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The Good, The Standard and The Ugly: a fence

Jonathan Schofield and the tyranny of the temporary fence

Written by . Published on May 25th 2011.

The Good, The Standard and The Ugly: a fence

Category: Ugly


A fence.

Er...right. When?

4 May 2011

That’s very exact

It says it on the forfeiture notice. Do you mind if I rant a bit?

Feel free

Fences are the modern abomination of the built environment of Britain. They are valid sometimes for security reasons but often they exist because of unfounded worry. Sometimes fences are there because those in authority feel we need to be treated like idiots.

The worry comes via the perfidious greedy insurance industry which sees massive, inflated, unbearable RISK in school children going on simple school trips or somebody holding a candle in torchlight processions. That means event organisers and venues walk in terror and thus civic life is impoverished. Insurance bosses can be little rats that never look to the big picture but keep their eyes lowered to just what they can see two inches before their squished up eyes.

At least with event fences – like the excessive sheet metal affairs at the Manchester City parade – there is some type of logic, and sometimes of course they are needed. They are also very, very temporary.

The fences pictured here in Castlefield are mean-spirited at best, the  product of sheer ignorance at worst.

Where are they?

The green area here is the site of Cantina formerly Quay Bar, formerly an empty plot of land, formerly part of the oldest industrial complex in Manchester. Quay Bar was a hero of Castlefield back in the nineties. Built by Stephenson Bell it won awards but it never worked as a bar, and was ultimately demolished. Then the cleared area blossomed with planning applications and self-seeded plants. The applications withered, the plants remained. Local resident and businesses group, Castlefield Forum (I’m a member) recently wanted to turn it into a wildflower meadow, they had the money and the volunteer will-power.

So what happened?

Fence Castlefield 008.JPGJust as the Forum was negotiating with one set of people to gain the right to beautify Castlefield, these fences appeared courtesy of Land Law LLB, 10-14 Market Street, Altrincham. They were acting for Peel Group who are grabbing back the land ‘pursuant to Clause 6(1) of the lease’.

What’s Clause 6(1)?

Clause 6(1) is not important is what it is.

What’s important is that a 6ft mesh fence (known as Heras fencing) of unbelievable ugliness has been placed round a harmless, pleasantly green, empty plot of land in one of Manchester’s most important conservation areas. What’s important is that Land Law LLB (they arranged for the fence to go up) clearly have no idea that putting up such a fence in such a sensitive area is a problem?

How do you know?

I rang them on Friday. They didn’t return the call. On Monday I got lucky and the woman looking after the case answered. This is the conversation.

JS (Jonathan Schofield): Are you aware that your fence around the old Quay Bar site has been placed in a Conservation Area?

LL (Land Law): Yes. 

JS: Do you think a Heras fence fits with the conservation area status?

LL: We’re merely acting in the usual way in these cases to deny entry to the tenant and others while the land has been forfeited.

Fence Castlefield 012.JPGJS: Are you aware of the significance of the area?

LL: (awkward silence)

JS: I'll tell you. Castlefield contains the oldest passenger rail station in the world, the first industrial canal complex in the UK, it’s where Manchester was founded by the Romans. All that plus the physical remains and the fact that it has a large population who have invested in the area, make it one of the most precious urban environments in Europe. Or should do so. You're not alone in not recognising this, we've had trouble with some in the city who should know better, but really, come on, do you think then that such an ugly fence is appropriate?

LL: What we are trying to do is make sure that we work in the best way for our clients. We have to define the area and stop people re-entering it until the matter is resolved.

JS: Is there no other way?

LL: I don’t think there is. We’re just protecting our client’s interests.

JS: If I really wanted to I could get into that area in about two minutes even with the fence. Easy. Let's try another idea. If you have to put up a fence why not spend some money and put up a jolly painted wooden picket fence with the forfeiture notices clearly on display?

LL: That wouldn’t be so secure – you could step over the fence.

JS: It's only a degree more secure now. These notices are symbolic at best, we're talking about an empty plot of land, nobody can live on it or trade from it. But a picket fence would show you care, and therefore your client’s care, about the precious nature of Castlefield.

LL: I know what you’re saying (pause). But we have to act in the interests of our client. This is standard practice.

JS: Isn’t the issue that you don’t give a damn about the bigger picture. You don't care about making Manchester beautiful, or better, or of respecting the special status of the area?

LL: That's not the issue here...

The woman repeated her thing about securing the forfeited area in a robotic manner. I asked her if Land Law would have put the fence up in Albert Square if they had to take back a lease held on the Albert Memorial, or on a piece of ground opposite Westminster Abbey? She said that was different and probably wouldn’t arise which I took to mean no.

