Article published: Friday, April 26th 2013
A fightback to save the derelict but much-loved Ancoats Dispensary has won a “thirteenth hour” stay of execution after councillors delayed its demolition.
The building is in a dangerous state of disrepair and planning officials at Manchester City Council had recommended that it be demolished at a crunch planning meeting held last Thursday 18 April.
Campaigners only learned of the meeting the night before it was held, and with less than 24 hours to go rushed to the town hall with banners in a last minute demand to save it.
A decision to grant demolition had been up for review by the government and the dispensary’s fate seemed sealed after Secretary of State Eric Pickles ruled that the council should have the final say on its future.
But in a surprise turn-around, planning committee councillors voted to delay a decision on the demolition by one month – on the condition that campaigners could come up with a financially viable plan to keep the building.
Ancoats campaigner Linda Carver welcomed the “amazing” decision. “We’ve reached a very precarious situation”, she said. “But at the end of the day we would really want the council to look at things in a different way and come on board because otherwise things are much more difficult.”
Campaigners are applying for lottery funding, and will hold a meeting on 8 May with council planners, English Heritage, current lease holders Urban Splash and the Homes and Communities Agency to find a way forward.
Developers Urban Splash, who gained a 999-year lease on the site from a council-owned freehold, had failed to restore the crumbling building since buying it from the NHS in 2001.
The site was part of plans to revamp part of inner-city Ancoats as New Islington, a luxury “millennium community” development. The development stalled however with the onset of the credit crunch, and government funding cuts after the 2010 election withdrew money meant to repair the dispensary.
If the building demolished, Urban Splash will have to keep heritage aspects including its arched entrance and signage, for use in future developments.
Lacking its roof and propped up by scaffolding, the dispensary is one of the few buildings left from the part of Ancoats cleared to make way for New Islington and campaigners have waged a determined battle to prevent its destruction.
Locals have staged a continuous vigil of the building since first hearing of the demolition threat last August, and gathered over 400 responses from Ancoats residents in a community questionnaire suggesting new ways they would like to see the building used.
Potential options include renovating the site for use as a community venue similar to Toxteth Town Hall in Liverpool, or renting it to other tenants. AWOL Studios, an artists’ studio in the nearby Hope Mill, is understood to be interested in gainning a second premises.
Carver said knocking the building down “flies in the face of grassroots activity” and the strength of local feeling. “Given its an area with a sense of powerlessness and ‘what does it matter’ we had a really positive response”, she said.
“Nobody imagined this building would still be standing”, she added, praising the “importance of the vigil” in delaying demolition. “It shows the community we’re still here.”
For more info on the campaign or to get involved see their website
For previous coverage of Ancoats Dispensary see here
Corrections: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Heritage Lottery Fund would be attending the 8 May stakeholder meeting.
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