NO-ONE said it was going to be easy.
Seven years ago (2002) when a group of Nantwich people set out to restore a
little bit of Nantwich's history to a neglected area just outside
the town centre, they would not have realised just what they were
letting themselves in for.
Their mission was to save
for posterity, and restore to a semblance of its former use, what
was little more than an overgrown site.
But this was a piece of land
with a royal connection. This was the former garden of Townsend
House - long since demolished - to which King James the First paid a visit
on August 27, 1617. He was a guest of the Wilbraham family, who
lived in the house for 200 years and who had built the house in 1580
when Queen Elizabeth the First was reigning.
had come to see the town's salt workings.
Battling to save the land
are members of Nantwich Walled Garden Society (NWGS) who
are aware a number
of property developers owning the site over the years.
But while they found the
townspeople were behind them, Nantwich Town Council,
whose job it is to represent the town and its interests, are
behind the project and have not supported the
views of the townsfolk. (Well, some of the members have, but in local democracy
the majority decision prevails).
Indeed, one member of the
council has called the project to turn the former garden into a
tourist attraction "pie in the sky". Cllr Bill McGinnis said: "There
is no other viable option for this site, which is in a terrible
state, other than this application (to
build six apartments)." Quoted in The Nantwich
Chronicle (February 18), he added: "It is like a jungle in there."
Developing his "pie in the sky" theme, he said: "Not only would it
cost £1million to buy the land, there are huge extra
costs like maintenance. It would never happen."
developers in 2009, the Dowhill Group, submitted new
plans to Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council (which was to disappear
from the local government scene on March 31 when the new Cheshire East
Council absorbed it into a new local authority).
latest plan includes more car parking - in a half acre area - which
would have seen the new homes all but wipe out the former garden.
wall of the garden, which is listed as Grade 2 by English Heritage,
are three recesses described as bee boles, where wicker bee hives would
have been installed.
referring to the
revised plan, says the bee boles would be repaired - "which is a big
improvement on previous plans," he said.
The NWGS Secretary in 2009,
Nicola Booth, told The Chronicle: "Extra parking spaces means more
of the garden will be eaten up." She added: "We still hope to open
this as a tourist site and it would be great for school children to visit."
Robert Holmes, is quoted as saying: "This will lead to a slight absorption
of car parking spaces but we do want to keep as much of the precious
garden as possible.
"However, we cannot ignore Cheshire County Council's
requirement for adequate spaces and Nantwich Town Council's desire
to keep cars from spilling on to the Kingsley Village estate."
There would be no parking
space on the walled garden site according to the NWGS Garden
this external website).
But many sites which attract
visitors, not just in Nantwich, do not have on-site parking, relying
instead on the town's public car parks. Visitors to the
walled garden will park on various town centre car parks.
Back in the late
1970s, when I was Chairman of the amdram society, Nantwich Players, members
voted to support financially the conversion of a derelict building.
If they had been as negative as Nantwich Town Council is currently
being there would be no Nantwich Players' Theatre.
I told the
Players' members to have faith, take a leap into the future and back the
They did, and it paid off. Nantwich Town Council should do the same.
FOOTNOTE: Nantwich Walled Garden Society was formed in 2002
as The Campaign to Save the Walled Garden. It changed its name and
held an inaugural meeting in 2004.
Cllr Bill McGinnis sent me this
"THE NWGS members have their agenda
and I am certain the majority of the
would say "Hurrah" if some means of funding
restoration, maintenance and security could be found.
"Unfortunately, despite attempts over a number of years, there is
nothing in the pot.
"It is entirely
understandable that members have high aspirations but at the
Town Council we do need to consider practical issues.
"The Town Council has
not opposed the aims of the NWGS. However, it has consistently
called for a viable plan before any financial backing could be
"The document produced
by the society had several glaring flaws which gave rise to
questions which have gone unanswered.
"Leaving aside all the
doubts surrounding the purchase and restoration, there remains
the major problems of the ongoing costs - the gardeners, the
maintenance of the structures and the security of the site.
addition, if the garden were to prove a tourist attraction, the
planning authority would be most interested in parking
"It is sad that
restoration is so unlikely - barring a Lottery winner or other
benefactor - but sometimes we have to take it on the chin.
said at the last council meeting that NWGS can be proud that,
though their efforts, a much better development application has
"The site is a mess and will get
worse. One fear we have is that it will eventually attract the
attention of undesirables and that will give rise to a host of
"All in all, I believe
that the council's view is sensible and pragmatic. In all the
current application offers a solution that
will preserve the walls and the bee boles."
NOTE: The "major problems" mentioned
by Cllr McGinnis are dealt with in the NWGS plan for the garden
(see link above).
The picture of Cllr McGinnis was taken from the
Council website (Nantwich Chronicle picture). Cllr McGinnis is no
longer a member of Nantwich Town Council.
Walled Garden Society has a plan
for restoring and running the walled garden. It is not now
believed that the purchase price of the land would be £1million
(as stated in the main article).
See below for a reply - from me - to
another councillor's comment