Wind-carved stone 'oop top' (on the Pennine Way)
In the open session of the meeting of Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Trusts on the 24th April 2004, Margaret Rooker focussed our attention on an extremely important regional issue that cuts across adjoining authorities and regional boundaries. Stretching from the Peak District to the Scottish Border, the upland Pennines in particular offers a unique recreational and ecological environment.
Recreational access to the Pennines has long been treasured by those seeking the refreshing challenge offered by the wilderness areas of open moorland.
Margaret had raised the need for a coherent policy for safeguarding these assets with Nick Raynesford, the Minister for Local Government and the Regions. His response was apparently sympathetic, asking in fact for the authorities concerned to work together to produce a common strategy. Regional Planning Guidance documents for both the North West and for York and Humber note the importance of open land areas for recreation and tourism. As well as being highly regarded aesthetically, something we perhaps take too easily for granted, the value of special landscape also needs to be considered in economic terms.
Significantly an article published in the Financial Times Weekend section, 24th April 2004, reviewing access to the countryside, the Rights of Way Act, walking and rambling and its effects on the farming community, referred to government figures about the economic advantages of these low impact activities. The large number of walking trips taken is estimated to generate between £1.4 and £2.7 billion annually and to support 230,000 jobs. The economics of walking and rambling are evidently powerful stuff – but who in any case can put a purely monetary price on a day’s walking and relaxing in the Pennines?
Our regional associations, Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Trusts and North West Association of Civic Trusts and Societies now need to be working together on Trans-Pennine issues not least to set out a common strategy for protecting open moorland and wilderness whether or not these lie within or outside the designated National Parks. In turn our discussions should also include the East Midland and North East Regional Associations.
I will be referring this issue to the North West Association meeting on the 19th June and report progress at our July meeting.
We had just returned from a modest walk - out of Littleborough through the school playing fields, over the Todmorden Road into the fields in the Roche valley and back down the canal towpath into Littleborough. It was a grey day with soft light and once again as we walked the canal 1 thought of how much better the view was now the old factory chimney on the right of the valley had been demolished leaving the spire of the parish church dominating the view. This is a recurring thought that I first had some 43 years ago.
Littleborough has changed in many ways during that period but as a Civic Trust member I was thinking about where Littleborough was going and what we should do in order to be thanked by the next generation.
The future may well be imponderable but we do have major issues of change as a challenge today. In the 20th Century, as part of Rochdale, we have shared in many of the good things that have happened but Rochdale in some areas has not been as economically successful as other towns of comparable size. The response from our Authority has been to create a Local Strategic Plan for regeneration that is currently bringing in major sums of money to Rochdale.
This does mean future development in Littleborough will call for much local effort - which leads to the formation of organisations such as the MoorEnd Trust which will give us a local level of support to our initiatives. A Trust such as this can provide a well based structure in terms of financial and legal control and the experience and security which is needed to deal with significant sums of money over a long periods. All this said it remains a parameter that any significant project has to stay within acceptable guidelines in relation to the overall Local Strategic Initiative.
How can we do it? Where do we start and what are the guidelines? For some time now the Rochdale Authority has been making plans which have resulted in firm direction of the objectives and identification and some ordering of the probable ways of achieving them. Some recognised objectives are the 'Rochdale Canal Corridor Regeneration Strategy' and the development of the Kingsway Retail Site as big economic initiatives. Within them there is a mass of detail about the possibilities that these initiatives bring to the area. Littleborough is the highest township in the Roche valley and of course sits at the foot of the Pennines. Along with adjacent areas like Milnrow and Wardle, our future is associated with all the activities outlined in the Canal Corridor Regeneration Strategy and with a major development of Tourism and Leisure pursuits. The area involved spans not only the canal but our part of the Pennines also. We are the trustees of a historic gateway between Yorkshire and the urban mass of Manchester.
Anticipating these activities the Civic Trust has carried out a major Community Project which should result in Littleborough having a Town Design Statement by the end of 2004. This is important because it is a statement by our Community of what we would like to see in Littleborough. It embraces vital areas such as the quality and type of building that it wants and the existing values which make it a nice place to live in. Officially the Town Design Statement becomes an annex to the local Unitary Development Plan - which is the bible of our planning officers when development or change is being considered in our area.
