Crown Wharf Story Part 3: Fire Engines and Knotweed

Last week we covered the purchase of the main site from the Canal & River Trust.  I am eager to get to the design detail. However, the scope of design would be affected if we could also add to the core site.   So, a little detail and a few thanks are due.  First for the help and enthusiasm that our project has had locally but most of all to the Steering group, created by Stone Town Council and especially Rob Kenney and Jill Hood. They have guided us through a morass of local, borough and county politics - we would not be here without them.

Our ambition for Crown Wharf, via the Steering group, was to create more than just Pub, there are three elements. 

The most important to us is, of course, the new Joule's Stone Taphouse, which will be our flagship Pub.  Sister to the Red Lion (an original Joule's pub next to the Brewery in Market Drayton).

We also agreed to look at the possibility of a Studio Theatre and work with Stone Revellers, we will cover the Theatre design in due course.  And last, but not least, the Town Council wanted a site for a Heritage and Visitor facility. 

Now the main site is not small, just shy of I acre, 0.9 to be exact. This would be a squeeze to achieve all three objectives.  Our Crown Street frontage is limited, and there are two separate parcels of land which Crown Wharf is behind.  The Fire Station, and Poole's yard.  Both empty, they looked untidy, unkempt, a bit grim.  So not only would it be good for us to have some extra space, but these two plots would detract from what estate agents refer to as curb appeal.  Our next challenge was to secure these two parcels of land.

In the case of Poole's yard then this was straightforward, owned by Suma developments.  Rob and I met with them, but understandably they wanted to test the market rather than accept our bid.  During the marketing phase, we did what we thought would be a winning bid, offering double what we had paid for the main site, we were therefore surprised when we lost.  Such is life, but whoever had bought it would hopefully work with us and at least tidy it up.

The Fire Station was an altogether a more complicated matter.  The one-time engine house had passed to the county council.  Greatly aided by Jill Hood our County Councillor then we navigated around the county offices, pitched our idea for a heritage centre, and a deal whereby Joule’s would offer the station for just £1 per year by way of sponsoring the project.  I suspect it's easier to acquire plutonium, we pitched several times, and despite the county liking the project, and really wanting to help, they were powerless to act.

In the end, the county was able to secure a consent to market the Fire Station for sale on the open market. We were able to bid for it,  lodging a full supporting pack for the project, there was a lot of interest, and we had to offer blind like everyone else.  Having lost Poole's yard, then we lodged a very strong bid of £152,000, as much as we could justify, and this time we did win.  This process was frustrating, we were working with the local council so had expected a softer response from the county council. 

It's true that our system of local government is tortuously slow, cumbersome, and it can lack both logic and commerciality.  We also have to recognise, this same lack of commercialism ensures we have an unscrupulously fair and regulated system. Without exception all the people I dealt with were diligent and extremely fair.  I am not sure I would want our public servants being any other way. 

The news that we had won the bid was a big relief.  The steering group had recognised that we could not offer all three elements with the space we had. We decided that if we had not won that bid, then the project would just encompass the Pub and the Studio Theatre.  If we had lost the bid and not been able to deliver all three elements, it would have been hard to take; especially given the support we had had from the Town Council.  Happily, we have now signed the heads of terms with the council where Joules will provide a free lease for the fire station, and we are currently on site re-roofing the building.

With the fire station deal done, which took 18 months from our first meeting with the county, then we could finalise the whole site.  Our curbside appeal could be much improved; we had the critical building to help signpost the location.  We were especially eager to secure the lovely hose drying tower, where we propose to fix the joules mark, echoing the original sign on the old Brewery Tower.  The original sign was usually in green, as an echo of the old tower, then the new one will also be in green. 

Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, the fire station allows us to create pedestrian access from the town, and we will form a pathway past the fire station.  This gives us a direct route as the line of the sight, from the high street junction.  On this page, we have had responses about the traffic on Crown Street. Both the Town Council and we are acutely aware of this issue, and we will engage with highways and look at all the options to ensure the safety of pedestrians.

And finally, to our great surprise and delight, we had a bit of luck, the buyer for Poole's yard dropped out due to some suspected knotweed, this is the first time I have been pleased to see some knotweed.  Suma, who owned the site, was kind enough to allow us to step back in and they sold it to us at our bid price.  This additional space will provide some very welcome extra parking space; so we can extend the car park. It is already convenient and reminds me I must go and collect that knotweed.

Next week, we will finally move on to explaining the principles of how we have designed Crown Wharf.