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Who's Bidding?

Who's Bidding?counterbalancerecently sought a small piece of antique silver as a gift for a favoured goddaughter. A friend suggested we visit the website of Gerrards Auction Rooms in St Annes. So off along the superhighway we whizzed, bouncing along with the other electrons.

 As auction websites go, it turned out to be quite impressive. It is very fast, it does the business with clear descriptions and photographs, and the site has a nice clear design. 

It also listed a couple of silver items of interest - so we went to look in the flesh.

The place itself was as impressive as its website. Quality materials, a spacious entrance, with automatic doors, a large reception desk with helpful staff, good selection of decent quality, well displayed goods on sale. It looked an altogether efficient, professional operation.

Actually, the entrance is so hotel-like and impressive, (and so different from most other auction houses we have visited), that it prompts you to step back as the doors open, to look up to see you've come to the right place. We've been past the building on St George's Road quite a bit, but haven't really looked up at it before. 

The outside is just as impressive. It is modern construction, but uses an old style (We understand it also uses some of the white tiles that came from the now demolished but wonderful Akeds building). But it sits comfortably in the elegant Victorian/Edwardian ambience of the town. It is classy, understated, and it has style.

Their website introduction says "Based in beautiful surroundings of a historical 20th century Art Deco building Gerrards newly refurbished salerooms are conveniently located in the centre of Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire with a view out over Ashton Gardens. As a family run business we pride ourselves on our professionalism and discernment and we look forward to welcoming you to our new salerooms."

Quite so.

We should say here, that this is not turning into and advert for Gerrards, but what the experience of our visit showed, is that this is undoubtedly the sort of business that is a perfect fit with the St Anne's identity - upmarket, quality, discerning, understated, and quietly professional. Like Fylde's excellent HERS scheme that re-established period shop fronts to many of the shops, it protects the town's image and identity, whilst being up to date in construction.

It is a business that is a credit to the town. It will bring (potentially quite large) spenders here on a regular basis, and is obviously run by someone who understands the nature of the town and how to safeguard its future. If counterbalance were running things, we would want to listen very carefully to what such a business would have to say about re-generation and atmosphere.

We were so impressed with what they had done; we went to the head honcho to congratulate him on the development.

You can imagine our surprise to be told that Fylde's planners objected to aspects of the building and have refused planning permission, forcing the owner to appeal against their decision in order to continue.

Now, counterbalance has not gone into the details of the matter, but you really don't need to do that to see what a credit this building is to St Annes. It seems that part of the problem is to do with the fact that it is in a conservation area and modern materials like UPVC double-glazing units have been used (even though their style is in keeping).

What lunacy we now see. 

Fylde Council imports unpopular and alien steel domes and scaffolding to modernise and re-generate the Square - not to mention their tacky plastic palm trees on the promenade - and now they have the nerve to criticise a building that is clearly a really valuable asset to the town.

The logic probably runs something like this.

In most areas, (subject to normal building regulations being met), you can fit UPVC as replacement double-glazing.

But in a conservation area, the preference is that you should use original materials.

In a listed property, you must use original materials, even if the visual effect is identical. Here it is the integrity of the property that rules.

Now, this is fine and dandy. 

But is Fylde adopting double standards here? Is there one rule for itself and another for others? We think there is.

We have been to meetings where Fylde's Planning Committee approved UPVC windows in listed property (let alone in the lesser 'conservation areas') when it suited them. So there are probably already dozens of examples of their use within conservation areas.

But aside from the lack of precedent for their decision, literally across the road from Gerrards, was what must have been one of the most spectacular garages in the whole of the UK. 

Faced with the same material as the White Church, Akeds stood proudly within the same conservation area. It was designed with a huge lift to take cars for repair to the top floor, where natural light was available from windows in the roof, and with the ground floor free as a showroom. When it was built, this important building was a truly remarkable statement about the confidence that business had in the future of the town.

Next-door was the Art Deco frontage of the Empire-Deluxe picture house. 

Both are now demolished to make way for the block of flats that also generated a half a million payment to Fylde Council. To enable this development, Fylde Council's own planning policy was disregarded, and they conspired with the flats developer to prevent the buildings in their conservation area being upgraded to listed building status. Instead, they agreed to have them demolished. 

What price conservation by FBC?

Next door to the flats is Ashton Gardens. Now this has been a Grade II Listed property since Saint Barbara Pagett had it listed on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens back in 1998. 

So here, if listed building rules were properly applied, we would have only original materials used when repairs or replacements are needed.

The first job the developer did - with the full agreement of Fylde's planning officers and committee - was to remove the stone boundary wall of the gardens (between them and his new flats), and replace it with a brick one. This allowed him to either sell the stone or use it elsewhere. Not exactly using original materials in Fylde's own conservation area and the listed gardens, is it?

Another example of double standards was the skateboard ramp in the gardens just further down St George's Road. This concrete construction was erected in the (listed) gardens without planning permission even being applying for. Consequently, it is a crude lump of concrete - alien to the gardens - that has no aesthetic relationship to them. It has no landscaping associated with it, and it is not even properly finished off as would almost certainly have been required as part of a proper planning application.

And after operating double standards like these, they have the nerve to say the Gerrards development is 'inappropriate'

Is there any wonder the town is in trouble?

Dated: 11 February 2007


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