As members of the public we went to object to Salford Council selling off one of the City's crown jewels and passing yet another public building into the hands of a profit seeking entrepreneur. We were shocked at the way the meeting was held, how we were treated and how the planning permission ever got through. It was just amazing how the desire of one person, John Wilkinson, can overrule the Salford people.
They made it as awkward and as difficult as possible the whole time, even holding the planning meeting at 1:30pm when everyone was at work. On arrival we were handed a copy of the 26 page panel report and had about half an hour to digest the information and comment on it. Before we went into the room there was a lady with a PC who wanted to know our names and whether we were objectors – what for? Who knows?
The actual meeting itself was a complete shambles. It was awful. We were pushed into a corner with most seats directly adjacent to the overhead screen presentation which was impossible to view. We were then informed by the panel's Chair, who unfortunately did not introduce himself, that any speaker was expected to identify themselves by name, yet none of the people on the panel had the courtesy to say who they were. Then we were told that only two speakers would be allowed to represent all of the objectors but after an uproar the Chair decided to let four of us have a say.
All four of us put our case with passion. Our main objection was that we didn't want a park taken off the people and carved up; we didn't want a listed mansion being turned into a four star hotel in a public park; we didn't want the demolition of listed outbuildings; we didn't want the increased traffic going in and out of the park, together with the pollution and risk to the safety of kids who are playing there.
There were other technical things too, like Councillor Ainsworth raised the fact that there are nine criteria for building hotels outside of city centres and this one didn't meet them. There were objections to the design of the hotel, the trees they will be removing, even the potential flooding of Seedley. But the main objection was that they were taking our heritage off us.
In 1998 the Council told us about the vision they had for the park – a Heritage Centre with animals in its courtyard, more community involvement, school kids growing flowers and plants…there were all sorts of ideas thrown about. The last one in anyone's mind was to turn the Mansion into a hotel, knock the listed outbuildings down and reduce public access which is what they are now proposing to do. I don't know another city with a hotel in one of its parks.
An agent at the meeting said that it was always John Wilkinson's ambition to own a four star hotel and this was the only suitable site. I stood up and said that he already had a hotel near Old Trafford, and he's getting another one in Barton attached to the Salford City Reds Stadium, how much more does this man want? The agent just gave me a look and the Chair said that was nothing to do with the planning permission.
The Council received loads of petitions and letters of objection. These included a letter from the Georgian Group expressing `disappointment' about the conversion to a hotel, and concern about `the scale of the new development and the volume of car parking proposed', and one from the Ancient Monuments Society explaining that the new proposed wing of the Mansion should be regarded as `unnecessarily damaging an important listed building'.
The sad part was that all these people had objected and the final decision was in the hands of a majority of six or seven people who decided what we were going to have. It was a foregone conclusion.
At the end of the meeting we all stood up and said `SHAME ON YOU!' and they didn't bat an eyelid. It was so upsetting. And yet another jewel in Salford's crown was disposed of…
BUILE HILL PARK MANSION – THE HISTORY
• Built in the 1820s Buile Hill Park Mansion was designed by House of Commons architect Sir Charles Barry, and is historically important as this was his first recorded domestic commission and his only recorded Greek Villa. The Mansion was Grade ll listed in 1980 along with its grounds.
• The Mansion was previously home to the Lancashire Mining Museum, closed in 2000 with its important collection scattered throughout the country.
• Legend has it that Salfordian author, Francis Hodgson Burnett, based her world famous book, The Secret Garden, on visits to the park and mansion. The story centres on a spoiled, self-centred child.
It's widely acknowledged that John Wilkinson bought the mansion for £675,000 – less than the price of three semis in the Buile Hill area. He plans to put a two storey extension onto the Mansion to form a 93 bedroom `country' hotel, plus function rooms and a leisure suite with 133 car parking spaces. Normally such a development would be subject to £206,237 in planning fees payable to the Council for `public realm, infrastructure, construction training, climate change and admin'. But not a penny of this was paid for reasons including `the benefit of bringing a vacant listed building back into use' .
Salford Council argues that it needs a sustainable use for the Mansion in order to bid for the restoration and development of the rest of the park. It launched a public consultation on the draft masterplan in July. There is currently no reference to any consultation, open or closed, regarding the park on Salford Council's website.
It's Media City Again!
Is a four star hotel in the middle of a public park going to benefit the people of Salford?
`The applicants conclude that with developments such as Media City, the number of people requiring high quality hotels will expand…'
extract from planning panel notes
Photos by Catherine Wood