What’s Going On in Warrington??

It’s inevitable I suppose, seeing the way my life’s going at the moment – or should that be ‘not going’ – that no sooner do I feel I’ve wrestled the latest obstacle in the way of working towards a PhD into manageable proportions, than another one crops up in its place.

I wrote the previous post last week and left it on my computer until I could find a space to add in some links. (This also helps with the typos. Being trained to spot them doesn’t stop you making them; it just annoys you even more.) While I was looking for something aposite for the Bridge Street Quarter development Google threw up an article at the local paper, the Warrington Guardian.

It seems to be implying that, as part of the development, the Council is making draconian use of its powers to compulsory purchase most of Bridge Street. Now, to my mind, you don’t compulsory purchase a building unless you’re planning to do something the owners are probably going to object to – like knocking most of it down?? – so this is immediately ringing alarm bells.

More Google searches found the Compulsory Purchase Order offered for consultation on the Council’s website and a‘final’ CPO buried somewhere in its depths, but the Order Maps referred to, outlining the buildings, that would make things clearer, aren’t attached to either. It needs going through in detail but, at nearly 150 pages, I haven’t yet had time. First impressions, though, are that they’re making a clean sweep on the relevant side of Bridge Street.

The article is dated 2nd September 2015 and says that any objections to the CPO must be made by 24th September 2015 to the Secretary of State, who will then decide whether or not it should merit a Public Enquiry. If so, this would take place in spring 2016, for a decision autumn 2016.

I would have thought that a Public Enquiry was a given, considering the architectural importance of the street. Bridge Street – once Warrington’s premier shopping street – and its immediate environs, form one of the town centre’s seven statutory Conservation Areas and contain 21 statutory listed items, and an additional 13 locally listed items. (A listing may refer to a group of buildings or an entire terrace, so the number of individual buildings will be considerably higher.)

Listing a building identifies something that is nationally important and if it is demolished, or significantly altered, it deprives, not just the people who live locally but the entire nation, of a piece of their architectural heritage. There are 14 statutory items on Bridge Street itself, all Grade II listed: 2-4 (currently the Lancashire Tearooms); 8; 10; 11-13 (the HSBC bank); 12-14 the old Boots; 39-43 the Howard Building; 45; and 78-80; three pubs: the Lion Hotel (now a nightclub); the old Royal Oak pub (includes the three shops joined on) and the Feathers Hotel (now just a pub); and the Warrington Academy. If you include the local listings, then an extremely impressive 70% of the west side and 60% of the east side of the street has buildings of historical and architectural importance.

Warrington has already lost far too much of the buildings that once made it such a beautiful and individual place to live. Any other town would have regenerated the old mills into stylish apartments and exhibition spaces, not demolished them wholesale and replaced them with prefab warehouses – and don’t even get me started on the Victorian market halls – still gas-lit in the 1960s – on their 500 year old site, now engulfed, along with several early nineteenth-century streets, by the Golden Square indoor shopping centre.

The Bridge Street Quarter development is a potential tipping point for Warrington’s built heritage; handled properly and sensitively it could secure and enhance its future. All the pictures I have seen, though, are of Everytown boxes in oh so passe, (but cheap) concrete, glass and steel. Warrington deserves better. We deserve better.

I can’t find any more recent information on the compulsory purchases on the web at the moment, so it doesn’t look as though the Secretary of State has issued a decision yet. It may still be worth while writing to him in that case if you want to make an objection. Please do.

I really don’t have time for this – I’ve got so many other things to clear out of the way before I can concentrate on preparing for a potential PhD; but this is important. The fabric of a town is the visible sign of its history and identity and that history and identity in Warrington is not just the last 45 years of the New Town; but goes back to the Roman manufacturing hub at Wilderspool and the Anglo Saxon church of St Elphins. Pevsner starts his entry on our town: ‘Warrington is old.’ It is an age we should not just respect, but celebrate. It’s what makes us individual, as a place and as a people.

(Photographs of Bridge Street at the website of local historian Mr H. Wells – scroll down past Church Street.)

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