Local councillors and members of the community who attended a packed meeting of the Claremont and Weaste Community Committee meeting at De La Salle Sports Centre last night were all in agreement that any proposals to build houses in Buile Hill Park would be fiercely opposed.
The Salford Star revealed recently that there was a Memorandum of Understanding, passed in secret by Salford Council, for developer Capital and Centric to work with the Salford Red Devils Foundation on proposals to finance restoration and community use for the Buile Hill Park Mansion by possibly building houses on the site of the park's old depot site.**
This immediately set off a petition against the plans - which now has over 2,000 signatures* – and calls for the Council to explain what the hell was going on to the local Community Committee. Last night, David Seager, Assistant Director for the Environment, attempted to do this, in the face of angry local residents.
He began with a pre-prepared statement justifying the Council's position, saying that both Salford Red Devils Foundation and Capital and Centric had shown interest in restoring the Mansion but that the Foundation's proposal was "not deemed to be financially viable", so both parties "were encouraged to work together to come up with a sustainable proposal for the Mansion and the depot site that would bring the Mansion back into public use....
"Capita and Centric submitted an expression of interest which suggested all manner of potential options, which did include some residential but also included options around a boutique hotel, bars and restaurants" he added "The point of the Memorandum of Understanding for six months is that they develop, consult and refine their proposals but only on the basis of a sustainable community use for the Mansion is secured." (see full statement below)
The Council officer then added that the restoration of the Mansion would cost at least £1.6million, and, with architects' fees over £2million – and later explained that, while the Council could potentially find that money, "to keep that building running would cost £1million a year, so it's not £1.6million we have to find, it's nearly £20million..." He also revealed that the Reds Foundation hadn't even signed the Memorandum of Understanding yet.
While the £1million a year running cost figure was met with disbelief in the room, most residents were angry at the principle of building houses in a public park and the Council's park priorities...
"You're saying money is a problem yet you've given £19million to the RHS Garden in Worsley, so why is Buile Hill Park a problem when you can give £19million to that?" asked resident Lynda Curran, who started the petition against any Buile Hill Park houses.
"Everybody loves that park" she added "You've managed to destroy it up to now but this is where it stops - this is a step too far."
Another resident added that she'd watched the demise of the Mansion, which has lain derelict for 18 years... "I think you've got us over a barrel" she said "'If you want Buile Hill Mansion to stop being a shithole then you have to agree to sell our souls' – and it's not fair. You're selling the family silver but it's us that loses out."
Former Claremont councillor, Mary Ferrer, who has been opposing development in the park since the plan by John Wilkinson to convert the Mansion into a private hotel, reminded the Council official that £3million potential Lottery funding for Buile Hill Park had been lost because of the former aborted scheme...
"Why have you gone with the Foundation when they haven't got the money in the first place?" she asked "Why do we have to sell our soul to give them the money for them to do the work?"
Residents questioned why the Council isn't using Section 106 money to restore the Mansion from the many developers that have built houses in the area; while others asked why the Council couldn't do a deal with the developer to build houses on sites away from the park while still financing the Mansion restoration.
"Why don't you do something really crackers, like plant some trees on the depot site" said one resident to loud cheers, while others believed the proposal was a 'done deal' and that any promised consultation would be a sham.
Having heard the local councillors speak out against any plans to build houses in the park, one resident said "If our representatives don't want this and the people of Salford don't want it, why are we here? This shouldn't go any further..."
The Council officer didn't have any answers about the consultation or the actual proposals, and just kept repeating that no decisions had been made and the Memorandum of Understanding hadn't even been signed yet by the Reds Foundation...
"The agreement is for those two parties to talk together but at the moment they're not doing that very well" he added.
Local councillor, Paul Wilson proposed that the Community Committee write to the Cabinet and City Mayor to express "that we are opposed to building homes in Buile Hill Park", and while this was passed unanimously, resident Mike Kelly added that "We need to be careful about how we word that proposal – we don't want any development because if it was restaurants and bars that would bring problems too..."
Mary Ferrer added that the issue needs to go wider than the Claremont and Weaste Community Committee... "This should be discussed city wide" she said "It's our flagship heritage park..."
* To sign the petition against development in Buile Hill Park – click here
** For a full background see previous Salford Star articles...
Salford Council Transparency Deficit Over Buile Hill Park and Housing Plans - click here
Over 2,000 People Sign Buile Hill Park Petition as Developer Promises Open Day - click here
Salford Council Loses Lottery Bid Over Hotel in Park - click here
How Salford Council Does Its Community Business - click here
The Full Statement from Salford City Council...
"The Council widely marketed the Mansion and invited expressions of interest. A number of organisations came forward, which included Salford Red Devils Foundation and Capital and Centric. As a standalone, the Salford Red Devils Foundation proposal was not deemed to be financially viable so the two parties were encouraged to work together to come up with a sustainable proposal for the Mansion and the depot site that would bring the Mansion back into public use.
"A Memorandum of Understanding has been agreed that does not bind the Council in any way whatsoever but it gives the two organisations six months to work together and work up their thinking and detailed proposals. The proposals will need to demonstrate how the refurbishment of the Mansion will be paid for and, more importantly, how its long term future as a community building can be secured.
"If the proposals for the Mansion are not viable then no development will take place either within the Mansion or in the depot area. It's also important to stress that we are not proposing, nor will we consider any proposal, to build on any recreational areas within Buile Hill Park.
"A number of options are under consideration for the depot area. The depot is derelict and redundant and has been a secured area of the park for a number of years. It's never been an area generally accessible to the public recently, nor used for public recreation, and is no longer needed for the management of Buile Hill Park. It's also costing the Council considerable finance to keep it as safe as it can, despite it being a locked area.
"Capita and Centric submitted an expression of interest which suggested all manner of potential options, which did include some residential but also included options around a boutique hotel, bars and restaurants.
"The point of the Memorandum of Understanding for six months is that they develop, consult and refine their proposals but only on the basis that a sustainable community use for the Mansion is secured.
"I promise you that nothing has been ruled out or in yet but the Memorandum of Understanding means nothing more than giving the parties space to look at viable proposals. The Council has made no commitment and no agreement.
"Both organisations are looking to consult with residents and stakeholders shortly on their early thinking for the Mansion and depot site, as both want to be totally open and transparent. Equally the Council is determined that they do the same.
"It is also worth remembering that the Mansion and the park itself are listed and so have statutory protection. Any proposals therefore would not only need to satisfy the Council but also Historic England as they are very sympathetic to the historic setting, landscape and Mansion..."