Alston Moor Partnership received grant funding of £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in 2015 for the Alston Townscape Heritage scheme (THS). The total project is expected to cost in the region of £1.7m with funding also provided by Eden District Council, Alston Moor Parish Council, and individual property owner contributions.
The scheme aims to improve a number of architecturally important properties on Front Street & Market Street within Alston’s conservation area. The project also included various heritage events and some more specific skills and training opportunities.
The funding allows the improvement and regeneration of a number of historic town centre properties, with works such as reinstating traditional windows and shopfronts. It also improves the look and user-friendliness of the ‘streetscape’ in the town centre resulting in a more attractive environment for people to work, live in and to visit. A ‘Gateway’ public realm scheme at Townfoot aims to help to give a much-needed boost to the local economy and increase business confidence, bringing more visitors into the town as well as encouraging residents to make more use of their local shops and town centre.
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Townscape Heritage scheme helps communities to improve the built historic environment of conservation areas, with the aim of boosting economic regeneration for the benefit of local residents, workers and visitors.
It goes beyond just the bricks and mortar of buildings; it improves how places look and feel, encouraging business start-ups and attracting more visitors.
Public realm – Townfoot
The final part of the Scheme is to undertake a purposeful piece of work in the public realm, the parts of the town open to all. After careful consideration of the areas that might be suitable, and having been unable to pursue proposals to improve the Potato Market due to legal issues, it has been decided to do something at Townfoot to provide a welcome, with the intention of drawing visitors into the town and creating a space for residents to appreciate and enjoy.
What is the idea?
The purpose of this consultation is to ask for your view on the ‘message’ you think should be conveyed. What quickly-understood image or idea might best convey what Alston is all about and immediately draw visitors up to the shops, cafés, pubs and life of the town? The final creation has to be something eye-catching, quickly understood, and make visitors want to walk or drive up into the centre of the town – and for local people to feel proud of.
When people come to Alston, what first impressions do you want them to have, what lasting image do you want them to take back with them?
This is the first of two consultations. You will have another opportunity later to view alternative designs for the ideas you select in the survey
Over 200 people responded to the first Townfoot consultation on themes for the site.
The outcome of this was that the development on this site should reflect Alston’s special location as a crossing point on several major roads, and it’s reason for being here as a result of a history of mining, farming and other industries.
Landscape architects, Southern Green were subsequently appointed to develop concept designs for 3 possible options showing how this might be achieved. Each option had an eye-catching feature to carry interpretation through a distinctive shape and more detailed content, either pictorial or with words. The aim was to provide a focal point where both visitors and residents could pause to reflect on Alston’s unique character both past and present.
The red line denotes the area that applies for this consultation
Heritage will be: - better managed & in better condition
People will have: - developed skills i.e. local contractors learn new skills
- opportunities to learn about heritage through the activities programme
Communities: - environmental impacts will be reduced
- a wider range of people will have engaged with heritage
These options were the subject of a second public consultation held from 7th-21st August 2021 by means of a leaflet and on-line survey.
The intention was that the preferred option would be worked up into a detailed design. However, as we were aware from the first consultation that some people would prefer nothing to happen on the site we also included a fourth option to leave the site as it is.
The online survey was carried out on an external site no longer accessible, but the three options were as follows:
Following the second consultation on the proposed public realm works at Townfoot in August, the Board of Alston Moor Partnership ratified the results at their September Board meeting.
The results were as follows:
People were asked to give a score between 0 and 3 for each of the four options. The total score for each option was:
A - 'The Gate' – 421 B - 'The Block' – 239 C - 'The Wheel' – 223 D - 'Leave it as it is' - 476
There were 248 on-line responses and 76 leaflets were returned.
Of these 272 indicated a clear preference, with a majority of 52% voting to 'Leave it as it is'.
19 gave a score of 3 for more than one option and 33 gave the same score (below 3) for more than one option.
The number of responses giving a score of 3 for each of the options was as follows:
A - 'The Gate' – 105 B - 'The Block' – 33 C - 'The Wheel' – 21 D - 'Leave it as it is' – 142
‘Leave it as it is’ was therefore a clear winner.
The timescale for the public realm part of the Townscape Heritage Scheme has been limited. Even though the whole project had been granted an 18 month extension to the end of 2021 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, this was primarily to allow us to complete more properties which were then in the pipeline. We couldn’t move forward with the scheme for the Potato Market but thought it would be possible to carry out a different public realm development within the timescale.
Had we not had the two constraints of Covid lockdowns and the shortened timescales, we would have approached the whole consultation process in a different manner. We would have been able to hold public consultations with opportunities for face to face discussions so that we could have drawn out people’s ideas for the site. It might then have been possible from this to have had a final consultation on the options of a single proposal or ‘do nothing’. However, this wasn’t possible and we considered a number of options for how the questions should be phrased. One option would have been to ask two questions; firstly ‘do you want something or nothing?’ and then only the people who wanted ‘something’ got to choose between the three options. Although there were in fact more people in favour of ‘doing something’ than ‘doing nothing’ no single proposal outweighed the ‘do nothing’ vote. We also know there were some mixed feelings about the options presented by the consultants but we didn’t have the luxury of time to have a ‘do something else’ option.
We came to the conclusion that we had to present the options in as unassailably fair way as possible, so as to reach a clear result that would not be questioned.
In the first consultation, the leaflets were delivered by Royal Mail but this is quite a lengthy process and given the short time we have left on the project we decided not to do this again. Instead, we relied on volunteers to deliver the leaflets. About 900 leaflets were delivered, which is about 90% of the households on the Moor, and we’re grateful to the volunteers who did this for us.
Whilst we are now not able to carry out the public realm element of the Townscape Heritage project, this was only a relatively small proportion of the total investment being made in the Scheme, and by the end of the project we will still have brought about £1.2m of investment into the town centre, largely spent with local suppliers and contractors. This is probably the biggest capital investment in the town for many years. Thirteen properties will have been completed rather than the eleven that were originally planned. The Scheme has encouraged property owners’ to invest in their properties and install historic shopfronts which they couldn’t have afforded to do without the additional funding provided by the grants.