architecture · Lifestyle · Local Government

How did locals lose faith in their council?

North East Lincolnshire Council have recently announced the installation of a £20 million cinema and food complex in Grimsby town centre and over £9 million funding for investment in Cleethorpes, so why are residents unimpressed?

A new leisure complex in the town centre will boast a nine screen cinema and seven big name restaurants which is estimated to create 250 long term jobs for locals. Eager to see the plans go ahead N.E Lincolnshire council have invested £1 million of public money into the project.

However, a petition calling for a Vote of No Confidence in North East Lincolnshire Council has been gaining support with locals claiming “the Great has definitely disappeared from Grimsby.”

The new investment isn’t the problem for locals, it is more the wasted £6 million spent on renovating the designated site that will now be torn apart to build the complex.

Site for new leisure complex that was left bare after £6 million renovation in 2013
Site for new leisure complex that was left bare after £6 million renovation in 2013

What was once a straight forward bus station, connecting villages and towns with Grimsby town centre, is now an urban wasteland showing how tax payer’s money has literally been sunk into the ground.

In 2013 the town centre faced an unnecessary renovation. For £6 million residents were treated to new paving slabs which caused injuries and were replaced just three years later after sending a 74 year old resident to the hospital. Bus stops were relocated down a maze of side streets and businesses such as Carpet Kingdom were driven out of town due to ongoing building works.

Carpet Kingdom owner, Ray Holmes said: “The council aren’t business orientated and they’ve made some catastrophic decisions. Hundreds of thousands was wasted on these new paving slabs and everyone knew it would be a disaster.”

The investment will soon be ripped apart to make way for the leisure complex.

Councillor for this area, Tim Mickleburgh said: “I think personally that the current leadership team are acting positively for the town, however decisions taken by previous leaders over such as getting rid of the bus station left a bad taste in the mouth.”

Whilst it would be an improvement to see anything built on the barren ‘public space’ there are several reasons why the council are wasting their money and efforts supporting the build of a new complex here.

Haven Mill sits derelict opposite the site for the new leisure complex
Haven Mill sits derelict opposite the site for the new leisure complex

Haven Mill is one of those reasons. The grade two listed building was built in the early 1800’s and has been successfully used for restaurants, bars, shops and a night club after the mill closure but has been left unoccupied since 2010 when The Granary Restaurant closed. The huge building which sits on acres of unused land is privately owned and neither the owner or the council have made attempts to improve the condition of the building.

The site was considered for a new £250,000 stadium for Grimsby Town’s fourth division football team. The idea was rejected when North East Lincolnshire Council spent £60,000 on consultant’s who confirmed the already suggested (and rejected by the public) Peaks Parkway site, which lays next to a cemetery and a hospice and is only accessible by one bus route, the best option.

Whilst this ideal site for a leisure complex or football stadium remains derelict North East Lincolnshire Council have wasted no time pumping another £6 million into brand new offices, primarily for the use of Wilkin Chapman, at the opposite end of town.

New Wilkin Chapman offices tower above empty council offices
New Wilkin Chapman offices tower above empty council offices

Whilst the building has offices available to rent which will bring money to the council, the public are less than assured the investment was about improving the needs of the town rather than that of a private business. The new build, boasting the Wilkin Chapman logo in huge letters, casts a shadow over empty council offices and the area used for the Urban Arts Festival as a reminder that once again the interests of local residents have been cast aside.

The new build also leaves the old Wilkin Chapman offices unoccupied near the Riverhead, the town’s newly regenerated area, adding to the ever growing list of empty properties in North East Lincolnshire. A list the public could be led to believe the council plan to decrease rather than increase due to the fact ‘Empty Homes blight neighbourhoods, attract fly tipping and anti-social behaviour,’ according to NELC’s website.

According to the Grimsby Telegraph the Urban Arts Festival was ‘massively popular’ in 2015 but the council’s wayward spending of funds fails to reflect the towns passion for arts.

In fact there are only three museums in the whole of North East Lincolnshire and no public art galleries. The iconic Welholme Galleries, a building of architectural finesse, closed to the public in 2004 cutting off all access to art in the area.

Wlehome Galleries was closed in 2004 to be used as a council store
Welholme Galleries was closed in 2004 to be used as a council store

The gothic church is now used as a store by the council, it’s significance forgotten along with the desires of art students from across the area.

Despite being one of the few derelict buildings to escape arson attacks and vandalism the council have no plans to re-open the museum and are planning to ‘dispose’ of the building whilst preparing to spend £600,000 on art installations in Cleethorpes to ‘extend the tourist season beyond the traditional summer months.’

Councillor Matthew Brown said: “Welholme galleries couldn’t be considered for renovation because the funding that has been allocated was based purely on the plans for Cleethorpes that were put forward.”

So far the council have invested £13 million in renovating Grimsby town centre to the bemusement of residents. NELC made it clear to locals that their opinion was of little concern in 2015 when they spent £1.2 million demolishing Scartho Baths, a leisure centre 5,500 people campaigned to keep open.

In the same year the turnout for local elections for the entirety of North East Lincolnshire was less than 28%.

Children's park surrounded by rubbish
Children’s park surrounded by rubbish

Convamore Road park, situated in a highly populated residential area is surrounded by rubbish. It is a sight that is not uncommon around North East Lincolnshire and could explain why locals have so little interest in voting in the local elections and have now called for a vote of no confidence in their council.

North East Lincolnshire Council covers 15 wards spanning across Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The tensions between the neighbouring towns are comparable to the North-South divide but despite their differences, residents of Grimsby and Cleethorpes have found common ground in their distrust of the council.

