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Ludlow Civic Society | 51 Julian Road | Ludlow SY8 1HD | Email:ludlowcivic@gmail.com

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Jubilee Gardens

How did it all begin?

Back in 2003, a developer purchased two parcels of land and the Reader’s House – which had become vacant after the death of Stephen Bacon, its long-term owner. One part of the land lay at the back of 9-10 King Street, and the other, adjoining it, was next to the Reader’s House and behind the east window of the Church. Though not part of the Reader’s House garden, it was clearly still a garden and had at one time been used by Stephen Bacon for outdoor concerts.

A planning application for 5 executive houses appeared on 3rd March and was strongly objected to by the Civic Society and local groups and by the Conservation Department of South Shropshire District Council. It was withdrawn on 17th March and replaced by a second and then a third scheme. This was refused by the Planning Committee, in spite of being recommended by the officers, on 8th April 2004. It then went to a Public Inquiry and was approved by the inspector in 2006.

Time passed. Various builders looked at the land and the proposed houses, but nothing happened.

The Reader’s House was sold separately, having been left empty for some time, and the development land was put up for sale at diminishing prices, but there were no buyers. The Civic Society offered to buy at a modest price, but was refused.

A new developer took an option to buy. In 2011 new plans appeared for 5 houses, similar to the others but different enough for the inspectorate to rule that it was a new application, not just a variation of the previous one. So the planning process began again. There were objections from over 200 local people and from further afield. Notable high-profile objectors included Sir Roy Strong, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Gavin Stamp of ‘Private Eye’, Sir Keith Thomas, Professor Aubrey Manning and the Head of the Russian Academy of Art and Architecture in Moscow who had visited Ludlow.

This led to the creation of a local Objectors Group. It was called ‘Stop the Blot’ after the well-known TV series of ‘Blott on the Landscape’ which was filmed in Ludlow. It included members of the Civic Society, St Laurence’s Church, the Town Council and local neighbours.

There was a meeting with the developer and his architect, but they refused to change their proposals. There were also behind-the-scenes negotiations with Shropshire Council and the Civic Society, but these came to nothing. The planning application was recommended for approval by the county planning officers, but it was called in by a local councillor for committee approval.

The Planning Committee met in Ludlow with hundreds of locals in attendance. It rejected the application, but then said that it was only ‘minded’ to refuse it, and that it must go before the Strategic Planning Committee (which normally only considers matters of strategic importance, like mining). This committee met in Oscar’s and narrowly approved the application by 5 votes to 4.

A Judicial Review was considered but the idea was rejected.

The ownership of the Church Wall was then thrown into the equation, as the developer needed to breach it to allow access to the houses. Legal papers were issued by the original developer to establish ownership in court, but the Church stood firm and the case did not proceed.

Jim McFarlane then suggested fund-raising options. A ‘white knight’ was found who agreed to purchase the land on behalf of the Civic Society, and hold it for us while we raised funds. Donations from £10 upwards finally raised £112,000, including gift aid, which secured the original garden land. Completion took place in 2012, with the hope that some appropriate development could take place on the far end of the site, to be of social benefit.

Hosyer’s Almshouses decided to acquire the other part of the land to build 5 flats in 3 small blocks. The Civic Society named the garden land Ludlow Jubilee Garden, given the approaching Diamond Jubilee of the Queen, and hoped to have it ready by 2012. The need for access through the wall, now clearly owned by the Church, required a special planning permission or ‘faculty’, and entailed detailed negotiations with the Church and Diocese, so time passed again.

Prince Charles was to visit in September 2012, so there was detailed planning of what might be done in the garden as it had not been started although a great deal of clearing had taken place. Nicki Lewis-Smith, a local garden designer, agreed to create a design for the garden free of charge, and it was decided to leave it derelict, with Prince Charles to cut the first symbolic weed. He also unveiled a stone plaque to commemorate his visit.

Where are we now? We need to work with the Almshouse development, and this has meant that access to the garden can be through their land, and there is no need to breach the wall. Because of the difficulty of access for the building work, there will be a need to use the greater part of the garden temporarily for building materials. Electricity was provided in January 2014, and the Almshouse plans have been resubmitted with 4 units instead of 5. But we have had to await the removal of overhead lines by BT for nearly 2 years!

The Almshouse building is now expected to start after Easter 2015. Building will take 9 months. Planning permission will be required for change of use for the Jubilee Garden, and grants will be sought to offset the costs. The garden should then be started in 2016. Plans and planting schemes exist. We hope the garden will be complete later in 2016, and then we can install the plaque and the stones from St Laurence’s restoration, and enjoy the garden at last!

John Nash

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