With just days until the fate of the Nello James Centre could be decided, here is a statement regarding the property from Angeliki Stogia Labour Councillor for Whalley Range in its entirety.
“Soon as I got elected back in 2012 I wanted to get involved with ‘finding a solution’ for the ‘Nello James Centre’. Cllr Razaq and Watson have also been working with me in our endeavour to support the community to find out what is happening with the building and/or get it back into use. Through the years many residents have expressed concerns about the state of the building.
Here are some issues around the building that we have been trying to resolve:
State of the building: With Cllr Watson and Cllr Razaq, officers from Neighbourhood team and corporate property building experts, representatives from Victoria Residents group and the Whalley Range forum as well as one of the trustees in the summer of 2013 we got inside Nello James Centre – on our own risk to find out what is the state of the building. The building has a big hole on the roof that through the years has let water in. It is a dangerous building that is also rotting from the foundations because of all this water. Whatever was in the building was looted, there is graffiti and waste – including human waste – and there were signs of at least one rough sleeper. Bringing the building back into use as it stands will need hundreds of thousands of pounds. The building has also got a prohibition order by the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service that prevents any use until the conditions of the probation order have been met. The building has no insurance on it – so if anyone has an accident while on the land or premises the legal responsibility is with the owner. With the state that the building is in, finding affordable insurance is another hurdle that needs to be surpassed before any work is done on the building or the land.
Ownership: Many people believe that the building and land are Council property. They are not. The land and the building belong to the Walton Cottage Trust. The legal responsibility for the building belongs to the trust and its trustees, currently according to the Charities commission there are two trustees. The trustees have put the building up for sale. It is not the Council that can allow or prevent owners from selling assets that are under their responsibility.
Community Resource: The building has previously been used as a resource for the community but this was up to the Trust to decide the type of use for the premises that fit with its charitable objects. The charitable objects of the Walton Cottage Trust – as per charities commission are: the provision of safe and fulfilling group play or instruction for the promotion of the education of young children and in particular to provide pre-school experience for those whose age is below the lower age limit laid down from time to time for compulsory school education.
Work taken place to find a resolution: I have been working with Council officers, police, Councillor Watson and Razaq, the Whalley Range Forum, Victoria Road Residents Group and members of the community who from time to time have shown interest, and some of the trustees to support a resolution for Nello James since May 2012. We have offered support and advice as to how matters can be resolved and things progressed also in liaison with the Council’s legal department but the process has been lengthy and frustrating in equal measures. The more effort we put into resolution, the more the achievement of a positive outcome became complex. Disputes were arising constantly with regards who are the trustees, who speaks for the Trust and who acts for the Trust.
In another effort to engage all parties to find resolution Trustees as per charities commission website and named individuals on the title deed were invited to attend a meeting set for 26 January 2014 at the Manley Park Playcentre. The intention of the meeting was for Council officers to make them aware of their legal responsibilities and make enquiries as to what are the plans for the Trust moving forward. The meeting would follow with a meeting of the Trustees with the Councillors and members of the Whalley Range Forum and Victoria Residents Group who are nearby the building to support with the proposed way forward. Unfortunately no apologies were received by any of the trustees and nobody attended.
The response from the Trustees gives the Council not much room for manoeuvre, we advised the officers to inject some discipline following the legal route. The Trust has not paid business rates or the cost of boarding up the building to the Council. After another inspection of the exterior of the building to make sure it is safe, the necessary notices were served. The building has a debt and Councillors felt after spending so much officer time on the gentle approach – whoever has legal responsibility needs to act fast.
Sale of the building and land: Although the Council has made attempts to advise and support a resolution for the building and land, it has no powers to make the Trustees of the Walton Cottage Trust– like any owners of a property decide one way or another what to do with it. I personally believe that the sale is a positive result that will move us closer to a solution for the state of disrepair the building has fallen into and the blight it has brought to the residents that live nearby. We all know that there is a shortage of affordable housing in Manchester which is also exacerbated by the economic crisis. Locally there is not much land available to build homes, and the planning department has advised the agents that the building is seen as a non-designated heritage asset within a Conservation Area, therefore in the first instance they would wish to see the existing building retained as part of any scheme on the site. In the event a developer comes forward, the planning department would look for larger units on the site.
Councillors have previously been approached by parties that wanted to build a school and couple of housing associations that we have attempted to put through to the Trustees. We have passed on information about the sale after we were made aware of it to these parties. In the event a developer comes forward, some good examples of recent work approved by the planning department is the dwelling next to the Nello James centre and the new family homes on Dudley Road where Polex Hotel used to be. I really think this is an opportunity for a positive permanent resolution that will see the building and land be brought back into use.”