Alyson Phillips interviews Councillor Tony Kemp on the Octagon Refurbisment
The Octagon during refurbishment
The Grade II Victorian Concert Hall had to be closed last October for safety reasons, with repairs starting in March this year. It’s expected to re-open to visitors in late March/early April 2018.
Nasty Shocks Under the Floor and in the Roof
The Octagon was built directly on earth with brick sleeper walls supporting the floor. Significant deterioration had occurred and in nearly 50 places brickwork had been simply knocked through for services to be added. Recalling his shock when he saw photos, Councillor Kemp said, “Classic cars were exhibited on this floor worth as much as two and three hundred thousand pounds and who would have picked up the bill if one had fallen through that floor?”
Major work had been undertaken in 1951 when skilled labour and suitable materials were scarce but the priority was getting ‘things back to normal’. Visitors wanted a family day out in ’The Gardens’, despite rationing, to put the war years behind them. It was also a nasty surprise when remote cameras were sent into roof spaces and ‘…found things you wish it hadn’t!’
Building Remains under HPBC Ownership
Cllr Kemp assures us the buildings will remain in the ownership of High Peak Borough Council as does the Opera House, though it’s possible a Trust could be established in the future to enable access to more grants.
Commercial Interest Being Welcomed
Commercial confidentiality precluded detailed discussion but he said there have been several “expressions of interest” and HPBC expects to receive serious bids. He feels this is a much different prospect to a few years ago. In 2008/9 there was no commercial interest shown in The Gardens but the programme of refurbishment and repair since then has changed things.
Any company chosen to provide catering and/or retail services will not be able to do as they please with the building. Responsibility for maintenance of the building will remain with HPBC, but opening up opportunities should safeguard jobs and boost the local economy.
Councillor Kemp Welcomes Comment
The Council will welcome constructive comment from the public as it did ten years ago when the cafeteria was removed and replaced by Tourist Information and the art exhibition. This has proved a great success, though Cllr Kemp recalls a few complaints at the time about the loss of what most saw as a sort of “wartime cafeteria” with water leaking through the roof!
Spending on The Gardens, despite these successes, have been seen by some as a waste of council tax because it requires a subsidy due to the nature of the buildings. Cllr Kemp points out that even if the building was boarded up many costs would not go away because it would still need heating and maintenance to prevent deterioration. Our responsibility to Historic England mean HPBC has to keep the buildings in reasonable order… and although HE have been extremely helpful with planning heritage work they don’t provide cash!
New / Old Vintage Colour Scheme
All the old photographs are of course in black and white, and in living memory the paintwork has been just that. However, the Council commissioned historical research and analysis of paint chippings revealed a very different external colour scheme, which will be re-instated and gradually implemented for the rest of the buildings. Inside, inspection of untouched hidden areas showed a vibrant design which will also be brought back. “There will definitely be a reaction and all publicity is welcome!”