Why Mossley market ground must remain in public hands
Last Whit Friday, the people of Mossley and a few others from surrounding areas (myself included) saw the town’s procession of witness in glorious sunshine. Almost 35 years ago, the same venue played host to Mossley AFC’s F.A. Trophy side. The then Mayor of Tameside, Stalybridge North Labour councillor Charles Meredith, gave the F.A. Trophy finalists a civic reception.
His civic reception was by the now closed library, which of late has moved to the George Lawton Hall. Unless we know otherwise, Mossley’s market place (also the scene of many a Whit Walk, travelling fair and its weekly market) could fall into private hands. In the last nine months, there has been rumours of the town’s focal point being sold to a supermarket.
If you’re not familiar with Mossley, it is ‘split’ into Bottom Mossley and Top Mossley. Bottom Mossley is mainly Manchester Road, Roaches Lock, Micklehurst and Hey Farm Estate. Top Mossley is Arundel Street and Stamford Street, Luzley, Mossley Cross, Quickedge, Haddens and Roughtown. The town’s focal point (and main bus terminus) is on Stamford Street, by the Market Ground. Pubs opposite the market ground are The Stamford Arms and The Fleece. The site of the world’s first fish and chip shop is there.
The market ground has one market day: Thursday. There used to be a second market on Saturdays, which was the quieter of the two days. According to the BBC’s Domesday Project from 1985 to 1986, Mossley market had:
“…a great variety of stalls selling everything from food to furniture, household goods to clothing. About half of the stalls sell clothes, some specialise in one type of clothing, such as children’s, whilst others are more general.”
There used to be toilets, which as well as being a useful facility for its bus users, was a boon for market traders. Along with all public toilets throughout Tameside (apart from Ashton-under-Lyne’s indoor market), they were closed in May 2012 thanks to an unfavourable local government settlement. One which has seen Tameside MBC’s spending power fall by a similar percentage as Spain’s and Greece’s since 2010. One that has seen front line public services cut, and the sale of its real estate to ensure their continuance. Albeit in alternative buildings as seen with Mossley’s library; also as proposed with Hyde’s.
Though the need to save public services is of great importance, the need to save public space and communal buildings should be dealt with similarly. An edition of the Tameside Reporter from the 27 February 2014 stated that:
“…Our priority is to maintain front-line services and , as such, we have a duty to rationalise Council assets – this will also drive economic growth.”
A fair point from the Council Leader, Droylsden East Councillor Kieran Quinn on public service delivery. However, it is a town’s infrastructure which is a trigger to economic growth. The open markets, its public buildings, and transport connections – as well as private enterprise.
On a larger scale, Manchester’s rise in popularity as a tourist destination stems from the Metrolink, the success of City and United, its history, and a go-ahead city council. Public and private coexist peacefully. On a smaller scale, with nearby Saddleworth, it is its scenery, characterful shops, pubs and eateries, Whit Friday, and its unspoilt nature which makes its villages popular. Dobcross, Uppermill and Delph for instance, are popular places for commuters, whether for Oldham, Huddersfield or Manchester. Saddleworth also has its own Parish Council.
The last sentence in the previous paragraph is also true of Mossley, whose town council is objecting to any possible sale of the Market Ground. Its Town Team (created by Tameside MBC after Mary Portas’ observation on the state of the British retail industry) is also in opposition. In fact, there is no mention of them ever selling Mossley market ground, as detailed in the Tameside Reporter last week by Councillor Kieran Quinn:
“…We have never had any plans to sell Mossley Market Ground, but following the raising of the profile of the market in the media, some initial interest has come from a couple of supermarkets.”
“However, this in no way restricts who we talk to regarding the future of this or any site because we have a duty to all residents to get best value for council assets and reduce the costs of them to taxpayers. Our approach demonstrates that we are always willing to listen to our residents when making these difficult choices.”
In other words, the people of Mossley would like their market place to remain a focal point for the town, and rightly so. Is there anywhere else suitable for the Procession of Witness? Where would the travelling showpeople go in Top Mossley: Mossley Cross, thus causing some traffic chaos? Or King George’s Playing Field in Bottom Mossley thus meaning our fellows in Roughtown and Quickedge would need to walk or catch the bus? If Mossley A.F.C win promotion to the Conference North, where’s the civic reception going to be?
