13 August 2013

A Vote for The Manor?

On Thursday the electorate of Aldridge Central and South will be voting for a new councillor to represent them following the sad death of Cllr Tom Ansell.

The candidates are:
Bob Grainger - Labour
Liz Hazell - UKIP
Chris Newey - English Democrats- "Putting England First"
Roy Sheward - Liberal Democrat
Tim Wilson - Conservative

During the campaign I have eagerly awaited the campaign leaflets in order to see how much each candidate is aware of local issues and in particular the sale of Aldridge Manor House and the closure of the youth club currently being run from there.

The only leaflet I received from the English Democrats was one asking me to join them. Nothing has been received regarding the candidate nor of any issues pertinent to Aldridge.

Similarly the UKIP leaflet although giving details of their candidate focused on national issues and nothing was mentioned at all about The Manor House and Youth Services. Apparently there has been a leaflet issued recently but that has not been delivered to my home, where Liz pledges to save Aldridge Manor House Youth Club. I am not aware if this means she opposes the sale of the building or not.

Tim Wilson in his latest leaflet states:
"Committed to close the 'not fit for purpose' Manor House, but expand the youth provision and ensure that youth clubs are fully supported and finances."

Whatever Tim's personal opinions are about the sale of the well loved and historic Manor House, he has to toe the party line and in particular support the council's 'working smarter' initiative, which is responsible for labelling the Manor House as not fit for purpose. If Tim had attended the first (and so far only) public meeting he would have heard that the younger people of Aldridge who attend the Manor House Youth Club also love this building and want to see the youth service continue there.

Bob Grainger's leaflet mentions the youth service in terms of seeing the proposed pop-up service not providing the same level of service that a dedicated centre would offer. To get a more detailed view it is necessary to visit Walsall Labour's press releases where Bob says:
"The Labour Party has said it would suspend any possible closure till next year and monies gained from any sale would be ploughed back into replacing the service. "
Bob also called for the public to be given their meeting in order that this important local issue could be debated with all candidates.

The Lib-Dem leaflet made no mention of the Manor House and it's Youth Club either and having searched for and not found any press releases regarding his position on our youth service I emailed Roy Sheward asking for a clear and unambiguous statement regarding the closure of the youth club and the sale of the Manor House. 

Roy does not support the closure of the youth club and states clearly that youth provision in Aldridge should be retained. However he does believe that the sale of the building should go ahead stating that:
"I'm persuaded that the Manor House no longer provides the young people of Aldridge  in particular, or residents of Walsall overall, with a viable venue for a Youth Club.  As such given the high maintenance /upkeep costs of this building then selling it seems to provide only real option."

There we have it. It isn't pretty is it? The point is that the land that surrounds the Manor House is a prime development opportunity for someone. The saving of an historical. listed and well loved building takes a back seat. The Tories may boast about having ensured that The Avion remained a listed building but what happens to The Manor House? One local councillor has been heard saying that the £1 million proceeds will be invested for the people of Aldridge but the truth is that the proceeds will be placed in Walsall Council's capital receipts fund and then used to fund capital projects that could be anywhere in the borough. There is no guarantee that the residents of Aldridge will benefit directly or indirectly if the building is sold.

Then there is the small matter of the promised second public meeting. It hasn't happened. There have been no statements by the council regarding their promise to hold another meeting. Draw whatever conclusions to that you like but by their prevarication the local residents of Aldridge have lost valuable time in the extended consultation process in having their views heard and debated.

Youth Service provision isn't just about our young people; it's about the whole community and the effects upon the whole community when adequate provision is not made. No doubt we'll be told that the young people have been consulted as we were at the public meeting, only for the young people to blow a hole in the so called consultation and tell us that their views had been ignored. Well the views of everyone else in the community are being ignored too.

Welcome to the world of non-accountable representatives. Or can they be made so? I urge you to use your vote wisely on Thursday.


  1. Linda
    I knew you wouldn't like my stance about the building, but you asked me "for a clear and unambiguous statement" - which I note you haven't asked any of the other candidates - and I have answered honestly. I'm learnt to my cost before that putting up as a candidate means having to take difficult decisions, which are not always going to make you popular with everyone - like when I backed expansion of Morrisons in face of opposition. I'm sure you wouldn't want me to say something to get votes which I do not believe provides the best solution?

    As you mention the priority as I see it is to make sure that youth services in Aldridge are retained. That is why, as I also stated, I have contacted the Council about getting them to move on and arrange the next public meetings and meaningful consultation. My efforts will be focused on making sure that Youth Club provision in Aldridge is second to none - hopefully attracting more people than the relatively small number who currently use YMHYC.