Funding secured by the Coastal Communities Fund, the Heritage Lotteries Fund and private sectors in addition to NELC committing £1 million means Cleethorpes could see an investment of over £9 million. Despite this huge investment in the area Cleethorpes residents have supported the petition of no confidence, one supporter of the petition commented: “Cleethorpes toilets decision diabolical.”

The Station Quarter and surrounding high street area of the sea side resort is set to receive an investment of £1,280,000 whilst an unspecified amount has been allocated for the creation of a Cycle Hub in the same area.

Cllr Brown said: “We are delighted at the investment and it is a testament to the hard work of the Council Officers who are dedicated to ensuring Cleethorpes remains the jewel in the crown of the East Coast.”

Funfair Rides opposite Cleethorpes train station
Funfair Rides opposite Cleethorpes train station

It is no wonder the council have allocated huge amounts of funds to regenerate the Station Quarter of Cleethorpes. Five funfair rides, which are decades old, are the only attractions that currently greet visitors to the beach as they step off the train.

The rusty swing carousel has been a permanent fixture on the beach for decades.
The rusty swing carousel has been a permanent fixture on the beach for decades

The attractions are the only permanent presence on the beach and offer little entertainment for visitors.

However, the over £1 million investment promised for the Station Quarter will be purely used to ‘enhance the historic environment of the area’, meaning huge amounts of money will be used to preserve the infrastructure of Alexander Road and Sea View Street.

Ironically this area of Cleethorpes is thriving with business and personality, so much so it was nominated for the best high street award last year. Aside from O’Neill’s pub, located directly next to the second entrance to Cleethorpes train station, the area harbors numerous great pubs and restaurants.

O’Neill’s, however, is another reminder of the council’s poor decision making. NELC bought O’neill’s pub in 2016 as part of a ‘Strategic Land Assembly exercise’. The pub has now been closed for over a year whilst the public are left in the dark as to the future of its existence.

Another closure, adding to the annoyance felt by locals, is that of Pleasure Island Theme Park.

Pleasure Island Theme Park closed to the public in October 2016.
Pleasure Island Theme Park closed to the public in October 2016

The theme park closed in Autumn last year after 23 years, leaving a gaping hole in the community and the sea side resort. With only a few arcades and shops spanning across the two miles of beach between Cleethorpes Pier and Pleasure Island, the theme park provided locals hope that the town could remain a popular tourist destination.

Councillor Dave Watson told the Grimsby Telegraph that through this £9 million investment: “local businesses and jobs will be sustained.” It is becoming increasingly unclear how the council plan on protecting local businesses with no additional fixtures to attract tourists planned in the renovations and only £150,000 being set aside for ‘Sustainable Enterprise Advice and Business Growth Support’.

NELC have also made the decision to close the only registered disabled toilets along the beach resort leaving no accessible toilet facilities for visitors to the area. There have been fears that the council plan to close more public toilets which has caused an outcry from campaign groups and the public.

In retaliation Cllr Brown said: “No toilets in Cleethorpes apart from the Boating Lake are being closed.  I fought tooth and nail to ensure the toilets remained operational.”

“Under the previous Conservative and Liberal Democratic Council there were toilet closures. The Labour administration inherited significant issues with the toilets and they have done a magnificent job in maintaining and improving them.”

A man sits on an abandoned sofa near Freeman Street, Grimsby.
A man sits on an abandoned sofa near Freeman Street, Grimsby

The centre of Grimsby and Cleethorpes may have had millions of pounds invested into it but to of no benefit to locals as residential areas remain in a state of disrepair.

The Hewitt’s Brewery cooperage is being sold for commercial purposes.
The Hewitt’s Brewery cooperage is being sold for commercial purposes

The council have made a habit of leaving buildings, such as the Hewitt’s Brewery cooperage in Grimsby town centre, to fall into ruins before selling them off to private companies.

Plans to sell the heritage site off to be replaced with a car park in 2010 fell through and since then the 19th century building has been left to rot. As a council owned heritage site the building technically belongs to residents of North East Lincolnshire but instead of renovating the building the council are trying to sell it to anyone that will take it.

The council under went a similar junk sale in 2012 when they planned to sell off 19 council owned properties that had been left derelict.

One of these properties was Brighowgate House, the former Salvation Army hostel. Under a freedom of information request NELC revealed Balfour Beatty, a multinational infrastructure group, the council’s ‘partner’ in negotiations sold the property for the insulting figure of £225,000. The huge property raised insignificant funds for the council and remains empty.

A man leans against an old shop down Freeman Street in front of closed businesses.
A man leans against an old shop down Freeman Street in front of closed businesses

North East Lincolnshire’s pride has been reduced to a sense of apathy as people fumble through life there with no guidance or escape.

Mr Holmes said: “The people running the council just don’t have the expertise. Our business rates were wrongly spent.”

The lack of expertise may be due to North East Linolnshire Councillors being some of the lowest paid in England.

Cllr Mickleburgh said: “I do think people are deterred from standing as Councillors for various reasons, it is hard to be a Councillor and to hold down a full time job.  If it is someone’s main source of income, then they ought to get at least the minimum wage.”

With once thriving shopping districts such as Freeman Street now just a drinking hole in the shadow of the iconic Dock Tower, it is easy to see why residents have lost faith in their council to make the right decisions for them.

Childrens parks are surrounded by rubbish. Every single youth centre in Grimsby and Cleethorpes has been closed to save a mere £920,000. Council properties are being sold off by the dozen and residential areas have been forgotten.

With spirits low and council investment high residents are hoping now is the time for action and a swift u-turn on public expenditure decisions.

An abandoned kiosk surrounded by closed businesses on Freeman Street.
An abandoned kiosk surrounded by closed businesses on Freeman Street
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