In previous years (I may have vague memories of this from my formative years), they have held Mossley’s open market at the back of the George Lawton Hall, on the car park. Could this be considered along with the Whit Walks? I think not.
Courtesy of Google Maps’ excellent new measuring tool, the George Lawton Hall car park is about 13,563 square feet. Mossley Market Place is about 23,437 square feet, almost 10,000 square feet more space than the George Lawton Hall’s car park. 10,000 square feet of which could easily accommodate a dozen market stalls. Result, if on a market day, a net loss in publicly owned and funded parking spaces if the Market Place was ever (hopefully not!) sold off.
What sort of supermarket chain would be willing to take on an awkward shaped site such as the town’s market place without devaluing the focal point? The Market Place, excluding pavements and bus shelters, is around 23,437 square feet – which is about 4,720 square feet less space than the Co-op’s site on the corner of Waterton Lane and Arundel Street. The Co-op store itself is about 10,949 square feet. Would part of Chapel Street be closed off to allow for reversing lorries and if so, what about the gymnastics its drivers would have to perform to avoid a passing 343?
What sort of design could the company take on? Would parking be underneath the store to allow for extra retail space, with the market place on top? The results of which could be ugly, out of scale and out of character with its immediate surroundings. It is best if any plans, no matter what architectural style they consider should be scrapped and rejected immediately.
That is down to us. Since the end of May, there has been a flash mob and a campaign group objecting to the privatisation of Mossley’s focal point. The 29 May saw campaigners outside the market ground protest, presenting a petition against any sale to a private body. Seen in the video clip below is the demonstration:
The 25 June saw a Public Meeting with SOCS [Save our Community Space] at the George Lawton Hall. Making the front page of last week’s Tameside Reporter, 150 people stood outside Ashton-under-Lyne town hall. Paul Dowthwaite, head of SOCS, stated that the Ashton protest was “a commanding show of Mossley’s community spirit and solidarity”. Following the protest, Councillor Kieran Quinn stated in that:
“We have not progressed those discussions at this stage because we have agreed to accept an application from the Town Council to list the market as a community asset, which will allow them to bid for the site.”
Therefore, the ball is in the court of Whitehall. The less famous one, originally home to the Mayall family from Stamford Road. Also known at one time as Mossley Town Hall. There is sufficient public backing, over 3,000 petitioners so far. Locally, it hasn’t been unknown for Parish Councils to run some public services. Saddleworth Parish Council maintain Uppermill Civic Hall, so given a local precedent, could Mossley Town Council follow suit?
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East of the M60 Comment: A Real Case for Public Space
What is happening in Mossley is in no way unique to any other citizens of the nine towns that make up Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council. Or indeed any other town in the UK affected by the Government’s spending cuts. With news of its library moving to George Lawton Hall, nearby Dukinfield losing its purpose built community centre, and the continued focus on Ashton-under-Lyne, is it any wonder why they are fearful? I would be.
In the last fifty years, there has been throughout the United Kingdom, a trend towards the rise of privatised public space. Enclosed shopping centres counts of one example: the 1980 Highways Act prohibits some shopping centres from having a public right of way. Spending cuts and the atomisation of modern life in the last 35 years has seen typical rendezvous points shift from the local Post Office to the Retail Park. We drive further away and lose contact with our more immediate surroundings, which is gained on foot or on public transport.
With fewer community centres, supermarket chains and department stores have begun to offer room hire for community groups: Tameside’s Morrisons stores allow groups to use the café; Ashton’s IKEA store offers similar facilities. In order to maximise the value of its properties, Greater Manchester County Fire and Rescue allows community groups to hire rooms in their nearest fire station. Stockport MBC has a community toilet scheme where the public could have a call of nature in pubs or department stores with impunity.
Whereas some compensations are made for indoor accommodation, outdoor space seems to have less of a fair deal. A well designed focal point, whether a market place or focal piazza surrounding a canal enhances the attractiveness of any town, village or city. It is important that Mossley’s Market Ground should remain so, in perpetuity.
S.V., 22 July 2014.