving all sorts of 'valuable' things. If the object was on the level part, I would just throw the stone over it and drag it to where I could retrieve it; but if it was down in the Lock, I would throw my stone as close to it as I could, and by a flick of the string, try and loop it around the object enough times to be able to pull it to the top of the Lock.
The most prized find of all was always a stave from the paling fencing that was used by the local mills around their gardens. Whenever I found one of these, I would play for hours, and it would be my spear, javelin, Robin Hood staff, or some other magical object that my fertile imagination would conjure up.
Another of my passions was my model yacht, a beautiful thing, mostly handmade, I think. The vessel itself stood about 3 –foot high with a large sail at the front and a smaller one behind the tall, slender, varnished mast. The small sail was linked to the rudder by a tensioned string, a tiny block of wood, with two, even smaller holes drilled through, were used as tension stays.
When it was stood on its stand (a small board with four long nails through, that the keel would stand in) the yacht looked resplendent with its black lead keel, blue hull and varnished deck. A brass flange held the mast.
With its two white sails it looked like it was racing through the ocean when it was just standing there. But when I took it on the canal, she became alive. I would tie my long string on the front and, depending on the wind, adjust the rudder tension, and launch. Off she would go up the canal, a narrow band of blue wood showing above the water, and a triangle of white sails filled with wind, sometimes the sails almost touching the water, banking this way and that into the wind, and sometimes capsizing, when I would have to bring her in and dry her down, and back to being an ornament again.
I never knew where the yacht came from, or who made it with such loving care and put so much detail into it. But as I got older, and no longer lived near the canal, the much needed restoration never got done, and one day, in need of some cash, I broke off the lead keel and weighed it for scrap.
My sister Christine in the 1950s
Once, a visiting Uncle, one warm day, decided to swim in the canal; it was popular with swimmers at our part. The narrow bit, near to the lock seemed almost as deep as the lock itself, and the gates provided an excellent diving board: my uncle Ted had borrowed a pair of my mother's knickers, and after swimming for a while, persuaded me to go in with him, and he would teach me to swim. To get in by the lock gates was easy, the stone at either side was clean and provided good grip for the hands, so, after much cajoling, I lowered myself into the water held by uncle's strong hands, it was shallow enough at the edges for me to stand up, the mud always formed a 'V' all the way along the canal, or maybe it was cut like that originally. Anyway, there I was being lowered down into the water, I could feel the grey–black mud oozing through my toes, and I just stood there, clinging to the stone wall, partly in fear and partly in revulsion. After I steadfastly refused to move, they finally lifted me out again. I often fell into the canal by accident, but I never did learn to swim until I left school.
So the cut was one big adventure playground being almost on our doorstep, and seemingly going ad–infinitum in either direction, to a young growing boy in those far–off austere post war years.
The picture on the left, taken sometime in the 1950s, shows my sister Christine at the side of the canal wall. In the background are Greenvale Cottages (now gone) and the chimney of Greenvale Mill.
Wooden cross above Watergrove Reservoir
This simple wooden cross on Crook moor high above Watergrove marks the place where the body of a six-year-old boy was found in November 1929. In all there have been three crosses on this site. The first was made by the boy's grandfather. When it decayed two canes were tied together to create a cruciform configuration.
The existing cross was made by Joseph Irlam of Shaw, a retired joiner and a keen walker, who on his first visit to the site was so moved by the tragedy he decided to make a more substantial memorial. He had been told how a group of lads had been chased out of a henpen at Shore, and how the six-year-old ran onto the moor which was shrouded in mist causing him to become totally disorientated. It took five days to find him despite the fact that scores of people were on the moor every day searching, including people from Walsden, by which time he had died of exposure.
Unfortunately Mr Irlam had been told the boy was called Mark Jenkinson hence the initials MJ carved on the cross. It wasn't until after he had installed the cross he learned the boy's real name was Alec Jenkinson. Mr Irlam completed the task by stamping his own name on both ends of the arm of the cross.
After the tragedy the Jenkinsons left Shore and moved to Crossfield Road, Wardle, where they had another child: it too was a boy.
The cross can just be seen with the naked eye from the top of the Long Causeway, but will that be the case if the dreaded Wind Turbine scheme goes ahead?
It has now been one year since the smoking ban in public places came into force and on the one hand I must say that I have some sympathy with the smokers who are now treated worse than lepers in our society. However, I now look at the Central Conservation Area in Littleborough and it has been turned into a tip.
Outside every bar, public house and club the streets are littered with cigarette ends, spent matches etc., and the stale tobacco smell is awful. I know that this is not unique to Littleborough and is in fact countrywide but it is time that something was done about it.
I know that many of our councillors read this Newsletter and I urge them to stand up and be counted, to ensure that locally the owners/managers of premises that allow smoking outside their walls are held responsible for ensuring that these areas are kept clean, on a daily basis, or they should be prosecuted.
Mr. A Smith
Littleborough Civic Trust Member
Editor: Brian Walker