Tameside MBC decides on demolition instead of restoration of iconic conservatory
Here’s a poser for you: what have Dukinfield Hall, Stalybridge Town Hall and the Stamford Park boating lake café got in common? If you guessed historic buildings in Tameside, well done. If you guessed historic buildings in Tameside that have been demolished after the Second World War, award yourself a gold star.
The John Nield Conservatory in Stamford Park could soon be added to that list. On Wednesday, the Chief Executive of Tameside MBC has given the go-ahead for its demolition. Whereas the demolition work and post-demolition clean-up work has been valued at £50,000, some sources say restoration work could cost £80,000. Other sources say £500,000.
Moments after the decision was announced, Tamesiders vented their spleen on social media sites. Particularly on the Stalybridge Town and Tameside Hangout Facebook pages. The former page had cited the condition of Stalybridge Civic Hall with overgrowth coming from its main entrance beside the tower.
Older readers of this blog may sense a bit of deja vu. Back in 1982, the conservatory was in a similar state of disrepair. There was also a Conservative government whose distaste of anything not making a profit was slightly less intense than the present one. Back then, restoration work began with the John Nield Conservatory reopening in 1985. The ribbon was cut by Hyde Newton councillor Margaret Oldham.
Further refurbishment work took place in 2003, again reopened by Councillor Margaret Oldham. Problems with its roof in 2015 led to temporary closure with the roof in need of repairs. Four years later, no repairs, leading to Wednesday’s decision.
Instead of restoration, it is proposed that a new ornamental garden should be built in its place.
With spending cuts continuing to bite poorer areas more than affluent (mainly-Conservative-run) areas, the John Nield Conservatory may be seen on the balance sheet as a ‘nice to have’ luxury. If you go to Stamford Park, this should be a lovely escape from the traffic fumes or the daily grind.
Tameside MBC’s situation is by no means unique. Some local authorities have had to find ways of making their parks and gardens pay without raising the green fees of crazy golf courses or café prices. This has included land sales, the demolition of redundant buildings and the contracting out of some facilities.
There are two things which may stand in the way of the conservatory’s demolition. Stamford Park was given a Grade II Listing on the 20 February 1986, so any work which spoils the park’s character could be knocked back. Planning permission is also required, though some sources state that planning permission for the conservatory’s demolition has been bypassed.
Secondly, the conservatory was built as a gift by John Nield in 1907. A gift to the people of Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge. Back then, the park was jointly ran by Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge municipal boroughs.
Petitions and protests
In the last 48 hours, there has been no shortage of online protest from the people of Tameside. Also supporting their case are Ashton-under-Lyne MP Angela Rayner, and Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds. Being as the decision was taken by the Chief Executive instead of its councillors, some of Tameside MBC’s councillors have been similarly apoplectic. It is an issue that has united the borough’s Conservative Party opposition with some of the Labour councillors.
In a joint letter to the leader of Tameside MBC, Councillor Brenda Warrington, Angela Rayner and Jonathan Reynolds have asked about other ways to fund the repair work. In their letter, they are confident “that there would be high public interest in saving it.” Within 48 hours there has also been press coverage from the local newspapers.
There is a good reason to save the John Nield conservatory. It offers a nice, serene, indoor environment. It is a good meeting point: if you lose your friend or parent in the park, you could tell them to wait outside the conservatory. At its best, it is photogenic, especially if the sun comes out on Tulip Sunday.
Whereas much has been made about the renovation costs, there has been no mention of the running costs. Has anyone thought of concentrating the greenhouse in one half of the building with the other half being used for brass band concerts? Or temporary art exhibitions? Wedding hire, even? Perhaps the conservatory could be used for growing affordable organic fruit and vegetables as part of projects like Incredible Edible. Or they could be given to people still waiting for their first UC payment, or affected by DWP sanctions.
Demolition could have political implications for Tameside MBC’s ruling party. Having used Facebook to publicise the state of Stalybridge’s buildings under local authority control, the Stalybridge Party could benefit. With Stalybridge having seen the loss of its town hall and changes to facilities at Cheethams Park, the John Nield conservatory could be a catalyst for the young ultra-local party.
Whereas Dukinfield, Hyde, Cheethams and Sunnybank parks have lost their greenhouses, Stamford Park (for now) stands alone. One case for the conservatory’s retention is the park’s status. This is Tameside MBC’s flagship park, the kind of park which should be a shop window for the council’s managed open spaces. Tulip Sunday shows the park off at its best, and a restored John Nield conservatory should play an integral part.
Stamford Park is the park you would show off to tourists or family members who have just moved to the Tameside area. It is a great place to chill after being cooped in a classroom at Tameside College or West Hill. A good place to unwind after a shift at Tameside Hospital.
Should the funds for its restoration be raised, a Friends of the John Nield Conservatory group should be created. If there is a Friends’ group for the boating lake, what about Tameside’s most iconic conservatory building? If you want to help to save the building from demolition, please write to your local MP or sign the petition.
If you prefer to see real people, you can meet up in a family friendly protest outside the conservatory on Saturday 29 June at 12 midday. There you will see the organisers from the Save Stamford Park Greenhouse Facebook page. If you say you found out about this event via this article, you could say that East of the M60 (or myself, Stuart Vallantine) sent you there.
S.V., 28 June 2019.
John Nield Conservatory image by David Dixon, 2011 (Creative Commons License: Attribution-Some Rights Reserved).