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 A grant Splash had previously been given had been withdrawn, but in the meantime, they had to start repairs because they’d been contacted by the council.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
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