How area surrounding Grimsby's Ice Factory could become focal point for regeneration
The future of Grimsby's Ice Factory is a hot topic. Here, Roy Horobin, of the Grimsby Ice Factory Trust, explains, in reply to a recent column by Telegraph business editor David Laister, how the area surrounding the neglected building could become a focal point for regeneration
PEOPLE like me have been campaigning to get the Great Grimsby Ice Factory building used.
It is often mistakenly said that people like me are campaigning to "preserve" this building. That is the last thing I want to do.
The Ice Factory is not a "wreck of a building" as some would claim. A recent survey showed it is structurally sound.
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This building has been neglected for 20 years and looks a mess, especially when looked at from the direction of the Grimsby Telegraph.
However, I have been taken on an informative tour by Associated British Ports (ABP), where I walked on floors, on the roof and up spiral staircases, and so proved just how sound this building is.
National interest is being excited by organisations such as the Prince's Regeneration Trust, Save Britain's heritage, the British Council For Archaeology and English Heritage.
Their view is this building and the surrounding area are unique in the United Kingdom. This uniqueness can be translated into tourism income. But that is only a part of my argument.
It's all very well to lazily moan that the building should be pulled down, but the Ice Factory is a grade two-listed building. It is not simply the case that it can be knocked down.
To apply to get this structurally sound building demolished would be a lengthy process which would lead to further loss of income, which could be huge.
All that people, like me, ask for is to be included in the discussion. We can help solve Grimsby's image problem, which would in turn help the town with recruitment and retention of talented workers.
Voluntary organisations like the Great Grimsby Ice Factory Trust come cheap. You may not be able to knock down the Ice Factory but their services come at "knock-down" prices.
I would like to see the area of the Ice Factory and historic dock turned into an entrepreneurial zone. This area is less than two per cent of the Grimsby Docks. One businessman at the heart of the renewables industry suggested that the Ice Factory could partly be turned into attractive office space for the renewables energy industries.
Other buildings in the historic dock could also be converted into offices and modern cafes to create an attractive environment that would be a thriving business area.
A banker from the City of London explained to me that there have been problems with Canary Wharf and the Docklands area because most want to work in the older, more appealing area of the city.
Two local businessmen, on separate occasions, explained how the historic dock offers a potentially very appealing environment for business.
This could have a transformative effect on the town. I don't want to tell businesses how to run their businesses; instead I want to create a tiny, but significant part of the docks that has the right leasing conditions for entrepreneurs to fly.
We could then create an attractive area in the symbolic heart of Grimsby which helped to retain and recruit talent – perhaps a zone for the creative industries of which Britain is a world leader.
This is not "an albatross" around our neck. What exactly does that mean anyway?
An albatross is a rare, beautiful and valuable bird. It is an unpolished jewel that can earn money for us.
One irony is that by declaring a conservation area, we could create the entrepreneurial zone that I am after.
We would be able to improve the image of Grimsby. The docks are the image of Grimsby, just look how the Dock Tower features – and that building soon outlived its obvious, economic use.
Declaring a conservation area would allow millions of Government funds to be released. The money is there, but traditionally this area has not fought for it. All that needs to be conserved are the appealing exteriors and some aspects of the interiors of the quality buildings on the dock.
And yes, I would demolish some buildings on the historic dock. My experiences of the economically successful Germany show how old, quirky features can be combined with state-of-the-art, hard-nosed, money-making properties.
A good example of how conservation translates into money is the York Walls. They were going to be knocked down in the 19th century, but were preserved.
They are now seen as part of the economic success of York in attracting and retaining business. The walls create the unique identity of the city, our unique identity comes from the docks.
Access issues have frequently been raised. The Great Grimsby Ice Factory Trust with the help of the Prince's Regeneration Charity has already started to explore those issues at no cost to the council or ABP.
On a planning day in February, hosted by Prince Charles's charity, a town planner started to sketch out a way to improve access to the A180 which avoided the level crossing and Riby Square.
This would then allow for a right turn from the A180 into Freemen Street and allow for safe public access to the historic dock. But how would we stop the public from interfering with the work of ABP? By fencing off the unloading areas and other sensitive areas. There is no danger of a public and commercial mix-up. The planner showed how easy it was to keep the two separate.
The East Marsh and Freemen Street areas are a thorny problem and the Ice Factory has the possibility to significantly help with this.
The area is in the centre of town, right next to the most successful dock in the United Kingdom and yet none of that success washes across.
We need houses in the area and yet no-one can make a profit out of building houses on the East Marsh. Easy "connectivity" between the East Marsh and a thriving Ice Factory and historic dock could transform this area. This sort of transformation has been done elsewhere. Why should it not happen here? We need to raise aspiration in this area.
The money that drains away into the social problems could be redirected for the benefit of business. It is in the interest of business in the town that we use wealth intelligently to create opportunities.
One of 104 members of the Great Grimsby Ice Factory Trust is an Oxford professor who works in research that benefits industry. He completely understands the need to raise aspiration, as do other organisations in the town. We want to use the Ice Factory to stimulate that aspiration.
Without an increase in aspiration then there will a potential skills shortage in the key skills of literacy, numeracy, science, technology and teamwork.
It is a dangerous and inaccurate myth to claim money is not available to regenerate the Ice Factory.
In recent weeks, the Great Grimsby Ice Factory Trust has raised more than £2,000 towards its Options Appraisal by donations from local businesses and members of the public.
The Architectural Heritage Fund will then match this to £7,500 to pay for an architect to complete the Options Appraisal of the cinema, microbrewery, restaurant, office space, climbing wall, performing arts space, art gallery and Ice Factory interactive experience.
Then the market research is carried out, at no cost to the council or ABP, and then the trust writes the business plan that is presented to ABP. At this point it will be possible to apply for the big money, which is ring fenced for heritage projects, from the national lottery.
This is a time of austerity but the money is there. If the trust has the full support of the council and the landowners then the chances of getting the money are virtually guaranteed.
The Ice Factory is on the verge of creating paid work for an architect's firm and market researchers, but I would like to see it used to create extensive work for our local construction industry. This can be done.
I am somewhat at a loss as to why so much construction work goes to out-of-town businesses. There is also a great opportunity to link in with providing on-the-job training opportunities to other bodies who are training young people; and build on the work that I have seen being done on the East Marsh which is getting long-term unemployed people into work.
The Dock Tower is iconic and I would like to see it opened up to the public so we could benefit from the tourist trade; it could become a real PR success for ABP.
The most important docks in the UK are of interest to many people. Going up the Dock Tower and being able to see a working port would be an amazing, worth-travelling- to-Grimsby-for experience. Those visitors would spend money in the town. The 2010 English Heritage Report found that for every £1 invested in heritage there was a return of £1.70.
MP Austin Mitchell disputed this with me in an e-mail correspondence so I found evidence for Stockport, a working class town in the North West of England, with a virtually identical population to Grimsby, had also benefited in the same report by English Heritage.
And why not convert the Port Office into a hotel?
We can transform Grimsby by increasing the business done here. But we need everyone to be listened to, and no-one excluded from the discussion. The symbolic heart of Grimsby is the docks. Be business-like about the past and the past will create business for the future.
What do you think?
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