Tuesday, 29 January 2013

WHY CHESHIRE EAST?



The old order changes. Frank and Edna Bailey pictured in 1972.
Frank was the last Chairman of the Middlewich Urban District Council and the town's first Mayor when the one time Royal Borough of Middlewich became a part of the District (later Borough) of Congleton.


by Dave Roberts
It may seem odd to people who are relatively new to this area that Middlewich, administratively speaking, is part of the Cheshire East Borough when its history and relationship with its near neighbours Northwich and Winsford would seem to indicate that its logical home would be in the Cheshire West & Chester area.
So why are we where we are?
When it comes to local government Middlewich finds itself where it is because of decisions made in the early 1970s.
In April 1974  Middlewich became part of Congleton Borough.
There had been talks about creating a new local authority for this area as far back as the 1930s when a ‘Mid-Cheshire Council’ was proposed, amalgamating Middlewich, Northwich and Winsford UDCs but the traditional rivalry between the three towns, particularly between Middlewich and Winsford, based on historical factors concerning the salt industry, meant that nothing was done.
In the nineteenth century Winsford was able to exploit its position on the River Weaver to develop its salt industry. The salt could be sent straight down the River to the Mersey for export. Middlewich, despite the existence of the canals, had no such advantage. Plans to bring barges straight into the town centre via the Anderton Lift and the Big Lock never came to anything, and nor did  plans to canalise the River Dane and build another canal eastwards from Middlewich. Winsford's salt industry boomed, and Middlewich's went into a decline. Ironically, though, we had the last laugh when British Salt was built here in 1969.
Reform of the system was talked about incessantly during the sixties and early seventies, and several ideas were mooted for this area.
Middlewich could have found itself part of Stoke-On-Trent under one such idea; another was for us to be part of a ‘Super Council’ stretching from Sale to the north down to Stoke-on-Trent to the South
By 1974 the Government had decided to act.
It was thought that councillors at UDC level did not have the experience and know-how to handle the ever more expensive and complicated business of running local authorities, and that the creation of larger ‘local government units’ was the best way to serve the public.
Talks were held at all levels about the way forward. The ‘Mid-Cheshire Council’ idea was resurrected but discounted for the same, familiar reason, one Middlewich Councillor saying that he would never serve on a council which included Winsford.
Eventually it was decided that a new council taking in Congleton, Alsager, and Sandbach and the rural areas between would be created.
It’s no secret that Middlewich was eventually included simply to 'make up the numbers’ – a local authority has to have the requisite number of rate-payers after all.
Simply, no one else wanted us. The new Vale Royal most certainly didn’t.
In fact, if the truth were known, the new authority we ended up in probably didn’t either.
When the news broke that we were to be part of this new authority we couldn't believe it.
Our inclusion n the Congleton District, incidentally, led to Middlewich being on that little ‘peninsula’ of land, surrounded on three sides by another authority which looks so weird on the map.
Actually this situation is by no means new. Up until 1974 we were 'surrounded' by the territory of the Northwich Rural District Council. Which explains why, for example, Wimboldsley and Sproston, though technically 'part' of Middlewich, have ex-council houses bearing the inscription 'NRDC'.
But why were we being 'lumped in' with Congleton? 
Wasn’t Congleton somewhere on the other side of the county, near Macclesfield?
The steering group for the new council met to decide on a name for the new authority.
Congleton?
No. In fact the committee decided that the name should be ‘Daneborough’ reflecting the fact that the River Dane runs through our area.
Sleight of hand by officials at Congleton substituted the name ‘Congleton’ at the last minute, giving people the understandable idea that this was some kind of ‘takeover’ by Congleton.
It was, as they say, ‘bad PR’ and Middlewich people resented the new Congleton authority right from the start. With good reason.
Incidentally I was working at Middlewich UDC just before the re-organisation and remember the Clerk to the Council, Ivan Glover, telling councillors that now was the time for them to introduce their own ‘pet schemes’ – swimming pools, leisure centres etc – and the new council would be duty bound to carry the work on.
A golden opportunity for us to get that swimming pool we’ve always wanted.
Heartbreakingly, and astonishingly, the council said that there was 'nothing that the town needed’.
And from the start it was patently obvious that this form of local government would lead to unfairness. What chance would a few councillors from Middlewich have when ranged against those from Congleton and Sandbach (where the main offices were situated).
We were all convinced that, just as we’d never heard of Congleton, they’d never heard of us. We always suspected that, if there was any money to be spent, it would be spent in Congleton, Sandbach, Alsager – anywhere but Middlewich.
And I can’t help thinking we were right. Certainly, as is apparent from the state of our town after the CBC years, they did very little for us.
Congleton Borough Council was hated so much that it’s hard to believe that another authority could enjoy even less esteem.
Cheshire East has managed it with ease. It's only existed for a few years and already its name is a hissing and a byword. All the old complaints we heard about the CBC are made about Cheshire East, with a few thousand more thrown in for good measure.
The authority is perceived as 'not caring' about Middlewich, and whether or not this perception is justified, Cheshire East doesn't seem very bothered about correcting it.
And now, as power struggles between Macclesfield and Crewe rage, poor old Middlewich is even more isolated than it was before.
What’s going to become of us?

© Dave Roberts 2013

 

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