Then I asked her for her name and she wouldn’t give it. Poor.

How did you find that conversation?

Largely pointless but strangely satisfying. I knew I was on a hiding to nothing. Especially since the fact that this is a Conservation Area doesn't seem to legally prevent these fences going up.

So it is Land Law's right?

It is and this is where abstract ideas, such as beauty or simply doing the best for an area rather than the minimum, get abandoned. Land Law have to do their commercial duty to their client but they should say have you seen Castlefield Basin, it’s special, is this fence appropriate? Shall we do something better? But of course Land Law wouldn’t do that - probably too afraid of a discussion of abstract qualities such as loveliness and amenity losing them the contract.

What about approaching Peel?

We are in the process of doing that, but getting to the agent and the people who’d actually ordered the fence to be put up was interesting. The agents get overlooked usually, and they need to perhaps suggest different solutions to their clients. It shouldn’t get this far you see, because people should simply know better and have the guts to do differently.

This is Manchester’s heritage front garden and you wouldn’t put a Heras fence around your own front garden like this, would you? People just have to think a little more deeply, think outside their usual modus operandi, see the bigger picture. One last thing.


He was a proper bastard, wasn’t he?


That Heras. And his fences. Nobody anywhere deserves his grotesque work being imposed on them, whether it's in a showpiece location or not.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

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17 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Ann O'RakMay 25th 2011.

Is it not Herris fencing? Ann - just looked it up and changed it thanks: we now think the real name is Heras fencing. There are about eight versions it seems knocking about. But a rose (or rather an ugly mesh fence) would be a rose (or an ugly mesh fence) by any other name, as the Bard said. JS

AnonymousMay 25th 2011.


KuthutMay 25th 2011.

Good point this. It's about attention to detail about caring about Manchester in a big-hearted way, not merely about this fence but how do we make a much improved city centre better.

Of FenceMay 25th 2011.

Perhaps ManCon readers could design a special 'Heroes' fencing for use around the city??

EugeneMay 25th 2011.

'perfidious greedy insurance industry...' 'Insurance bosses can be little rats that never look to the big picture'

My my, did you write this vitriolic, spiteful rubbish Jonathan? If so, I am deeply offended. And surprised. One, at your lack of decorum and two, at your lack of understanding and intelligence.

Insurance is ALL about looking at the bigger picture - it's a form of risk transfer and involves assessing risk by considering all of the factors that make up the risk in question.... It has massive benefits to business and society as a whole by for instance, allowing entrepeneurs to spend their capital on the business itself without having to cede huge amounts for potential fires/floods/thefts/accidents etc that may affect them in future.

Quite what this has to do with the fence in question is beyond me, but I digress...

As your article so elequently goes on to say, the fence is actually put there to 'deny entry to the tenant and others'.

Hmmm, so what exactly has this got to do with the insurance industry?

Your article may be more positively received, if it wasn't such a immature whinge. There is a valid point to it, but it has been lost amidst the smell of petulance and misplaced agression

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Eddy Law LLBMay 25th 2011.

I dont mean to speak for our esteemed correspondent but what i think Mr Schofield is getting at is the pernicious nasty little way things which, whilst not life changing, are just tedious and soul destroying. This fence isnt in itself objectionable but the needlessness and pettiness of the motivation behind its erection is just, quite frankly, depressing. Im sure none of us can wake up everyday and vow to do something inspiring, beautiful and positive but i just dont know how people who do this sort thing can lay their heads on a pillow at night and think "What i did today was a good thing". Its good that Mr Schofield gets petulant about this sort of thing because its things like this which people can rarely be bothered to kick off about but which, very subtly, make our lives just that tiny bit less joyous.

Jonathan SchofieldMay 25th 2011.

Eddy exactly. It's about noticing things out of the corner of your eye that when you turn and focus upon compromise the whole picture. It's about being grown-up and consistent in attitude to policy over urban design. <BR><BR>As for beauty and legacy I'm not saying we should think about it all the time, but it should be a consideration in planning decisions rather than a judgement on what might be expedient.<BR><BR>Eugene, I was at a bonfire last year where there was a fence placed around the fire so that people couldn't get to see the dance of the flames or feel the heat. In Hulme Park at Christmas the Christmas tree had a crash barrier fence around it. Pretty tree, ugly fence, no point in the pretty tree.<BR><BR>Of course insurance is useful but when it makes the cost of events prohibitive then it is a rat-like, grubby, joyless profession saying nay first and a qualified yes second.<BR><BR>In Castlefield the solicitors clearly think it's fine to put up their fence. They don't think about any bigger picture.

