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National News

Civic Voice and the New Government

The new coalition government has announced a number of changes that could have major effects on local issues such as planning and transport. Some of these are summarised here. For more details on these and other issues, and information about how Civic Voice plans to engage with government, see their website: www.civicvoice.org.uk.

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Who's Responsible for our Street Clutter?

Ever wondered who is responsible for the signs, bins and so forth on our streets? The following information (courtesy of Civic Voice) gives some idea and shows how little control there currently is over the clutter.

Street 'furniture' Responsibility Legislative approval required? Formal coordination or public consultation?
Bus shelters Highway engineer No (except adverts) No
Cycle Racks Cycling Officer No No
Guard Rails Highways Engineer No No
Litter bins Cleansing officer No No
Parking ticket machines On street parking Yes. Traffic No
Post boxes Royal Mail No No
Public art Arts officer Yes. Planning No
Recycling bins Cleansing officer No No
Security cameras Security advisor No No
Shop signs Planning:conservation officer Yes. Planning Yes
Street lighting Lighting officers Yes. Traffic No
Street traders Market inspectors Yes. Street market No
Street trees Parks & tree officer No No
Traffic signals Traffic engineer (signals) Yes. Traffic No
Traffic signs Traffic engineer (schemes) Yes. Traffic No
Telephone boxes Pay phone company No No

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Local News

Civic Voice Workshop

On Saturday 26th June I attended a workshop in Manchester organised by the new Civic Voice group. The setting was informal and we all enjoyed exchanging information about our various civic groups in the North West. It is surprising how little contact there is between groups and how much we can learn from each other.

Ian Harvey, the young, enthusiastic Civic Voice co–ordinator ensured that the atmosphere was open and relaxed. For those like me who had no previous experience of Civic Voice, 'Love Local' and 'Street Pride' it was re–assuring that questions and contributions were welcomed.

Civic Voice has co–operated with English Heritage and is building on previous campaigns run by C.P.R.E. (Campaign to Protect Rural England) and 'Living Streets'. An excellent set of papers provided ideas about how to make our streets more attractive and safer. Statistics showed how pleasant town centres increase trade and promote an enhanced sense of community.

Examples of how groups have successfully mounted a street pride campaign were stimulating. One small group feeling overwhelmed by the scale of work involved called on the assistance of a local youth group which quickly completed the necessary surveys. Two of the young people involved were so enthusiastic about the campaign that they presented the final report to their local councillors and planning officers.

Notice to avoid notice

Cartoon: Iain Spencer Gerrard

To put our skills into practice we set off along the local street to the Bridgewater Hall. We were soon amazed how much signage and other street furniture we encountered, much of it redundant or in need of repair or renewal. In one instance there were four signs giving the same information and in addition obscuring a fine vista of the Hall and the canal.

Our discussion on campaigns revealed what other groups had achieved. These were fascinating insights into the way alliances were forged with councillors, other organisations and officers within local authorities. The session was led by an experienced campaign consultant whose guidance on selecting, preparing and resourcing campaigns was a source of inspiration for many of us. His guidelines and examples of successful communication and persuasion were fascinating.

One good suggestion is to examine our local "Public Realm Strategy" which could be used as guidance alongside the Town Design Statement.

As a first experience of Civic Voice events this was very positive. There was an open atmosphere encouraging the sharing of information and feedback from the "grass roots". Civic Voice, we hope, will continue to lead and promote the civic movement.

Don Pickis

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Secretary's Notes

Littleborough Flower Meadow

This has now been established for two years and we had hopes that the wild flowers seeded then would be finally putting on a decent show of colour. Littleborough Civic Trust has money available for the provision of explanatory signs which it was felt could be put in place after an initial period during which the flowers would have had time to settle.

Sadly and regrettably however, the grass has been cut too soon this year (June) despite an agreement with the Rochdale Environmental Management Department that it should be left untouched each year until the flowers had dropped their seeds (late–August).

There is every possibility that the work which was done by the Trust will have been substantially destroyed and we will be back to square one with an un–flower meadow!.

This hasn't spoilt the earlier show of daffodils and other bulb plants.

I have written to the department describing our concern and pointing out that over £12000 was obtained in grants for this work and which will now probably have to be done again. The reply I received was conciliatory, agreeing that the work should not have been carried out, but offering nothing in the way of help or compensation.

We have yet to decide on a possible way forward but it seems to me that we will have to attempt to obtain further grant(s) to help us provide material and labour to reseed the area.

