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Ancoats Dispensary 'Not Viable' says Heritage Works

We get more on the failed consultation to save historic building

Written by . Published on July 27th 2011.

Ancoats Dispensary 'Not Viable' says Heritage Works

LAST WEEK we reported that Urban Splash was planning on knocking down the Ancoats Dispensary, which dates back to the 1870s. It also appeared in one of LS Lowry's bleakest paintings 'Hospital Outpatients Hall', 1952.

It incited an emotional response from some of our readers, who felt Urban Splash should perhaps foot the bill for its repair and preservation, especially as some argued that the firm had made a big deal of keeping community landmarks as an important element of any new development.

The readers comments are on this issue often quite brilliant - read them here for some excellent background to the anger. 

Confidential went to talk to Kate Dickson and Tamara McNeill, trust director and project officer respectively at Heritage Works, the independent charity that carried out the study into the dispensary, trying to find alternate uses.

“Sadly, the building has just been a victim of circumstance. Our work ends here. We can’t take it on."

They explained that the changing nature of the funding landscape for heritage projects was putting more listed buildings at risk than ever, and maintained that developer Urban Splash explored every avenue before applying for a demolition order.

“Urban Splash got in touch last December and offered us the building,” said Dickson. “We get a lot of offers, from councils and private developers.

“We had to look at how much grant funding it would need, if it was available and where it would come from. A grant Splash had previously been given had been withdrawn, but in the meantime, they had to start repairs because they’d been contacted by the council. That’s why the roof has been taken off.

“Splash gave us a grant to carry out the study, which was fully independent. We have a special interest in the building too because we started life as the Ancoats Building Preservation Trust, so we know it well. We wanted to find a solution.”

Heritage Works teamed up with agencies like New East Manchester and Marketing Manchester on a  consultation exercise, piggy-backing a lot of their contacts, but had no responses.

Heritage Works also contacted hotel operators like Malmaison, Eclectic Hotels – which owns the Great John Street Hotel – and serviced apartment firm Staying Cool, but McNeill said the costs were too prohibitive. The estimated bill to turn the building into a hotel was more than £10m.

The biggest surprise, said McNeill, was the lack of involvement from the local community. Whilst the trust had a few suggestions, none of them were considered workable.

“We were actually shocked at the lack of local interest and engagement when we asked for ideas of what to do with it,” she said.

“I don’t think people don’t care…they just didn’t know what to do with it.”

Dickson said funders like English Heritage and the National Lottery are more concerned with outputs – what the building can produce for the economy – over plain preservation.

“You have to make sure buildings pay their way,” she said. “They can’t be a drain on the public purse. The most plausible use was some sort of office space and we tried to find social enterprises to take it on but they wouldn’t. The numbers just didn’t stack up.

“People buy assets, not wrecks. The £200,000 you’d need just to secure it buys you a couple of years. To repair, you’re looking at a minimum of £1m. That buys you a roof, floors, some walls. Just to carry out façade retention, we were quoted £700,000. And that’s before fees and other costs.”

The build costs for various uses ranged from £3.5m to £18.4m, and the end value was lower than the investment required each time. “Who’s going to come up with that sort of cash these days?” said Dickson.

“We looked at the regional growth fund, but that is based on job creation. We even tried to look beyond the Olympics and how lottery funding might change.”

“Sadly, the building has just been a victim of circumstance. Our work ends here. We can’t take it on.

The building is being visited every week by the council to see if it has moved or become less stable. In its current state, said Dickson, it is ‘extremely dangerous.’

Urban Splash, on the other hand, stand by their decision to demolish the building and have so far declined to comment when contacted by Confidential.

“The wider picture is that more listed buildings will go, such as schools, hospitals, even churches,” said Dickson.” But the fact of the matter is that redeveloping the dispensary is not financially viable.”

Follow Simon Binns on Twitter @simonbinns

LowryLowry's painting of the interior of the dispensary - or maybe an Urban Splash board meeting as they realised they couldn't save the building

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

Gillian Potter-MerriganJuly 27th 2011.

Of course if you leave an old building without a roof on during Winter what can you expect..... a result perhaps?

Tom HilesJuly 27th 2011.