    Roy Sheward
    Liberal Democrat Candidate

    1. Roy,
      I did actually ask the UKIP candidate for a clear and unambiguous statement via the Walsall UKIP blog but I didn't get one at the time! As to the other candidates, with the exception of the English Democrats who have said little about anything, they have made statements one way or another as to their or their parties position. Your party was the only main one, that had made no statement whatsoever. Although at the time of writing to you there was no real statement from the Tories, their position is clear in that they are the ones that closing and selling The Manor.
      No, I didn't like your response about the sale of the building but as you say, you knew I wouldn't! I feel that the sale will be a big mistake with regard to the people of Aldridge and for future generations. Yes there are always hard decisions to make but we should always remember that we are merely guardians and custodians of our history in whatever form it takes, trusted with its care for future generations. We do not own it and it is a pity that no thought is ever given to that fact. Our grandchildren will not thanks us for always looking at short term gains and selling their heritage, leaving them with little background to what was. You only have to look at how Walsall Town Centre and its historic buildings have been treated to see the reasoning behind that.
      As to numbers, yes it is a pity that so few use it now but that is a very recent phenomenon and is possibly due to many factors including lack of publicity and the activities being offered not attracting our young people. Youth centres should be about having fun as well as places for educational activities.

    2. Linda
      My response to your question was about safeguarding the future provision of youth services in Aldridge. This I feel cannot be done using the Manor House, and requires a new venue to be identified. The question of the Manor House is then a separate question.
      My take from your reply however is that you are actually more interested in the Manor House building.
      I have stated the building should be sold, not for "short term gain or because I want to sell of our heritage" but simply because the cost to Walsall residents of keeping it and maintaining it cannot be justified given the serious current financial state we are facing - you only had to look at the news last night when it was announced that the Council are going to have to face cutting an additional £100 million over next few years. I will ask you again "What other Council services would you cut to balance the books in order to keep and maintain the Manor House?"
      That does not mean that I think it should simply be bulldozed by developers. There are many ways of protecting the building when agreeing a sale. There are around numerous examples of historic buildings which have been sold but are still around - converted into private homes in form of flats / apartments or other venues. Finding the right buyer is where focus should be. Like when the Gala Bingo closed, I wrote to Wetherspoons (several times) to suggest they look at opening the site and reverting it to the original cinema colours. I can assure you the history of Aldridge and its heritage - particularly the Airport story - are very close to my heart.

      Roy Sheward

    3. Roy, your take is incorrect. I am interested in both.
      There are other avenues open regarding the future of the Manor House, it doesn't have to be about cuts and your question about what I would cut has become the mantra of all politicians. It's short sighted, lacks imagination and demonstrates no ability in being able to look at a problem afresh. The council could offer it to the residents for them to run, maintain the building for the community in one form or another. This hasn't even been explored yet but it is an option and I feel that there are enough people interested in the building and the history of Aldridge for it to be a viable option.
      Will it, could it happen? Who knows when the council are so intent on denying the ordinary people of Aldridge a voice through public debate?
      It's all very well converting buildings like the Manor House into flats etc but the residents have still lost a public owned asset run for their benefit.

  2. Linda
    Although being short-sighted and lacking imagination, I can assure you that I am open to all and any options for the future of the Manor house - and no one would be more pleased than I if a resident run co-operative could get together as you suggest.
    I await with interest the next meeting to hear details of your proposal and those residents who want to assist which you can put to the Council - if it is shown to be viable I would happily support this.
    As your view of our current politicians (and would be ones like me) is so negative I think you should have put yourself forward - it costs nothing to stand in the local elections - and explain your alternative approach. Maybe in May 2014, eh?

  3. Roy
    You read too much into my words. I don't have a specific proposal merely suggestions for debate and discussion. As it should be. I have ideas but no expertise. That is what we pay the councillors and council officers for! Whatever happened to the concept of service to local communities?
    As to your final paragraph I have my own personal and good reasons for not wanting to stand as a councillor. Apart from those, there needs to be people like me around to keep councils and councillors on their toes! Working from the sidelines and taking an interest has its place, particularly in Walsall.

  4. Linda
    I love a good debate. It's always good to hear the opinions of others and have a discussion - even if you don't end up always agreeing.
    We will see what tomorrow brings with regards to the vote (I've got my acceptance speech prepared - it's the same one I've had for many many years but not had cause to use as yet!!).
    Then the real work can begin with regard to the future of AMHYC and the building itself.
    Best wishes, Roy

  5. Roy,
    I never expect anyone to agree with me. It still comes as a surprise when someone does agree with me! I do enjoy discussion and debate though.
    With the election over after tomorrow Walsall Council will no longer have any excuses for prevaricating further.