Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Regeneration in Glossopdale? What Went Wrong?

Not too long ago, High Peak Borough Council, as I recall, attended a handsome awards ceremony in a posh hotel somewhere in the capital where they received an award for their regeneration of Wrens Nest Mill. Today despite reconstruction work having begun some time ago Wrens Nest stands a burnt out hulk, the casualty of an arson attack. It is natural to ask what went wrong?

Across the town the next jewel in the Borough Council's Crown, the Howard Town Mill Development stands desolate and empty, in part construction, following a reported dispute between the various parties involved, which include Hurstwood Construction and B&R Developments. Again it is natural to ask what went wrong?

The idea of regenerating old mill sites into swish modern living apartments and shopping emporia (maybe!) seems in principle not a bad one. From an architectural point of view Wrens Nest is a big improvement on the disused derelict building which was there before, and the reconstruction in the main seems to have been sensitively achieved with regard to the wider landscape features of the area. Yet it has not worked out, and while one could say to have one regeneration planning disaster is misfortune, two smacks of carelessness!. Or maybe something beyond carelessness, such as bad karma.

Concepts such as karma seem a little ill fitting for a hard bitten satirical review like this blog spot but I would ask readers to bear with me. By all accounts, and I have to ask you to refer to back issues of the Chronic for the exact Inquiry findings, not all the proper procedures were in place at Wrens Nest or had been followed when it had been opened up for occupancy. The fact of the fire is indisputably a human tragedy, but apparently it may have been one that could have been prevented.

Similarly with the Howard Town Mill development it would have seemed advisable before disturbing the livelihood of existing traders both on the main street, and in the Howard Town complex to be sure that the funds were in place to complete the development. This seems to be the problem or 'karma' element that I am talking about. The Council Planners and Regeneration department have seemed to ignore the human element, considering their projects as purely computer models, to perhaps promote their own careers, irrespective of the human cost elsewhere. Sometimes when you implement schemes it does not serve too badly to show you have a heart, but the Council has not seemed to have much of one. And maybe this is why the human element has come back to haunt them.

Many people found the descent of an army of people in yellow Hi-Viz jackets on the High Street before Christmas an unwarranted invasion. Again, the end product of repaved streets and station forecourt modernisation probably needed to happen, but not in this insensitive way. There have been business casualties as a result of the disruption on the high street, and businesses and local traders in Howard Town Mill are apparently facing serious customer access problems to which now there seems no end in sight or on site!

However safely ensconced in the "planning bunker", as other contributors to this blog have termed it, the Planners offer little contrition for the seeming disaster that has befallen the town as a result of their efforts. Not all of the 'Vision for Glossop' seems to have been a bad thing, but the somewhat callous route taken over over people's livelihoods and everyday lives seems to have backfired in a big way.

One has to wonder if the right people are in post to deliver what Glossopdale and High Peak needs? Are these local inhabitants who have the local interest at heart (with "heart" being the operative word)? Or get rich quick merchants, of the boom and bust economy type who will deliver ill-fated disaster projects and environmental destruction, somewhere they do not live themselves, and that nobody much wants?

Meanwhile something that really would be "good for Glossop" and would count as a sustainable development delivering those much talked about local jobs - Glossop is an area of almost full employment incidentally- would be revitalisation of the Woodhead line for freight and perhaps passengers. However - surprise! surprise! - this does not seem to be part of the Regeneration rubric.

This surely needs to change. Climate change is part of the Council's core strategy discussion in the Local Development Framework , and for the Council to ignore such a fantastic sustainable opportunity on their very doorstep just because it looks "old economy" and not about more cars , higher CO2 emissions and supermarkets, would appear to be just the wrong decision. Sustainable development is too often about putting a couple of eyesore and largely inefficient windfarms in open countryside, rather than a real practical project that would deliver real CO2 reduction benefits. Obviously one cannot lay all the burden of social problems and malfunction and its practical consequences at the door of High Peak Borough Council, but their "bunker" mentality, and indifference to public concerns seems symptomatic of that malaise, so there seems some justification perhaps in doing so.

Can the Council learn from what seem very obvious and serious mistakes in ignoring the human element and improve their karmic standing? More big bucks projects that fall apart are not what the area need, but sensitive regeneration of the area through an appropriate revival of a sustainable transport alternative would be a very welcome change of direction.

In the meantime maybe they could hand back their architectural awards, because they look a little misplaced in hindsight and it would indicate an appreciation that there are big lessons to be learnt. Don't hold your breath though!

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