A Brief History of TAC

East of the M60’s potted history of TAC (Tameside Administrative Centre) with reference to its successor, Tameside One

On the 25 February 2019, Tameside One – the replacement for Tameside Administrative Centre – will open its doors for the first time. The borough’s cheaper replacement will be more energy efficient and, for the functions of Tameside MBC, a smaller building. It will be shared with Tameside College, the DWP, and Wilko Stores Ltd.

On the following Tuesday, Job Centre Plus will move from its present facility on Old Street. The 04 March will see the reopening of Ashton Central Library in its new all-singing, all-dancing home.

Tameside One is only one chapter of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council’s 45-year history. The events proceeding Tameside One’s arrival and its predecessors are worthy of note. Our story begins a lot earlier with the redevelopment of Ashton.

In the beginning

Cast your mind back to 1967. For many shoppers, Stamford Street was as iconic as Oxford Street is to London; or Lord Street in Southport. 52 years ago, Ashton’s commercial centre of gravity started to shift northwards towards the market thanks to Metrolands’ pedestrian precinct. The seeds were sewn in November 1963 when its ‘too lavish’ bus station opened in Charlestown.

By 1971, there was talk of greater integration with other parts of Lancashire and Cheshire. This was already happening with Ashton’s buses, with the blue and cream giving way to Sunglow Orange and Mancunian White. SELNEC Passenger Transport Executive, who ran Ashton’s buses as part of its Southern division, published Lifeline 2000. Key to its plan was The Picc-Vic Project, which was scrapped and later transmogrified into today’s Metrolink system.

Hidden in the paperback publication plan was a more modest plan to improve the attractiveness of Ashton Bus Station. Particularly the addition of retail units to boost footfall and encourage passengers to use the ‘too lavish’ bus station. Not least its synergy with the pedestrian precinct. In later years, retail units were added: The Wooden Spoon moved to a unit near the Trans-Lancs Express stand. Bakers TV and Video took another unit. There was also GMPTE’s own retail offerings: their Metro Flora and Metro Kiosk units.

In 1974, parts of South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire became part of the new Greater Manchester County Council. Services hitherto provided by Cheshire and Lancashire County Councils came under GMC. Municipal water undertakings were merged into newly formed regional water boards (West Pennine Water Board and Manchester Corporation Water Works became part of North West Water).

The biggest, and most controversial change to local government was the formation of Metropolitan Borough Councils. In what is now Tameside, this meant the amalgamation of Denton, Droylsden, Longdendale, and Audenshaw Urban District Councils. Also the amalgamation of Municipal Borough councils in Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield.

Initially, all of Tameside MBC’s functions were shared among the nine towns recognising Tameside’s status as a poly-centric borough. For example, environmental health was situated in Stalybridge Town Hall. Some of TMBC’s back office functions used an upstairs unit in Ashton’s shopping centre.

Towards TAC

Throughout the second half of the 1970s, Tameside MBC was a Conservative council led by John Bell. Much hullabaloo had been made about the council’s schools policy, in relation to grammar schools. With the need to create an identifiable centre for the borough, they saw Ashton-under-Lyne as an obvious choice. It had (and still has to this day) the highest population. In 1977, it was possible to get to Ashton from any of the other eight towns by bus without a break of journey.

The Tameside Administrative Centre, to give it its full name was opposed by the council’s Labour opposition. They favoured the decentralised approach over the centralisation of civic functions in Ashton-under-Lyne. Nevertheless, the plans were passed and construction went ahead in 1979.

Unlike other civic centres in Greater Manchester (Rochdale’s excepted), the TAC building shared its space with retail units including (uniquely to the conurbation), a medium-sized supermarket. The building cost £11 million to build – equivalent to £41.4 million in 2018 prices. It was also built using pre-cast concrete sections with a brick finish. In the coffee and cream of Tameside MBC’s corporate colours.

Most of the TAC building had five floors, apart from a tower which had eight storeys. Despite its octagonal shape, it resembled a dustbin. Therefore, TAC was also known as ‘The Dustbin’.

A Tour of Tameside Administrative Centre

Tameside Administrative Centre opened its doors in 1981. The borough was two years into its second stint of Labour control, which is now running towards its 40th year. At street level was the reception which acted as a waiting lounge for customer-facing services. There was also a newsagents and cigarette counter. Access was via Wellington Road, before a 2000 refurbishment saw an additional entrance from the open market ground.