North West Association of Civic Trusts and Societies

NWActs Logo

The Annual General Meeting was held on Saturday, 3rd July in Preston. Representatives from twenty–three North West societies attended with some thirty–two delegates in all plus Paula Ridley the Chairwoman of Civic Voice.

The constitution had been considered to be out of date since the demise of the Civic Trust and this had been redrafted and put to the meeting for approval, which it received. The changes were to broaden the definitions of the aims and objectives of the Association, to broaden the definitions of the societies that would be eligible to join (this had been unofficially the case for some years), to relax the definition of the origin of committee members within the North West, to agree that member societies would now have to pay a membership fee and that all references to the old Civic Trust be removed.

Following this it was agreed that the membership fee would be set at £40 annually per society with the proviso that, as the present year was already half way through, this year's fee would be £20.

I argued that a blanket fee did no favours for small societies and they would be less likely to join when these were the sort of groups which were likely to need NWActs more than the larger ones. I suggested that initially we should only charge £20 per society, with this being reduced to £10 where societies provided us with an email contact (much cheaper to send material out) and less still, at a nominal £5, for really small societies, but I clearly wasn't convincing enough!

The committee members were re–elected for a further year along with the officers, yours truly being once again the secretary for the Association.

Paula Ridley then gave a brief talk on her understanding of what Civic Voice would be trying to do over the coming months.

She began by praising the North West Area saying she was locally based in the Merseyside region. She pointed out that she had not been involved in the Civic Society Initiative and the formation of Civic Voice; this had been carried out by many local groups with a desire to have a representative national voice.

The big central issue was planning regulation and always had been.

She is head of the Board of Trustees composed of six members and all regions were represented by them. She said that the civic movement went back a long way, predating Duncan Sandys' creation of the Civic Trust in the late fifties; her own society, Merseyside, had begun under a different name in 1909.

There was no proposal to raise the £1.50 per head membership fee; there were already over a quarter of a million members and societies were joining the Voice at three a day.

She covered what had been done to date. There had been a lot of workshops, the website was up and running and it was promoting the issue of how to get rid of street clutter. Individual societies needed to provide information of their localities so that Civic Voice could speak from a position of knowledge when approaching and seeking to influence government.

She hoped that the issue of appeals against rejected applications could be raised soon with government. The website contained a poll asking societies to raise other concerns they wished Civic Voice to pursue. An example was the organisation of protests against the new High Speed 2 railway where Civic Voice could negotiate with the promoters.

There was to be a civic panel of trustees from many other organisations such as CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) and ASHTAV (Association of Small Historic Towns and Villages).

There was a proposal for a Civic Day on the 20th June 2011 and a steering committee had been created to arrange this.

A question was put to her on the present finances of Civic Voice; in other words, how was it doing? It appears that some outside assistance (unspecified) would be required, but by 2013 it was hoped it would be able to rely completely on income from membership fees.

It seemed to me that the meeting was reasonably successful but I am struck by a need for NWActs to define its strategies in more detail. All too often we hear the question of what NWActs can do for societies. This is partially answered by the ability of NWActs to send out carefully selected (with the uninteresting items, from our point of view, weeded out) material and information to all societies from a variety of sources; in other words acting as a central network for the North West. We will see if this is enough.

The Chairman gave his usual annual report and this is printed in full after these Notes.

Rochdale Canal Towpath Resurfacing

I don't think it is surprising that many people are seeing the work carried out from Durn to Greenvale Mill in a positive light. It is after all a distinct improvement in the condition of the towpath, which was particularly bad along this stretch of the canal, but then practically anything would have been an improvement wouldn't it? I have lived along the canal now for over fifteen years and there has been no work done on the towpath in all that time and it was bad when I came here.

My concerns over what has been done however remain in that the use of materials is inappropriate and the same level of improvement could have been gained by using different and better ones.

I use the path daily and there is no doubt that it is pleasanter to use than when its general condition was muddy and waterlogged. However I can't help but find unpleasant the smell of tar which on occasion overpowers the smells of the countryside: the blossom of the hawthorn and elderberry for instance. I'm also now annoyed, far more than I ever was previously, with some cyclists who speed along and don't attempt to slow up as they pass me and my dogs. There is often a speed differential of 10:1 which is in my view unacceptable. I predicted this, along with others, and get no pleasure from being proved correct. The main reason I think is that Sustrans has turned a footpath into a cycleway, which was their intention of course, and pedestrians, particularly those with children or dogs are at a disadvantage. The path is too wide at two metres (six foot six inches) and should in my view have been held at a metre; cyclists would then have felt less inclined to maintain their speeds on approaching other slower users.

