After five years of John Wilkinson and partners attempting to turn the Grade 2 listed Mansion House in Buile Hill Park into a `country hotel', Salford Council has finally given the unpopular project the push.
The Mansion, built by Charles Barry around 1825, has been tinned up for 13 years, after the closure of the Salford Mining Museum during Salford Council's cuts of 2000.
In 2006, the companies Godliman Watson and Wilkinson Star - owned by former Salford City Reds Directors, John Wilkinson and Iain Watson – `expressed an interest' in the Mansion, and in 2008 obtained planning permission to turn it into a private hotel – despite objections and protests from the local community (see here).
A sale price of £675,000 for the Mansion was mentioned but, apparently Salford Council never received the money, although it never actually publicly admitted this. Instead, the Council extended expired planning permission for the hotel in 2011.
Meanwhile, a £3million application to Heritage Lottery Fund for Buile Hill Park's restoration was rejected as the funders "had concerns about how the development of a hotel within the park would impact on its character" (see here and see here).
In a letter sent in June last year from Salford Council's joint venture company Urban Vision to ex councillor and Chair of the Claremont Community Association, Mary Ferrer, it was revealed that "We estimate that the developer's financial commitment since their initial expression of interest to date exceeds £200,000". The money wasn't paid to Salford Council but went on "architects, consultants and planning fees".
The letter from Urban Vision added that "Prospects for the hotel development now appear to be more positive than at any time since the initial planning consent was granted in 2008…We maintain regular dialogue with the developers and are hopeful of further positive developments in the coming months."
Since then, Mary Ferrer has sent 26 e-mails to the Council, Urban Vision and City Mayor asking for further information, yet not one of them was answered, apart from automated responses. With rumours sweeping the city that the Mansion was about to be put up for sale, Mary sent a final e-mail last week…
"Is this how a resident of this city is treated?" she wrote "Since June last year I have sent each and every one of you requests for information relating to the Grade Two Mansion House in Buile Hill Park.
"I am now understand the Mansion is going to be re- advertised in the near future" she added "I don't expect an answer, but I will give it a try. If this is the case, and I think it is, may I ask why won't the Council work with us to set up a preservation trust, let us bid for external funding and keep the building for the people of this city."
After nine months, Mary finally got a reply yesterday from Urban Vision's Richard Wynne…
"On behalf of the Council we have previously terminated discussions with the promoters of the hotel project" he wrote "This was on the basis that the scheme had, for a long time, failed to secure funds and from discussions with the promoters there was a negligible chance of success either by them or any of the other associated parties that they had pursued.
"After discussions with the Deputy City Mayor, he has asked that we seek expressions of interest from any parties interested in taking over the former mansion and the surrounding yard area for conversion into a sustainable and viable long term use."
And Deputy City Mayor, David Lancaster has offered to meet Mary to discuss options for the Mansion, now there's no commercial interest. Yet many questions remain, like…
• Why didn't Salford Council sit down with community back in 2006 to discuss keeping the Mansion for the people of Salford?
• Why was a private hotel even considered to be plonked in the middle of a public park?
• Why did Salford Council extend planning permission to Wilkinson and Watson when it was obvious that the project had no chance of succeeding?
• Why was the project allowed to proceed when Wilkinson and Watson hadn't, it appears, paid any money at all for the building?
As the Buile Hill Park Mansion goes back on the market, the incredibly important service for vulnerable adults, based in the Park's Garden Centre, is also up for sale.
The service is currently run jointly by Salford Council and Greater Manchester West Mental Health Trust but this and other community mental health services and residential mental health services are about to be `re-commissioned', in other words, privatised.
"It's not just the Garden Centre but Ingleside and Hollybank residential care homes too" says Steven North of Salford City UNISON, who represents staff working in the service.
"The Council says that it's `re-commissioning' the service, that it would simply be a service that would transfer as is, but there is a saving attached to the proposal so how can that be?" he asks "We don't want to see these services privatised, we know what happens when these services come into the hands of the private sector - there's been numerous examples nationally and locally to pick from.
"These are key services for vulnerable people, they are services that work" he concludes "We think the Council should think again."