What does it all mean to us as people who care about our community? We must work within the framework of the Unitary Development Plan for planning matters; we must be familiar with the overall intent of our Authority and the detail in the numerous associated documents. Specifically in Littleborough we must begin to think of the implications of receiving significant numbers of tourists and the effect on the economy. It will mean on the one hand many more cars to park but also more people, more fun and more prosperity if we are successful.
A simple mental check list done during the last 200 yards of the canal part of our walk came up with the need for great improvement to our station, acceptable toilet facilities, an unavoidable demand for a much extended Information Centre in Littleborough (a new building near the Arches?) better designed signage and a major restoration to our famous gateway. We can expect a more lively environment and business opportunities in areas such as catering and accommodation.
By the time we arrived at the centre of the Town we were heartened by the thought that an obsolete reservoir which only holds water because it has dams on three sides after a roller coaster development has ended up as Hollingworth Lake Park - one of the countries most visited sites. We can take heart and build on success.
Walking up Hare Hill road now and musing about who will pay for all this development. There are many sources and they are keen to fund projects that can show they are, or can be managed, planned and well administered. Typical sources on new money are projects which may be supported by Regional Government. If the proposals are accepted soon there will possibly be a major new funding opportunity. We were nearly through the gate and home for a cup of tea when another possibility stood up and said 'count me in'.
Historically the Co-operative Movement was born in areas such as Littleborough, created by workers who were determined to get value for their hard-earned wages and good food. They grew to an enormous organisation worldwide. In Littleborough until the First World War they fed us, dressed us and provided us with every form of service. They also provided entertainment for our children and a "divi" for the Christmas presents. They built much of the oldest housing we have in the town centre.
After a long and difficult period of decline in the 20th century they have made a great revival in many areas but especially in food provision and now claim 4th position in that sector in the United Kingdom.
Happily we have two such units in Littleborough serving us in an invaluable way. They have still maintained many of the community-based services from their heyday which includes finding money for appropriate causes in the communities where they trade. Where would it be more logical to put together a good proposition than Littleborough, if it was properly planned, financially viable, and would bring advantage to a broad group of our community?
We are back to our gate and ‘the cup of tea is imminent’. The last word is that the Littleborough Civic Trust would like your views and comments on the immediate future socially and economically. If you have a project you wanted, possible still want or have ideas you would like to see considered do let us know. The names and addresses of the officers are all in the Newsletter and you can pass your ideas or comments to any of them.
A recent decision to uphold an appeal against refusal for detailed planning permission may have disturbing implications for the effectiveness of local planning guidance.
An application for permission to extend premises clearly affected a neighbour’s privacy and access to daylight and sunlight. Taking these aspects of the application into account the planning authority refused permission. The applicant appealed against the refusal. Subsequently the planning inspector who visited the site at a time when the objector had to be at work, upheld the appeal on the grounds that his access to sunlight would only be affected in the evening! In being informed of the decision the objector was told that if he wished to take the matter further it would have to go to the High Court.
Don Pickis would like to know of other planning appeals that have been upheld against development plan guidelines. It should be remembered that Local Development Plans have been arrived at after a lengthy period of consultation allowing for statements of support for or objection to existing plans or to proposed alterations, a process concluded by a Local Enquiry led by the Planning Inspectorate.
It behoves me to set the record straight regarding comments made about this site in the last issue.
Although I said at the time that the demolition of the Canal Wharf buildings was surrounded by rumour, it did appear to many that the Council had somehow allowed or been involved in this work.
It now seems clear that this was not the case. The owner of the Canal Wharf buildings apparently decided to make the most out of the site and sold the stone from the building’s walls, the slates from the roofs and even the flags from the floors. He had every legal right to do this.
