Supporters of Ashton Gardens

SOAG exists to protect, preserve and enhance Ashton Gardens

The Ashton Institute before its removal


SOAG Campaigns

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The story of these campaigns from 2001 is told as a diary with links to original documents where possible, so you can read through the whole story, or just the part that interests you. 

The key issues in each year of the campaign are summarised on this page for convenience.


1998 - The Safeway Campaign

The first campaign was to prevent the Council  selling a quarter of the gardens for Safeway Supermarket to build a car part for a planned extension of its store. That scheme did not go ahead, and the Council began work on a lottery bid to restore the gardens.

2001 - New Outline Plans Arrive

SOAG fight the plans for a convenience store topped with apartments, and then new plans for the Newfield Jones four-storey apartment block. We call a public meeting, engage a barrister, and hear the Council decide to sell part of the gardens. It also gets a mention in the Rotten Boroughs page of "Private Eye"

2002 - The Gathering Storm

Frustrated by the actions of a Council that is destroying the character of our town, and one that fails to regard public opinion, we are instrumental in a meeting that calls for a parish council to be created for St Annes. The Council prepare an alternative lottery bid for the promenade gardens and plan to focus on this. 

2003 - A Time of Promise and of Reversal

SOAG gets a new chairman, and a new Council is elected. At first it looks good, but the sale once again appears  on the agenda. We ask the Government to list the Ashton Institute. The rose gardens that SOAG replanted have a commemorative stone placed in them.

2004 - The Battle is Joined

The Council announces plans to demolish the greenhouses. 

The battle between the promenade and Ashton Gardens lottery schemes intensifies. Ashton is chosen for the bid, but it is to be funded by selling part of the gardens.  We test public opinion on the sale of land, and issue a position statement of opposition. We meet with the Council but reach a failure to agree, and we institute a referendum of all St Annes households. There is turmoil within SOAG as the President and treasurer  stand down over this stance, saying we should compromise and agree to the land sale. The Council's Leisure Committee support the sale of part of the gardens. The "Express" runs a counter referendum. The battle for public opinion intensifies. SOAG's referendum shows 94% of 1000 households oppose the sale of any of the gardens. The "Express" referendum of 103 people shows 77% for the sale. 

Leader of the Council John Coombes, says structural engineers report that the Ashton Institute will not survive being moved.  We hear the Institute is not to be listed. We appeal against this decision. Lytham St Annes Civic Society oppose the sale of land.

We approach the Council's Auditors about financing of the lottery scheme. We formally oppose any lottery scheme that relies on the sale of part of the gardens for funding. The council advertise the disposal of the land and invite  objections. SOAG provides almost 8,000 written objections. All are set aside, but the Council say the Institute is to be reprieved and relocated elsewhere in the gardens. We ask the Government to list two other buildings that would prevent development going ahead.  We dispute claims by Donald Insall Associates that the Ashton Institute was destroyed by fire in 1914. We provide evidence it was moved in 1916. 

Newfield submit their final planning application to develop the land. We challenge some serious errors on the plan and it is withdrawn. Newfield submit a plan for a smaller area that does not take any of the Gardens land. The Council rule it invalid, and that too is withdrawn. 

In secret session, the Council's Executive Committee agree to sell to the sole tender, Newfield Jones, and grant  rights over other parts of the Gardens. We ask the Attorney General to intervene in the case. He puts the sale on hold. We also launch the Judicial Review of the Council's decision to sell the land in the High Court in London. Founder member of SOAG, now Councillor Barbara Pagett tells SOAG she has changed her mind and now supports the sale. Newfield Jones seek a Certificate of Immunity from listing. 

2005 - The Closing Stages

Permission for the Judicial review is refused. The Council asks 20 other groups to support its lottery bid.  We apply to register most of the pathways through the gardens as the rights of way we believe them to be. The Council refuses to disclose the terms of the land disposal to Newfield Jones, and Newfield submit a revised version of their planning application.

The Treasury Solicitor working for the Attorney General determines the gardens were a charitable gift, but is persuaded by the Council's argument that selling the land would benefit the charity and is therefore permissible. SOAG go on to speak at the planning meeting and ask for the planning application to be deferred. The developer announces a new plan to be deposited the following day that will move the building away from the disputed footpath, but it denies the existence of the right of way when previous applications have acknowledged it. The Council do not defer, but approve the application. We ask the Charity Commission to remind Fylde Council of the need to register the gardens. They do so.

SOAG writes to several community groups asking them not to support a lottery bid that involves the sale of any of the gardens. We meet with the Council to hear the Council's latest (Mk3 version) masterplan for the Gardens and are not encouraged by the tone. However we agree to assess the plan without prejudice with regard to the land disposal.

SOAG has a lively AGM. One of the groups asked to support the lottery bid tells SOAG they will not do so. They do not support the sale of the land, nor do they think the latest version of the scheme is right for St Annes. SOAG forms a technical committee to look into the plan for the latest lottery bid in detail. It meets twice and is denied access to costing information, but eventually it recommends to SOAG's executive Committee that this version of the bid should not be supported. A second group decides not to support the bid. SOAG's Executive Committee supports the technical group recommendation and writes to say it is unable to support this version of the bid.

SOAG challenges the denial of the right of way at the planning meeting. We write to Government office North West, asking then to take the decision out of Fylde's hands. They decline to do so. The planning committee approve the second Newfield planning application without seeing plans that were deposited the day before the meeting and before the date for objections to be received. They get around this by delegating the actual decision to an officer, to be made on the day after the objection period expires.

Newfield receive their certificate of immunity from the Government. The battle is more or less over. There is now nothing to stop a determined council from selling part of the gardens and nothing to stop Newfield buying and bulldozing the site.

Two more groups tell SOAG they do not support the lottery bid the Council has prepared. We write to the Charity Commissioners asking then about the registration of the gardens. We reconsult our barrister on a matter connected with the land disposal.

The Council announce they are starting the restoration  (for which read) dismantling of the Ashton Institute and work starts on site. We claim the right of way has been blocked. The Chairman contacts the Council's auditors regarding the way the land has been sold and that other funding sources have not been considered.

The land is sold to Newfield Jones and the Institute is demolished.

A determined council, with 2 in its general reserves - which could easily have used some of that as its 500,000 match funding for a lottery bid - refused to do so. They sold part of the gardens and demolished what was certainly one of the oldest (and possibly the earliest) public building in St Annes.

Against a background of intransigence and perverse decision-making that wilfully defied logic, the campaign to save the integrity of the gardens and preserve the Institute, was lost.

Supporters of Ashton Gardens 

Copyright 2012 Fred Moor.
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