The ground floor was shared with a Presto supermarket which had an in-store café. Prior to opening, Presto was originally going to be a branch of International Supermarkets. Shortly before TAC’s opening, British American Tobacco reviewed its retail operations by retiring the International brand. Presto became part of Argyle Foods with the Ashton store becoming a branch of Safeway in 1989. The lease was sold to Wilkinson Stores Limited, opening in September 1992.

Facing the bus station, its ground level units in its history included PER Recruitment (an executive equivalent to the Job Centre or a private employment agency), an AA Insurance office, Snow City Freezer Centre, Nelson Travel, Westek Computers, Colourvision and, using two floors, The Fullmonte discount store. Loading facilities were accessed from Warrington Street. The smaller units and the Warrington Street entrance of Presto included a brown canopy.

After its 2000 refurbishment, TAC’s ground floor took on a more approachable persona. The browns and greys were displaced by neutral shades with greens and blues. Customer-facing services saw the replacement of glass screens with desks and VDUs. In 2001, the Tourist Information Centre moved there, close to the entrance for two museums (Setanti and Waterworks) on the ground floor of Ashton Town Hall.

More or less joined at the hip with TAC was Ashton Town Hall. A staircase which linked the two buildings was added to the back of the town hall. This offered access to the first floor staff canteen which was used for evening functions. It also offered an alternative entrance to the Medlock Lounge and Etherow Lounge as well as the Civic Hall in the town hall.

Also on the first floor was Tameside’s administrative and personnel departments. This was where wages were paid and where interviews were conducted. If you wanted to apply for planning permission, the planning department was based there too.

The education department, social services, libraries and arts department, and estates department were situated on the second floor. The council architect’s office was based on the third floor along with the Chief Executive’s office. If you had a query about your council house or wanted to report an obnoxious smell, the housing, building, and environmental health departments were based there too.

The fourth and fifth floors housed the finance department and the engineering department. In the eight storey tower, its top floors were allocated to the Information Technology department. During the planning stages, it was assumed that IT systems in 1981 would have taken as much space as in 1978. By 1981, more mainframes and minicomputers gave way to microcomputers leaving a big space in the TAC building. In later years, one of the IT department’s floors housed the borough’s CCTV system.

Other amenities included a roof garden. After a hard day’s work, employees could choose to relax in its courtyard setting. Or enjoy their dinner.

The twilight years of TAC

By 2012, Tameside MBC was a different beast to its 1981 equivalent. Fewer staff were directly employed by the council due to contracting out. What was hitherto the Housing Department fell under the purlieu of Ashton Pioneer Homes and, throughout most of the borough, New Charter Housing Trust. Social services provision had shrunk with old people’s homes outside council control. The borough’s swimming baths and leisure facilities fell under Tameside Sports Trust – an arms-length trust now known as Active Tameside.

By then, some of Tameside’s buildings fell under the Tameside Investment Partnership. This was a joint venture with Tameside MBC and Carillion. Tameside MBC retained ownership of its buildings but Carillion took over its facilities management side. Staff could stay with Carillion or take severance. As a result, hire charges in Tameside’s community buildings rose dramatically. Later, some of the borough’s smaller buildings (Dukinfield Community Centre) were sold off or transferred to community trusts (West End Library, Denton).

With the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, public sector spending cuts hit Northern English councils the hardest. With Tameside MBC this could have meant the demolition of more iconic buildings.

Instead, co-location was suggested as an alternative to complete closure. The freestanding building could be sold off, with facilities moving to another public building in the borough. With the libraries, this has seen the movement of Mossley’s library to the George Lawton Centre. In Hyde, its beautiful red brick library and college building on Union Street was closed, with the library moving to Hyde Town Hall. Denton’s library returned to its original location in the Town Hall.

In spite of seeing the loss of purpose built buildings, it meant the retention of public services. The late Kieran Quinn’s view would inspire Vision Tameside.

Towards Vision Tameside and Tameside One

Vision Tameside is the product of two bodies: Tameside MBC and Tameside College. The latter wanted to improve its presence in Ashton town centre. The former wanted cheaper, more energy efficient premises.

Before 1974, Tameside College of Technology was two separate colleges. The Hyde College of Further Education was situated on Stockport Road. Ashton-under-Lyne College of Further Education, Beaufort Road and Warrington Street. Hyde Clarendon College, back in 1974 was Hyde Grammar School. They were administered by County Council education departments.

In 1981, both Ashton and Hyde colleges came under Tameside MBC’s Education Department. This changed following the Further Education and Higher Education Act 1992, which introduced market forces to 16+ education. Shortly afterwards, less popular ‘unprofitable’ courses were dropped. Buildings were sold off, sometimes to fund new projects. Polytechnics were scrapped though given university status.