I still consider it an act of vandalism, in the same sense that a vandal would melt down a piece of artwork for the gold from which it was made. I also feel that the Council, while not in any way complicit in the destruction, might reasonably have been expected to be prepared for such an event. They and the ‘preferred developers’ of the site have been in discussion with all the present owners of the different parcels of land which make up this redevelopment area. To date they have had difficulty in reaching agreement on a price for the purchase of these plots. Although I say this with hindsight, it does seem to me that the possibility of an owner attempting to get whatever profit he could and by whatever other means available from his assets, should have been considered a distinct possibility by the Council.
There was a public meeting at the Coach House in Littleborough on Thursday, 29th April. This had been arranged by the Council and the Developers in order to ‘consult’ with the public on what they proposed to do with the site, once they had achieved ownership. It was a well-attended meeting and although I didn’t count heads I would imagine there were 80 or more people there.
There was time before the meeting began to view the proposals which were displayed around the room. To say they were disappointing is an understatement.
The Chief Executive, Roger Ellis opened the meeting with a brief introduction, followed by Beverley Hirst of RDA, who attempted to describe the events leading up to the present time. A director of Boys, the developer-to-be outlined his companies achievements which he felt displayed their commitment to this type of heritage sensitive development. The architect described his brief (the instructions given him regarding any proposed design) and Barry Dean of Morris Dean Estate Agents covered other aspects including, as he saw it, the financial constrictions surrounding any design for the site.
I think it would be fair to say that a considerable amount of dissatisfaction with the proposals was evident from the members of the public.
Beverley Hirst had claimed in her address that the proposals complimented existing services (i.e. did not ‘clash’ with them). This was patently not the case as one of the proposals was for a pub/restaurant which would compete directly with the newly refurbished Waterside Inn just across the canal.
The main building shown did not appear to be in scale with its surroundings, being four- or five-storeys high and which would completely dominate the adjacent viaduct. The top storeys and roof would be visible from the town centre on the other side of the viaduct; this is part of the Central Conservation Area. A seminar on conservation areas which I had attended just that afternoon had stressed the need to control the views out of such areas as much as the views into them.
The original mill which had once occupied the site had not been of these proportions and anyway was long gone and hardly relevant. The main reason for the new block’s size was to accommodate 22 flats over a miserable collection of lock-up shops with – Heaven help us! – a twee pine furniture shop at the end.
The brief specifically asks for a development which compliments both the canal and Littleborough and should not include any dwellings unless these were tied in with the shops. We got the usual excuse that no development was possible without the lucrative return from new dwellings. It did not appear that any attempt had been made to identify what sort of shops would sell well in such an area and consequently what size they should be nor the number of them. Certainly the only one to which a use had been suggested, the pine shop could hardly be considered as canal-related.
The treatment of the elevations was an incredible mixture of thirties-style design and absolutely like nothing seen before in Littleborough either now or historically. Similar designs however can be found up and down the country where they frequently exist without much visual relevance to the situations in which they have been built.
Materials proposed for use in the building included stone, as though this would be sufficient to make it ‘fit in’. In fact the major material used in the elevations was glass, so dominant were the window areas. The roof appeared to be, at least in part, not slate but some form of metal skin or similar, such as is often used as a cheap alternative to the use of more lasting materials on the ubiquitous factory or warehouse ‘shed’.
Barry Dean said the financial returns were worryingly low on such a development and suffered from both the need to provide a reasonable return for the landowners and the constrictions of the design brief.
The architect had kept the existing, mainly stone, building containing the present garages and the dilapidated brick one further into the site and adjacent to the canal. This last seemed almost perverse to me as its condition is extremely poor and it cannot have any heritage value. It seemed to me that, while I would still prefer to keep the stone building – even this is less relevant now the Canal Wharf buildings have gone – it could be allowed to go to give greater freedom to develop the site. Many others at the meeting seemed to have come to the same conclusion.
Barry Dean explained that if it were to be kept it would be cheaper to demolish it and rebuild it on the same ‘footprint’ of land rather than to refurbish it. It may be unkind to say so but it appeared to me that once again money was overriding every other consideration: disturb an old building to that extent and it no longer exists in any meaningful way as an historical piece.
