BY: Linda Whillans
In July 2011 the Developer Urban Splash applied for Listed Building Consent to demolish the Grade II listed building known as the Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary situated on Old Mill Street Ancoats Manchester. The Dispensary is the only Grade II listed building remaining in the area following the closure of Ancoats Hospital in 1989 followed by it’s demolition. In June 2012 of this year a decision was made by the Manchester City Council Planning Department to approve the demolition subject to the signing of a S106 agreement in relation to the re-use of the agreed heritage elements of the Listed Building in any future development of the site and referral of the application to the Secretary of State. However after having managed to obtain deferment of this decision on at least two occasions members of Ancoats Residents Forum felt so strongly about saving this important building, they decided to challenge the Planning Department’s decision and form a campaign group to raise awareness not only within the local community of Ancoats but throughout the whole of Manchester about why this Grade II listed building should remain protected.
The Dispensary Building has significance as the earliest and most architecturally notable building of the former hospital complex and largely comprises a red brick building with polychrome bands and had a steeply pitched hipped slate roof, and is of an irregular plan and of a gothic style. The Dispensary Building itself was built following a donation from a Miss Brackenbury the daughter of a local Solicitor at the cost of £5000.
The Dispensary was listed a Grade II in 1974 with the listing updated in 1994. Disbelief has been expressed by the local community that the demolition of this building has been recommended for approval. They feel that the demolition will result in the loss of a historic Manchester landmark to the detriment of the character of the Ancoats area and the quality of the urban environment. The Ancoats Dispensary was at the forefront of medical science and was known throughout the world for being the first hospital to begin orthopaedic surgery. The physician Harry Platt later (Sir Harry Platt) was at the forefront of this advance and in 1907 The Dispensary was the first hospital to have an Xray Department overseen by Dr Alfred Ernest Barclay. The reputation of the Ancoats Dispensary was such that it became a training hospital for students of medicine from Manchester University.
When Urban Splash purchased this Grade II listed building in 2001 Tom Bloxham (co-founder) declared that “It is a challenge. We have got the skills, we’ve got the enthusiasm, we’ve got the energy to make this deliver. And we have to make it deliver, because if we don’t deliver on this one we’ll never work in the city again.” The campaign group Fight2SaveAncoatsDispensary wouldn’t argue with Mr. Bloxham on that one – Urban Splash shouldn’t work in this city again. Urban Splash took on the Dispensary during the Manchester property boom years in 2001 yet waited until after the bust before taking the roof off a Grade II listed building leaving it entirely exposed to the elements. According to Urban Splash “the roof and floors were removed to facilitate repairs as part of the grant-funded repair package, now leaving the remains exposed and reliant upon temporary scaffold system for support, without which the walls would collapse.” Unfortunately for Urban Splash, it isn’t only the Dispensary that has now been left exposed. The Manchester City Council Planning Department have confirmed that the allegedly ‘supporting scaffolding’ is ‘not fit for purpose’ because it is not structural scaffolding and this has been known for some time. So, far from trying to secure an otherwise unsafe building, the supposedly cash strapped Urban Splash have spent thousands of pounds on useless scaffolding to try and guarantee one. Whilst Urban Splash would like to maintain the fiction that the current position of the Dispensary is ‘outside of our control’, the truth is exactly the opposite. They want the rich rewards of regeneration contracts, but not the legal and social responsibilities that go with them.
And what of Manchester City Council Planning Department and those who are elected to represent the interests of the people of Ancoats rather than a property developer. Where was the public consultation about the proposed demolition of such an important building. The campaign group would argue that both the Council Planning Department and Urban Splash have overseen the deterioration of this Grade II listed building for over 10 years. The building should have been stabilised immediately following acquisition in 2001, yet Urban Splash did not apply for North West Development Agency funding until 2009/2010. This only emphasises the fact that their failure to do so undermines their claim to a ‘proven commitment to conservation and a track record of successfully saving and bringing listed and historic buildings back into use’.
After having suffered from years of neglect and exposure to the elements the Dispensary is in a much neglected state and is now in need of urgent care and attention. SAVE Britains Heritage are appalled that a building of this status has been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent and although the lack of finances available to Urban Splash, the withdrawal of the North West Development Agency grant and the sheer cost of the repairs and restoration of the building are being used as justification of such loss, these are not arguments that can be used and should not be taken into account in any decision.
So given the above what can a group of local people who passionately believe that this building is capable of re-use and could be incorporated in a redevelopment scheme do against these powerful institutions? This group have now formed a properly organised campaign and are shortly to become a registered charity. They are awaiting a Bank account becoming ‘live’, they have a website appealing for donations, they are beginning a fund raising campaign, they are submitting articles for publication in both local and national newspapers (already there has been an article in Private Eye) and perhaps most importantly have carried out a ‘vigil’ outside the Dispensary for the past 5 weeks. The original reason for the vigil was to have a presence so that the public would witness a group of people who were not just honouring the building and those who served within it but to raise the profile of the campaign. This has undoubtedly been a powerful and symbolic presence as not only have local people become aware of the vigil but those who are constantly travelling to and fro to their place of work in Manchester have also been made aware of perhaps a building they passed each day but barely noticed. A paper petition has reached well over 5000 signatures and a petition containing over 4000 signatures has been sent to the Manchester City Council. The group have enlisted legal assistance from Richard Buxton Environmental & Public Law Solicitors of Cambridge, to clarify the extent of the lawfulness of the Council’s decision making process with regard to the demolition.
It is unthinkable that this would be happening in a more affluent area of the city and one wonders about the efforts to eliminate from the landscape part of an industrial past that once was the beating heart of the world.
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