Locally, this has seen the sale of Tameside College’s Warrington House campus. Later on, its campuses in Hyde (Stockport Road and Hyde Clarendon College Sixth Form) were demolished with houses on both sites.

As part of Vision Tameside, further education has returned to Ashton-under-Lyne town centre properly. Firstly with the relocation of Clarendon Sixth Form College to Camp Street. This will be followed by the relocation of some of Tameside College’s vocational courses to Tameside One.

With Tameside College and Tameside MBC cohabiting in Tameside One, Vision Tameside aims to improve footfall to Ashton town centre. This has dwindled due to out of town shopping and online shopping.

The Difficult Second Phase

In 2016, the first phase of Vision Tameside (the Clarendon Sixth Form Centre) was a successful one. The £10 million scheme broke ground in 2014 and added state-of-the-art facilities for media production.

The second phase was expected to be similarly successful, so Vision Tameside chose Carillion for what was then known as the Joint Service Centre. With building projects, Carillion were no stranger to the Tameside area. Before Roy Oldham’s death in 2010, they built a new school for Mossley Hollins a few yards north of the previous site on Huddersfield Road.

Well before its demolition, the Warrington Street shop units were filled in. By 2015, Wilko would move to the Arcades Shopping Centre. Demolition of the TAC building began that year, firstly with the gutting of Wilko’s unit. Much of the demolition work was completed by night. By the end of 2016, all vestiges of the TAC building had disappeared.

In 2017 the first bit of steelwork was erected. The Joint Service Centre’s expected completion date was September 2018 – in time for the 2018/19 academic year. The budget was £36 million. With Carillion’s experience in procurement it seemed like a safe bet.

It was anything but a safe bet. Carillion’s foundations were built on sand as events proved on the 15 January 2018. The outsourcing company and construction giant went into administration with £1.5 billion of debt.

Tameside MBC was one of many public sector bodies that were burned by Carillion’s demise. Having seen its spending power reduced by eight years of ConDem and Conservative spending cuts, a shortfall of £15 million was the last thing it needed.

As a result, Tameside One was £20 million over budget. It has also meant the curtailment of plans to refurbish Tameside Leisure Pool. After a delay of two weeks, Carillion was replaced by Robertson Construction. Any facilities management hitherto part of the Tameside Investment Partnership returned to direct council control.

Towards completion

With this setback, Tameside Joint Service Centre’s completion date was delayed by five months. By December 2018, it was announced that Ashton Central Library would move into Tameside One. What was been known by December were some of its future occupants: all the customer-facing services presently based at Clarence Arcade; the Jobcentre Plus office on Old Street. Also the Cashbox Credit Union.

Tameside One includes a bit of the old as well as the new. Ashton Central Library will include the former Ashton-under-Lyne Water Works office. In more recent times it housed The Cooperative Bank and the Cheshire Building Society. Before being superseded by Connexions and, ultimately the National Careers Service, its first floor office was Ashton Careers Centre.

Will Tameside One be a useful addition to Ashton-under-Lyne? The lending library’s more central position will be ideal for college students or casual readers finding a gripping novel for the 409 bus. Persons new to Ashton-under-Lyne will be happier with the central location.

Unlike the Tameside Administration Centre, Tameside One caters for a smaller Tameside MBC. One that has seen its housing services in the hands of two prominent arms-length housing associations. One that has seen some of its schools being run by academy trusts. On the other hand, it encourages collaboration. Collaboration between college and council. A building that is part of the town centre rather than conflicting with its immediate surroundings.

Architecturally, it lacks the wow factor it could have had, but Tameside One was designed with economy in mind. The most tragic thing is that due to Carillion’s demise, Tameside One was actually more costlier to build than the TAC building would have been in 2018 prices. Cost grumbles aside, at least everyone can enjoy the roof garden above the forthcoming Wilko store.

In Moving Pictures: the demolition of TAC and construction of Tameside One

Our thanks go to Chris Coleman and Vanessa Dixon who have charted the progress of Tameside One on their YouTube channels.

A 2015 clip by Chris Coleman showing the demolition of TAC.
A 07 February 2017 view of Tameside One’s construction (Vanessa Dixon).
A 05 August 2017 view of Tameside One’s construction (Vanessa Dixon).
Bringing the story more up to date, here’s Vanessa Dixon’s 12 February 2019 clip of Tameside One – only weeks away from opening.

S.V., 20 February 2019.

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