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The worst council in the country

Jonathan Schofield on the council that's ‘average with moderate prospects of remaining average’

Written by . Published on August 5th 2010.

The worst council in the country

It’s a red herring that headline. A wild goose chase.

The council referred to is Grotton. Grotton is not a real council, just very like one. Three decades or so ago The Grotton Papers were published examining the planning issues of the city of the same name and its districts and the convoluted and tangled web of policy and planning which blighted it.

UDC determined that Grimethwaite needed to be a 24-hour city. This ambition, which meant an addition of approximately twenty-two hours to the previous daily span of activity, seemed to involve people...throwing up outside nightclubs much later than had previously been possible.’

Now Grotton has been revisited by Steve Ankers, David Kaiserman and Chris Shepley – all of whom have contributed to local government chaos in their lives, particularly in the defunct Greater Manchester Council. In fact you’ll recognise much of this region in the book, especially in the pictures used.

Here, they satire planning laws, regeneration plans and the differences between the affluent and less affluent areas. As it’s done from inside knowledge, it’s frighteningly accurate, just a few degrees off centre into plausible absurdity.

The book is full of cracking one-liners and paragraphs: ‘The city of which Oscar Wilde once said ‘Christ, is this it?'’...’the establishment of Grotton’s famous sock exchange (now a Wetherspoons)’...’most of the houses lack basic amenities (22 per cent for example have no wide screen television)'...’Grimethwaite (one of Grotton’s least favoured districts) is the only major retail centre in the country anchored by a Sue Ryder shop’.

Development plans, tourism initiatives, social schemes, educational plans and green projects are mercilessly ridiculed.

This from a plan to get European funding for a major redevelopment: ‘EU dignitaries paid a site visit and the locals steeled themselves for the inevitable succession of interminable speeches. (Dining is a problem for the guests) There was a shortage of Michelin restaurants in the county as a whole. Even in Dunromin there was only one chef who had appeared on television and that was on Crimewatch. However an on-site picnic involving Lancashire hotpot eaten out of a selection of European newspapers proved a huge success.’

Inevitably the creative sector is targeted by the local authority to make up for the decline of traditional industries and there is a move to create the 24-hour city: ‘The UDC determined that Grimethwaite needed to be a 24-hour city. This ambition, which meant an addition of approximately twenty-two hours to the previous daily span of activity, seemed to involve people...throwing up outside nightclubs much later than had previously been possible.’

The best picture caption in the book might well come from posh suburb Dunromin’s trendy recycling policy, showing a long row of plastic tubs filled with various bottles and saying: ‘Dunromin requires its residents to sort their weekly recycling by grape variety’.

Local authority newsletters receive the same treatment with stories on ‘The Village Barber - now open on Tuesdays’ or ‘Mast ‘Death Ray’ fear’ about residents’ reaction to a mobile phone antennae. It’s painfully close to the Old Trafford News I see pushed through my door.

Of course, local authorities and the national planning regime are easy targets. Big targets too. And the trio of writers hit them bullseye. Officialdom can take itself too seriously and worry about budgets so much they actually overspend worrying about them. Or it just wraps itself in so many accountability checks and balances, that it needs an unaccountable quango to check up on it. The sheer timescale needed for anything to be decided and achieved can drag on so long you want to poke your own eyes out.

In the last ten years, I have personally sat on about fifteen local authority/quango panels pondering how to deliver a good tourist experience in Manchester city centre. These have all been well-intentioned, but some signboards with a bit of history at key areas of the city might be nice after all that time, or even a few signposts of the same design directing people where they might want to go.

This is not to deny that councils aren’t full of dedicated people, just that sometimes you wish they’d get a move on – although Manchester City Council, (click here) compared to say Trafford or Rochdale, are pretty good at this.

Ultimately this is a book for anybody with a sense of humour who has ever had to deal with planning departments, attended municipal committees or found themselves lost in Town Hall corridors painted grey, looking at endless closed doors with long numbers on them and wondering why nobody in the place can tie a tie properly.

May God have mercy on your soul if you count the above experiences as part of your regular life. But if you want an affectionate look at them, buy this book.

Grotton Revisited: Planning in Crisis is by Steve Ankers, David Kaiserman and Chris Shepley, published by Routledge, and costs around £19.99.

You can also apply for the book from your local Town Hall via Form 14b9df – Helping Struggling Local Authors - which is available in six languages, stating whether you are white, black, mixed race, a town planner or extraterrestrial.

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Arran SummerhillAugust 4th 2010.

Id like to nominate Tamesdie council as the worst in the country for killing my home town of Stalybridge under a choking fog of Tescos, Kebab shops and badly planned municipal areas with not a single restaurant in the whole town.....

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