Thanks for following this up Simon. Sadly this only really expands on what Urban Splash already asserted, that they had decided that there is no business case for redeveloping the Dispensary without external funding or someone taking it off their hands.

I think what a lot of people would still like to know is why Urban Splash are not willing to foot the bill to at least secure the building until economic circumstances improve. Demolishing it, if that's really what they intend to do (as opposed to saying that they are to pressurise someone into stepping in) could become yet another of those decisions which looks pragmatic and inevitable at the time but short-sighted and regrettable a few years down the line.

AnonymousJuly 27th 2011.

i agree with tom. also, i'm curious (as ever) about what kind of "community consultation" took place as I can think of lots of local people who care about this building and local heritage more widely. It feels like a fait accompli to me. As i've said elsewhere only the day before the application urban splash organised a tour of the area to talk about their achievements and how much they care...i kept my snark under control as i really wanted to believe them...but i'm sad to say they lied to our faces about this.

Dave MartinJuly 27th 2011.

Maybe one for the council, if there's no commercial interest given the current climate. In the (very) long run it could be a sound investment. After all they're trying to do something to save the old fire station after god knows how long, and that is costing a few bob.

ShuttyJuly 28th 2011.

Let's get the violin out for Heritage Works. They've phoned a couple of hotels so what else can they do? Isn't their job to find a solution full stop.

If they can't they need to try harder, or look at methods of consolidation and prevention of further decline and not just saying 'well let's just knock it down then'.

If this is their solution then isn't Heritage Works defunct?

Frank LloydJuly 28th 2011.

Usually planning authorities insist that restoration of a listed building takes place before, or at the same time, as the works that are intended to cross fund the works. Also no demolition should take place without there being a contract in place for the restoration. In this case 'Chips' was done, 75% of the hospital demolished and the remainder de-roofed, etc without any guarantee for the dispensary.
This is an important landmark for Ancoats, immortalized by Lowry, but sadly not located in the wealthy suburbs.

Tom Bloxham always says "we should leave places better than we find them", except Ancoats?

Gillian Potter-MerriganJuly 28th 2011.

For anyone on FB there's a "Save Ancoats Hospital" group with all the details of who to write to to object etc..Also English Heritage and The Victorian Society have been contacted. Make your protest vocal on other places than just here....We can but plead the case.

AnonymousJuly 29th 2011.


AnonymousJuly 29th 2011.

This really gets on my t**s. Having worked for a quango and still now in regeneration it is such as shame to hear about this story.

New Islington has the potential to be a fantastic neighbourhood but they need to finish off the developments and open that bloody park... which I believe has never opened to the public because they can't afford regular maintenance....

Ryan WorsleyJuly 29th 2011.

I am not sure if this solution would be ideal but new islington is being advertised as a new style of community, a sort of neighbourhood meets city living. Was the option for turning the dispensery into something for the community never investigated such as a community centre?

The reason I say community centre is due to the fact that the council are building one from scratch close to harpurhey baths which will have state of the art facilities for local kids. Surely something like this would be ideal in the area of the dispensery. Also due to the size of the building it could be multi purpose where different generations can get enjoyment out of the facility as well as bridging the generation gap and creating a community feel which is what the developers of new islington want.

Manchester has always been regarded as being at the forefront of protecting its magnificent history when improving the city centre such as keeping the green space in castlefield back when every other city was building wherever they could.

The fact is developers suchas urban splash have done a lot for the city and have created great buildings with character out of old run down mills. However they have also made a lot of money out the schemes when the times were good in the property boom, maybe now all the developers should stop being short sighted and give something back which will no doubt pay back dividends when times are better........

Calum McGAugust 3rd 2011.

Gutted. I hope someone comes along to save it...

Gillian Potter-MerriganAugust 3rd 2011.

There is now a petition on the Save Ancoats Hospital FB Page and the direct link to the petition is: http://www.petitiononline.co.uk/…/3320…

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 4th 2011.


This link works

AnonymousAugust 4th 2011.


This link works

Lewis and CrawcroftAugust 10th 2011.

BREAKING NEWS - Group seen heading towards Ancoats intent on destruction of historical buildings. Photo released of shady looking man believed to be main suspect http://bit.ly/oKsuDn

AncoatsAugust 27th 2011.