There was a perception of being let down by the Authority. This was not helped when the officer responsible for searching for and obtaining grants to aid such projects admitted he had obtained considerable financial help for the redevelopment area adjacent to the Rochdale Canal Arm junction but had failed in the Littleborough case. When he was pointedly asked what he had done when his only bid for Littleborough had failed there was no answer.
There is a growing feeling, certainly in my own mind, that where there is any conflict of interest between Rochdale and Littleborough, this town will always lose out. Perhaps we should ask for a dedicated officer within the Borough whose responsibility is solely to promote Littleborough and who will fight our corner before any other consideration. Perhaps he or she should not be under the control of Rochdale at all!
Many of us came away with the feeling that the developer, the architect and the agent were basically agreeable to considering any solution which would give a fair financial return to their companies for the work done. What is ‘fair’ depends on your point of view and they would understandably be expected to have their own agenda in such matters and would be inclined to go for the solution giving maximum profit.
There was a feeling from the developers that the present owners were asking too much for their land. This, coupled with the looming cut-off date of the 30th June (when the present developers would no longer be considered as ‘preferred’ to the exclusion of any others), made it appear inevitable that the easy option of housing would be taken to make the site economic to develop. (Since the meeting consideration is being given to an extension of the ‘lock-out’ period by the Council).
Despite the so-called restrictions placed on the development by the Planner’s brief I had the feeling that inadequate use had been made of the site area. Car parking had been given its usual dominance, much of it immediately alongside the canal, yet no attempt had been made to build above it. Similarly no one had seemed to ask if the present site boundaries were sacrosanct. The possibilities of incorporating a new access from the Red Lion for instance over the Ealees Brook, or the building of a hotel, say, maybe over the roadway or better still over the canal!
The developers and the Authority finished the meeting by agreeing to go away and think again taking into consideration all the ideas put before them.
We do not however have to await developments from either the Authority or the Developers.
Dissatisfied with the way this site has so far been handled led a number of people to meet in the days following to consider what might be done whereby Littleborough becomes more proactive in this and other canalside developments.
This has led to the formation of the Littleborough Canalside Development Group whose intention is to formulate and put new proposals to the Council. Anyone interested in having a say on such matters should seriously consider joining this new organisation.
To date there have been four meetings. The group has agreed Terms of Reference for its existence which are:
An application has been made for the group to be taken on as a corporate member of MoorEnd Trust.
A ‘wish-list’ of desirable features for the site has been assembled by those attending the meeting and an attempt is now to be made to put these together into suggested layouts for consideration by the Authority and the Developers.
The types of accommodation we have thought worthy of consideration so far are:
It has also been suggested that the developer be not necessarily restricted to the strict boundaries of the site as at present. Consideration could be given to spanning the canal with one building, giving an ‘entrance’ feel to boaters approaching from the south before the vista opens out into a square bounded by the other types of buildings.
If you have any ideas of your own please let me know and I’ll be happy to bring them to the attention of the group; better still, come along yourself to the meetings and have your say. All this is, after all, for the benefit of Littleborough. Let’s see if we can achieve something here other than the barren ideas presently promulgated which tend to stop at the proposal to add yet more housing to our town.
I mentioned in the Winter 2003 edition of our desire to create a flower meadow out of this already pleasant mid-town green area. Two of us met representatives of the Council on-site in March when we agreed a number of desirable things.
The first was to have the grass cut only once in the year to allow the flowers which already grow on the site to seed for the following season. The second was to have the paths mown more frequently but only a mower’s width and without the use of chemicals.
We also were promised some research by the officers into what type of flowers might grow there and which might be sown. Initial thoughts from the officers had been that the soil was too rich, but it was pointed out that plenty of wild flowers grew (or used to before the illiberal use of pesticides) in wheat fields and the like which, by their very nature, would be well fertilised.
In addition the officers were to look into the costs of blocking all the entrances to anything other than walkers and, perhaps, pedal cyclists. As elsewhere in the Pennines this site suffers at present from use by off-road bikers.