I'm not offended with the surface mini–chippings, although I'm convinced they are the wrong size by quite a margin, and they will with time weather and become less glaringly new. Indeed if the specification had been along the lines advocated by myself (from information gleaned from a knowledgeable source who knew what they were talking about) the 'fresh' look would have been just the same for a time.

It is incidentally commonly thought that the use of horses along the towpath is acceptable. You would think so wouldn't you as that was the original reason for having a towpath at all — the clue is in the name! This however is forbidden by a British Waterways byelaw. Any horses using the path (and they do) will probably soon damage it; this wouldn't have been the case with the alternative specification as advocated above.

I never intended that the Trust should argue against all and any process for improvement proposed and I certainly didn't on its behalf in February when we were belatedly given the opportunity to comment. I offered constructive criticism and was ignored along with many others. I have pointed out above that what we proposed was based on information from those with technical expertise within British Waterways. I also know what is being done on a regular basis for paths such as the Pennine Way: which is of much larger stone chippings on fibreglass matting and is capable of withstanding a pounding by horses. Don't imagine that either Sustrans or Rochdale MBC have a superior technical expertise in these matters, they don't. There is nothing magical in creating a good walking (or cycling) surface which drains well and survives hard usage. They made the present decisions without proper consultation and have been unwilling to change them since.

Perhaps the meeting proposed in the Summit area on Saturday, 31st July will give us another opportunity to persuade them to 'go easy' on the countryside.

Hare Hill House

An architect has now been appointed to carry out preliminary drafts of the necessary work which needs to be done to the House, should MoorEnd decide to take responsibility for it.

The situation is still in a state of uncertainty, not least because it is now widely believed that the proposed Joint Services Centre, which would have taken the Library away from its present location, is unlikely to go ahead in the foreseeable future; this is not just because those responsible for progressing it were having great difficulty in finding a site for the building, which was a problem, but also because the present government is likely to be unable to provide money for such a project.

Iain Spencer Gerrard

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NWActs Chairman's Annual Report

Peter Colley, the NWActs Chairman

Peter Colley, the NWActs Chairman

Photograph: Iain Spencer Gerrard

When I prepared last year' annual report, it was not clear what would happen to the civic society movement following the demise of the Civic Trust. Of particular concern was the future of NWActs, given that it no longer had a regular income. In the event, we have been able to continue with the help of a number of generous donations from various sources.

As anticipated, the past year has been dominated by the efforts of the Civic Societies Initiative to establish a new organisation for local societies. Regrettably, it was not considered desirable, by those putting the proposals together, to incorporate regional associations and they were largely disregarded. The recently–created Civic Voice does, however, make provision for them to join as non–voting members. The result is that the movement has become fragmented, and many societies remain unsure whether to join Civic Voice and pay an increased registration fee, the Regional Association for an agreed smaller amount, to join both, or have no involvement whatsoever. This is the kind of uncertainty which the chairmen of the established regional associations had foreseen, and is why they did not attempt to create an alternative organisation which could have caused even more confusion.

While there was so much discussion and debate about the future of the movement, it was not easy to determine what role the regional associations could and should play. In the prevailing circumstances, your committee has tried to be impartial and provide a stable organisation capable of supporting and representing local societies. This is similar to the situation in at least four other regions that are properly constituted, with an elected committee and an on–going programme of activities. However, it is understood that several of the newly–elected trustees of Civic Voice are sympathetic to the situation for regional associations, and it is hoped that its constitution can in due course be amended to provide an acceptable working relationship with them.

As in previous years, we held an Autumn Gathering, this time in Lancaster and Morecambe, so it had a special emphasis on coastal towns. It was particularly interesting to visit both the restored Midland Hotel and the unrestored Winter Gardens, which are equally worthy of similar investment. The other main event of the year was organised jointly by the regional association and the Assocaition of Small Historic Towns and Villages (ASHTAV). It dealt with the urgent need for homes and jobs in rural areas and how existing buildings of character may be re–used for this purpose. These are not necessarily listed buildings, since there are many that are not on any list, yet they enhance the character of both rural and urban areas. This is very clearly spelled out in the recently–issued PPS 5 Planning for the Historic Environment, with which all societies will need to become familiar.