What’s in a name?

Ah so it is the indifferent locals that are partly to blame. I guess that is the problem with poor old Ancoats- post industrial community apathy and lack of cohesion – if only Urban splash had built more of their ‘homes for decision makers’ then the right type of people would have helped make the right type of decisions. But is it that simple?

Ancoats, until relatively recently, stretched from Oldham road to Ancoats Hall near the Medlock. Then a (often well intentioned) carve up begins.

‘Residents of this part of Ancoats we need you to help pick a funky new name for your streets. ‘New Islington it will be’

‘Then over here where Ancoats works stands - we will put this in a regeneration area ‘Holt town’.

Ancoats hall would now stand in ‘Medlock Valley’

‘The bit up the canal can go in the Miles platting Public funding initiative with the houses being replaced’.

‘Oh and finally let’s call the bit with the most Mills ‘Ancoats Urban Village’. Job done now take up your new communities and ‘cohesse’ with each other’.

Except communities do not always follow pencil marks on maps. And everyone either still feels part of Ancoats or is confused when the developer of their new flat calls the area something different from all the locals at the shop. Remember many houses were pulled down and many ‘old’ locals are yet to return.

‘You want to write to the councillor of Ancoats about Ancoats Hospital – sorry that is in the Bradford Ward (now called east lands???) who you don’t vote for’.

‘Did we consult the residents on Issue A? Yes we did speak to them but you are now in Holt town and Issue A is in Ancoats etc etc’.

Not saying there is a master plan behind all this but there is a possible ancillary benefit when it comes to consulting ‘the community’ as there are multiple small sections to chose from and the rest miss the notification.

However new borders are not always stuck too by the powers that be. The Medical Centre with its less marketable needle drop has the name Ancoats despite being in New Islington. The very marketable new metro stop, despite being outside New Islington, .... gets called ‘New Islington Station’.

Are you confused by now? Do you think that the above could hinder local community cohesion and maybe even add to dislocation, apathy and even alienation?

Imagine if Didsbury was divided into 5 or 6 new areas with no real sense of what is where. AND had a very large group of new people from completely different social/ economic background settle there over night AND huge areas remained stopped building sites.

But despite all of that and the impression some of the parties give of apathetic locals, the community thrives - there are various Ancoats Face book pages with hundreds and hundreds of members, websites, resident associations, action groups and petitions to save the hospital, church groups, community projects etc. Incredible considering the dissection of the area.

Perhaps the well intentioned but rarely resident ‘decision makers’ should be surprised at how they missed all these communication channels. And how they did such a poor job of engaging locals on this issue.

Their ‘there is a recession on don’t you know’ rhetoric seems shallow when considering what people in Ancoats have gone through for generations.

Their public ‘disappointment’ will pale in comparison to that held by people still waiting for their houses and streets to be rebuilt.

A line is spun about communities ‘lack of interest’ (read ungratefulness) yet there is no acknowledgement of the communities interest in the gap between what was ‘promised’ 10 years ago and what has actually been delivered so far. Some good stuff but a lot of unfinished business in England’s stalled Millennium Community...... the one that they get management fees for but where residents take the blame for free.

HowieAugust 28th 2011.

Nice observations Ancoats. You obviously didn't waste your Saturday night watching X Factor!

AnonymousJuly 9th 2012.

Save our landmark, sign here: www.petitiononline.co.uk/…/3320…

ARFJuly 18th 2012.

The Ancoats Residents Forum is facilitating a public meeting regarding the proposal to demolish the Ancoats Dispensary. The Manchester Member of Parliament Mr. Tony Lloyd will be present to hear the presentation. 23rd of July, 7pm, Victoria Square Community room. Corner Bengal St and Oldham Rd Manchester M4 5EA. All Welcome.

George BollandJuly 19th 2012.

700 and counting. Lets keep it up. Your support is very much appreciated. Historic Grade II listed Ancoats Hospital is at risk of being lost. Lets make sure this integral building of the Industrial Revolution and to the story of Manchester is saved, restored and reused by the community of Mancunia.

Please could everyone SIGN and FORWARD this petition to 10+ of their friends to sign. All support is very much appreciated.


Save ancoats dispensary

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