Finally they were intending to price the manufacture of some cast iron signs announcing the meadow and asking – in smaller print! – to ‘pick up after your dog’. Enquiries into this are in progress.
One of our Committee Members suggested that this sort of scheme, which is used widely in other communities to remind people of locals who were once well-known and made a mark on their local area and often beyond it, could be started here.
The principle is to place a plaque, usually on the wall of a house or building which had historical connections to the individual being commemorated. This has been put before the Pennines Township Committee who approved the idea. Should sources of funding be difficult to come by it has been accepted in principle that either this society, or indeed anyone else could apply to the Grants Committee for sympathetic consideration and help in covering the cost.
The first suggestion of someone worthy of commemoration was, perhaps not surprisingly, Gordon Harvey, co-founder and owner of Fothergill & Harvey’s (as it used to be known), local benefactor and Member of Parliament in the early part of the 20th Century.
Should you have any suggestions please get in touch.
The dreaded but not unexpected conclusion has been reached in regard to both the Gale Mill site and the Springthyme site.
Once again, indeed twice again, we have had local opinions totally ignored because neither the planning laws as they stand nor the governments attempts to solve perceived problems of housing are able to take into consideration what is locally needed nor indeed what is actually desired by people locally.
Councillors ring their collective hands and Council Officers shrug their collective shoulders in a sort of perennial dance called 'There's nothing I can do about it.'
Where is the much-vaunted Local Democracy? How can this utter madness of continual house building without consideration of the long-term effects on the locality, go on?
Must we continue being led blindly, by those 'responsible' for planning, down a path which we can see clearly along is going to end in disaster?
It appears to me that for many years Rochdale has had a policy of 'dumping' its government- required allocation of housing numbers onto places such as this town.
This is not surprising because, ever since Littleborough was subsumed into Rochdale, that town seems to have regarded this town as a 'part' of itself to do with as it sees fit. No acceptance of Littleborough's right to exist as it's own community with its own ideas and voice has ever been present in Rochdale's collective mind.
Couple this with the Government's interference, promoting ideas about what this country needs and how those perceived needs should be accommodated, whereby local wishes are automatically overridden for the common good', and one has to ask how it is possible to get back to a democratic ideal whereby your view matters.
It seems to me that if our Local Councillors represent the majority views and are in their positions to promote those views on our behalf then just accepting the status quo cannot be an option.
In the present climate there is no doubt in my mind that getting back to Local Democracy is going to be a helluva struggle but that is not to say we shouldn't try. I believe that our Councillors, that is those who actually try very hard to achieve what we want, need to begin to step outside the conventional roll they play and tackle these issues head-on.
Because Rochdale Council as a whole tends to see us differently, as I suggested above, they cannot collectively be expected to do anything for us. So maybe an approach should be made more directly to the Government.
First stop Lorna Fitzsimons? I think so.
She should be asked to begin the approach to Government to see if any positive response can be achieved via her services.
If this isn't successful then a more direct approach perhaps needs to be made, say to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. After all it is from this office that the requirement that 4 million more houses are needed by 2010 is it not? Until recently when it has been conceded that if more houses are needed then they should be built where the need is i.e. the South East, there seems to have been a simplistic idea that as long as the houses are built all over and the load spread throughout the country perhaps no one would notice but people would buy them anyway. Our high-speed trains make a daily commute to London a doddle don't they? I think it was that Office also that sparkled with the idea that no houses be built on green field sites until all the brown field sites had been used up. Brilliant! That would save our green belt and ensure a serious reduction in the spread of the conurbations wouldn't it? Yes it would but only at the expense of the loss of sites which, in Littleborough's case, are desperately needed to accommodate any new businesses which might be attracted here.
None of the above comes under the heading of joined-up thinking. The Government seems to be unable either to understand that any edict or law passed, however good the intentions for it, will have consequences or to see ahead and forestall them before they happen.
Community's need to be pretty much self-governing or they simply aren't communities. They lose cohesion without the power to control their own destinies. There are issues which have to be handled by a national government and which may, for the common good, be unpleasant at local level. These however are understood by the average man or woman: very few grumbled when serious inroads were made into personal freedoms during the last war. Everyone was in the same boat and knew it had to be suffered.