Work on the Regional Integrated Strategy (RS 2010) has been progressing and through our membership of North West Environmental Link (NWEL) it has been possible for me to participate in efforts to retain the important environmental policies that we worked hard to have incorporated in the present Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). It was intended that the process of integrating the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies would be completed later this year, but until more information becomes available, it is not certain what status the document will have, if any, given the outcome of the general election and the uncertainty surrounding the future of various forms of regional and sub–regional administration. The whole structure is becoming more complex with the establishment of City Regions and Multi Area Agreements, and civic societies will need to be alert to these changes and how they will affect their locality.

In the present period of transition, it is important for the association to help provide societies with the information and support that they want. To enable us to do this, the association has now registered with Civic Voice, has become a member of the Heritage Alliance and Urban Forum and also has links with the Rural Service Community, so that we can access the wide range of services provided by these bodies. Our membership of North West Environmental Link and North West Heritage Environment Forum makes it possible for us to work with other like–minded groups, so that our views are taken into account by decision–making bodies. We are also hoping to develop our contacts with the other various built environmental organisations in the region, such as the Victorian Society, in order to create a network for the exchange of information regarding events, meetings, conferences, exhibitions etc. This, like working with CPRE, ASHTAV, and the Historic Towns Forum, is not the kind of activity that would be easy for individual societies to undertake.

There is inevitably a cost incurred in fulfilling this role, and it is therefore necessary for the association to ask member societies to pay an annual subscription. Last year, it was suggested that £40pa would cover our anticipated expenditure and, since this is similar to that which is being levied by other regional associations, this is the proposal which will be recommended for adoption at the forthcoming AGM. We are endeavouring to keep the cost as low as possible because we are aware that many societies have a limited income, and we wish to offer those that decide not to join Civic Voice a way of maintaining contact with the rest of the movement. We have also investigated various alternative insurance packages, and can suggest a number of reasonably–priced options that societies could purchase independently until such time as sufficient numbers permit putting together a group policy.

Maintaining contact with all the local societies in the region is an ongoing challenge, even with modern communication technology. We have a website and wherever possible use e–mail to reduce the cost of postage. Over the past few months, a number of Bulletins have been issued to help keep societies up to date with the rapidly–changing situation and, as I mentioned last year, each member of the committee has been asked to establish personal contact with a group of local societies. However, it is important that societies do respond, so that we know whether you are getting the information that is interesting and useful to you or whether you would prefer the association to provide something else — after all it is YOUR association.

Peter Colley

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Creating a Wild Flower Meadow

I am descended from a long line of gardeners. Unfortunately, I have inherited my forebears' enthusiasm but not their green fingers! However, the recent concern about the Wild Flower Meadow which adjoins Hare Hill Road and is on the old gas works site has been of particular interest for me. Jill Roberts had long campaigned for the meadow and this beautiful green space remains as a tribute to her.

Wild flower meadows are notoriously difficult to establish and to maintain. Sadly, traditional English flower meadows are declining and in some areas have virtually disappeared, victims to intensive agriculture and artificial fertiliser. In fact the Yorkshire Dales National Park is currently involved with a programme to restore many old meadow sites.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to acquire a few acres of derelict land, some of which consisted of waste from a disused open cast mine. With a lot of help and advice, the land was restored. The Groundwork Trust provided much needed labour and machinery. It was at this point that my idea of a wild flower meadow was born.

This experience has taught me a lot about the difficulty of planting and caring for wild flowers. Traditionally meadows were part of the cycle of hay making on small mixed farms. Contrary to common hearsay they do not grow 'naturally': they are the product of a particular pattern of human intervention. The cycle of winter grazing; spring growth and hay making in late summer allowed flowers to grow and seed from year to year. The timings of this cycle was crucial and is difficult to replicate without a great deal of work. Moreover finding the appropriate flowers for soil acidity is hard and of course most of the soil found in parks and gardens is high in fertility causing grass to grow too densely and smother the wild flowers.

Unsurprisingly my own attempts at creating a wild flower meadow had limited success, and soon other events necessitated a change in land use. I do still have beautiful red and white clover, ox eye daisies, king cups and a few scabious but strangely my main and lasting triumph is the hedgerows. It is hard to remember that a few years ago we spent hours and days of back–aching work planting over 1000 tiny saplings which are now handsome birch, thorn and holly. The hedges are thick and tall, full of nests and bird song, providing food and shelter for wildlife.

I do hope that Jill's dream of a beautiful meadow will eventually become a reality. Maybe there will be fewer wild flowers than we would wish, but a wonderful expanse of green in the heart of Littleborough will always be a joy for generations to come.