Laz BanisterMay 25th 2011.

Insurance has its uses but who can deny that it's become a bloated monster that imposes burdens on business, charities and so on out of proportion to its benefits.

tblzebraMay 25th 2011.

'...event organisers and venues walk in terror and thus civic life is impoverished.'

Don't get me started on why the now truly lovely, restored Ordsall Hall hasn't had the moat reinstated.

'Moat' by John Kennedy of Landlab. This imaginative commission highlights the location of the hall's original moat. The concept for the 'Moat' extends the idea of pretending that the moat is real and full of water...'


EugeneMay 26th 2011.

Jonathan, I understand your points, just as I said I did so initially. However, I think the lack of intelligence displayed in the article and misplaced vitriol detract from the well-meaning intention of the article.

I still cannot see the point of linking the two arguments together - what relevance has your feelings about the insurance industry, got, in relation to the fence and the piece of land? The fence, if the agent is to be believed, is there to prevent squatters. Have the insurance company specified that? No.

Lets take the insurance argument again though.
I understand the bigger picture you are alluding to. However, with respect, it seems you do not.

The reason why insurance companies insist on these - as some are suggesting - over zealous moves - is not because they have nothing better to do but think up ways in which to depress and control people, it is cause and effect. A direct effect of the manner in which people (the general public) behave.

People, some of which will I am sure include the readers of this very publication, make suprious (and sometimes valid, justified claims), for things that most of us would deem to be their own fault. So someone gets to close to a bonfire and injures themselves. Their fault? It may be the case, but they go on to sue the organiser. Someone trips up over over a crack in the pavement. Their fault? Maybe. A minor hazard that we should just live with? Possibly. However they often go and sue their local council.

To stop these organisers/councils/companies going out of business, they must have risk trafer mechanism in place - so the insurance policy indemnifies and logicaly, the insurance company may wish to impose further restrictions in future eg fences around bonfires as people it would seem have not shown any common sense, or sense of responsibility.

So this is the insurance companies fault? Or perhaps their is a bigger picture to consider?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Eddy Aviva (formerly Eddy Norwich Union)May 26th 2011.

In the interests of full disclosure can you just confirm Eugene that you do or do not work in the insurance industry?

TheaMay 26th 2011.

Jonathan, I do believe you're wandering into the realm of ecopsychology... which, unfortunately, is a concept lost on the somnambulistic multitudes who continue to buy into the abstracted Economic Myth with its blatant disregard and underestimation of the importance of beauty on the human psyche (both individually and collectively). I'm surprised you didn't throw in a line from T. S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland' for good measure.

Still, you seem to have touched a nerve so keep throwing stones. God knows someone needs to when it comes to protecting and encouraging the poetic integrity of our urban environments.

As for insurance looking at the 'bigger picture' Eugene? I'm afraid as an Irish poet once said, 'The only sense of security is a false sense of security'. All thinking to the contrary is quite simply naive.

Jonathan Schofield - editorMay 26th 2011.

Risk is everywhere Eugene, cut it out completely and we'll end up living in sanitised boxes with all sharp objects removed and permission needed to leave. Risk properly managed is part of the fun of life. Atalanta I'm a proper ecopsychologist me. Get me in a pub and I won't shut up about it.

TheaMay 26th 2011.

Regards ecopsychology: you and me both, Jonathan.

That'd also make for a cracking guided tour: examining the impact of architecture and city planning (or lack of) on the psyche.

EugeneMay 26th 2011.

Jonathan. Agreed risk needs to be managed. I hate to say it, but risk management is an essential part of insurance!

Try as some might, you cannot remove all risk - but the people who are really damaging our sense of adventure and dare I say it, freedom at the moment, or those who claim for evey little mishap and mis-adventure.

People DO need to lighten up. They NEED to live dangerously - literally sometimes. It's my own motto - live dangerously (without being reckless!)

Rant over.

Thanks for the debate.

Calum McGMay 26th 2011.

Lots of ranty ranty. But the main thing is that the fence is a bloody eyesore and the sooner it goes the better. Luckily, we have the Castlefield Forum these days, whom I hope will make something positive happen. The Forum, of which I am (also) a member, works tirelessly to make Castlefield a better place to live, work and visit. Wish us luck on our next challenge.

Rica SherMay 26th 2011.

The thing is those lawyers won't change policy or move on the fence, because they don't want to spend anything but the bear minimum

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