Many issues dealt with these days at National level are not necessarily either for the common good or need to be suffered by everyone everywhere. They are done more for convenience and control by the authorities – their convenience, not ours.
More parochially and to return to Littleborough, there is a perceived need hereabouts, but simply either not admitted or denied by Rochdale Council, that we should have more control over our local matters. We need more shops, more entertainment and more schools all within the borough - Littleborough's borough – boundary. This would eventually lead to a reduction in the need to travel and ease the congestion on the roads. But this will take time. After all Rochdale and the National Government have been ruining this and many other small communities for thirty years or more. In the meantime there should be a moratorium on all house building hereabouts while the present mess is properly sorted.
Iain S Gerrard
A Consultation Proposal July 2004
This Department of Transport publication raises the prospect of building between Junctions 19 and 11 (Knutsford and Hyton Park) an ‘expressway’ toll road, running parallel with the M6, comprising a two-lane dual carriageway. The alternative proposal is to upgrade the existing M6 by adding another lane in each direction.
The ‘land-take’ required by each scheme would seem to depend on the various obstacles that would be encountered.
Widening of the existing M6 would not be straightforward throughout the distance. The amount of land needed for a completely new road would appear to be substantially greater but a completely new route may be preferred in view of the difficulties of widening the existing motorway. Furthermore, experience provided by the new M6 toll road to the north of Birmingham seems to suggest that the improvements to the ‘untolled’ M6 and the easier driving conditions on the proposed toll road make a new M6 ‘expressway’ toll road and attractive proposition.
The extra costs that would be incurred by widening the existing system in particular from the disruption to traffic using the M6 seem to make a new parallel expressway the preferred financial option.
Depending on the location you may already have encountered the new Traffic Officers. By the end of next year (2005) they will be operating across the whole of England’s motorway network.
In helping to reduce traffic congestion, a quarter of which, it is estimated, is caused by incidents, patrols will cover the motorway system for 24 hours a day and 365 days of the year. The main aim of the new service will be to keep traffic moving by relieving the police force of a number of routine duties – removing broken-down vehicles, clearing debris and co-ordinating information and the other services required at incidents.
Tackling crime, law enforcement and the overall control of serious incidents will remain a police responsibility. Traffic Officers do not have investigatory or law enforcement powers but it will be an offence not to comply with their directions.
Now that the local and European elections are over, it’s time to start thinking seriously about the kind of Local Government that we want. Perhaps you thought we’d already done that in 1973 or, in Rochdale’s case, later on when Greater Manchester ‘County’ was knocked out of the ring?
However, this time we have a say in the matter. On the 4th of November of this year, we have to decide whether or not we want Regional Government. It's as simple as that. A straightforward “No” will save us all much time and money because nothing will then change.
If you answer “Yes”, you will be putting the North West Regional Assembly in charge of your future and depriving Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council of much of its power.
This North West Regional Assembly is at present an unelected, unpaid, purely advisory body and has so far provided us with planning guidance which we can ignore or not: just as we choose.
If it looses its advisory capacity and becomes a new, extra, elected tier of government, directly connected to and taking its orders from Whitehall, then it will be just another layer of government and Rochdale Council will have far less say in what happens to Rochdale people.
If this is what you want, vote “Yes” to Regional Government, but if you value democracy and agree with Gaius Petronius, writing in a AD 66, that “Reorganisation can be a wonderful method for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation”, vote “No” and save us a great deal of trouble.
Planning volunteer, C.P.R.E.
Well! Not a peep from anyone! How disappointing!
Does no-one really know where this stone is or what it was for? (Last edition's cover picture).
I thought we had a keen bunch of walkers amongst our membership!
Well I'd still like to know what the significance of the letters carced into it is, but for anyone wishing to see it for themselves, it is in the middle of the moor to the north of White Holme Reservoir and to the east of Warland Reservoir.
And No!, I don't have a map reference for it. Go up there and have a wander it is not difficult to find.
Iain S Gerrard
Editor: Iain S Gerrard