Margaret Edwards

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Keith Parry and the Founding of the Littleborough Civic Trust

Keith

Keith Parry

Keith Parry at the tree planting ceremony by Lock 45 in 2002

Photograph: Iain Spencer Gerrard

With the enthusiasm of someone who returns to his native heath and becomes sharply aware of its attractions, Keith Parry, returning to Littleborough in the 1970s from a broadcasting career in London, encouraged a small group of friends to set up a Civic Trust. Keith was reminded of Littleborough's unique assets: its location as a transport focus for road and railway connections to Manchester in one direction and to Leeds, Bradford and York in the other. In many ways Littleborough was ideally located to meet the business needs of some and the recreational needs of many.

Keith set about encouraging like–minded people to help create a Civic Trust to safeguard and develop these assets. That group set up Littleborough Civic Trust (then known as Littleborough Civic Society) in 1971. In doing so they were recognising Littleborough's Pennine location and the popularity of the area among visitors who wished to walk its tracks and footpaths. Much of their interest centred of course on Hollingworth Lake which attracted those keen to sail or merely to admire its special location.

Walking the Footpaths

A footpath group soon became a significant sub–group of the Littleborough Civic Trust, attracting members from both Yorkshire and Greater Manchester. In its heyday the group arranged mid–week and weekend walks, both well supported.

In its early life, the group was led by John Hindle, who encouraged us as active members to be a little more ambitious in our routes around Littleborough. As a postman, John was well suited to the role of walks leader, being in better fettle than most of us more used to a casual stroll than a demanding hike. Undeterred, we continued to walk when we could and tackled longer and more varied routes. Littleborough, we discovered, is richly endowed with footpaths, many of them linking with the former packhorse trails that range across the Pennines linking Manchester with Halifax, Leeds and Bradford via Todmorden and Hebden Bridge.

Sadly John Hindle died in the 1980s, but his footpath and walking legacy went on. Routes which were especially popular were subsequently published in a series of footpath leaflets and are still walked and enjoyed today.

Littleborough Civic Trust and Planning

More recently, the Civic Trust, together with Littleborough Historical and Archæological Society produced a Town Design Statement (TDS) for Littleborough. This sets out planning guidance for individual members of the community and for potential developers. Importantly, the TDS is accepted by the Local Authority as a significant reference document, taken into consideration as part of the planning process.

The TDS sets out to show distinctive features in the built environment and in its open spaces. The use of local materials in the built heritage constitutes one of the most notable of these distinctive features. Unsympathetic additions or alterations to existing buildings can easily compromise the integrity of distinctive local design. The Design Statement aims to provide guidance by drawing attention to that distinctive design and to the appropriate use of local materials (see page 57 of the Town Design Statement — accessible elsewhere on this website).

The Littleborough Civic Trust remains dedicated to supporting activities which retain and strengthen Littleborough's character and to enhancing its potential to meet the demands likely to be made by future development proposals.

Don Pickis

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The Rake Inn Restored

The former "Rake Inn", a Grade 2 listed building on Blackstone Edge Old Road, Littleborough is now known as "The Rake Tapas" and owned by Mark and Dawn Whickham.

The original building dates back to 1690, which is inscribed on the door surround, but has later additions and alterations including the lean–to extensions which largely obscure the rear. Much of the first floor area had not seen the light of day for many decades and very little maintenance had been carried out by previous owners to the main structure, including the roofing space, which fell into a very poor state of repair.

Internal Works

Internal Works

Photograph: Tony Smith

Mark, in conjunction with David Morris, Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council's Conservation Officer, has sympathetically (and in many areas, invisibly) restored the integrity and strength of the structure and opened up the first floor including into what is thought to have been the monks', or priests', quarters (see the photograph). When the old beams were revealed it was discovered that many of them appear to be reclaimed timbers from an even earlier timber framed building, maybe even as early as the 14th Century. All of the old exposed beams have been retained and where strengthening beams have been required they are well hidden. Many of the original exposed beams have been made into features, or areas of interest, with concealed lighting to enhance their character, whereas some previous brickwork repairs to the stone walls have been hidden giving the rooms back their historical charm. One addition will be a terraced area over the lean–to extensions in matching stone.

Having seen the work carried out at various stages throughout the restoration I have witnessed, first hand, the enthusiasm, love and care that Mark has put into retaining the character and historical value of this wonderful building and I look forward to its final unveiling with relish.

Tony Smith

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Editor: Brian Walker