4 May 2011
That’s very exact
It says it on the forfeiture notice. Do you mind if I rant a bit?
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?
Just 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.
JS: 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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