Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Memorials in Danger - update

We have posted on the blog before about the memorial to the men of Mains, located in Caird Park in Dundee. This has been in serious need of restoration and repair for some time. You can see our previous posts here and here.

There has been a group of concerned individuals liaising with Dundee Council regarding the possible restoration of this memorial, and today I received a detailed update from Ian Robertson, one of this group. He's happy for me to share this update with you.

When concerns were raised by various interested people about the state of this memorial I decide that I would try to do something about it. After speaking to others I decided it would be best if we formed a committee to tackle Dundee Council who is responsible for the care of the memorial. The committee consisted of me, George Webster of St Andrews University, Bob Paterson a local resident and chairman of the Dundee Branch of the Western Front association and Tom Mccluskey, ex CSM of the Black Watch and chairman of the Angus Black Watch association. Besides the associations represented by Bob and Tom we also had the mandate to represent the members of the GWF , this forum and several other interested individuals. We contacted the Editor of the Dundee Courier and suggested that they take a look at the memorial. The next day an article appeared with pictures and quotes from, amongst others, Bob Paterson and Bob Duncan of Dundee Council. One comment made made by Bob Duncan about demolishing the structure and putting a plaque with the names of the men on the wall of the nearby Castle alarmed us. In order to prevent this happening before there was a chance for debate, we contacted Historic Scotland to see if it was worthy of listing. This immediately prevented the council doing anything to it while HS made up their mind about listing.

We contacted the council and a meeting was set up for the 5th May 2009. Before this, the members of our committee got together to decide what the actual aims were to be and to make sure that we would present a united front. We eventually decided on the following;

· The option of a plaque replacing the memorial was a non starter

· Given its exposed location the memorial should be moved to a more protected location

· The memorial should be fully restored to its original condition

At the first meeting between our group and the council, which included the convenor responsible, the director of the parks and leisure department and the head of Parks, Sport and Leisure, we obtained a commitment that the memorial would not be demolished. This was confirmed in a subsequent e-mail from the convenor. We were asked if we could be willing to provide any of the funding but we declined and informed the council that we thought that it was their responsibility. The council also agreed to obtain rough estimates for the cost of the work involved and look at probable sites for the relocation of the memorial. A chain of communication was agreed and a proposed date for a subsequent meeting when the costs and a short list of suitable new locations for the memorial would be presented. After the meeting we took it upon ourselves to independently get the work priced so that we would have an idea if the figure that the council would eventually come up with would be accurate.

We would meet with the council several more times before Christmas 2009 and after a lot of discussion about the new location we had an understanding with them that the Memorial would be re-located in the grounds of the nearby castle, in a dedicated area, which would be landscaped accordingly. Some individuals within our own group were not entirely convinced with this solution but eventually we agreed that it represented the best opportunity of protecting the structure against future vandalism. One of the flies in this particular ointment was that the castle had a tenant who leased it from the council and operated it as a wedding venue. We had a meeting with them, which was attended by the council’s legal department, and eventually they agreed to the proposal.

At Christmas time the council still had not heard from Historic Scotland as to whether they would list it or not and therefore they could not go out to tender to contractors for the work. Our Group contacted HS and were told that it was likely that it would be listed as it is a reasonably unique structure. The decision was to be made by the 14th Jan 2010.We were happy about this as H.S. would help fund any renovation to a certain point and therefore, in our opinion, help remove any future argument for not carrying out the work using a lack of fund s as an excuse. We also took the opportunity to establish Historic Scotland’s view on the memorial being moved in order to protect it and it seemed to us that they would look on it favourably.

True to their word the memorial was listed but about the same time the tenant of Mains Castle decided that they didn’t now want the hassle of accommodating the memorial after all, so it was back to the drawing board and the search for a suitable location continued.

After looking around we proposed re-siting it in Caird Park stadium and a plan was drawn up. The council suggested that before submitting the plan for permission we arrange a meeting with Historic Scotland to establish their views on moving it because the feedback they were getting was contrary to the impression that our group had from our own discussions from HS. By this time the council was on board with this, that the money was available and that there was a real desire for this work to be completed. Dates for a re-dedication were discussed enthusiastically with the favourites being the 25th September and a fall back date of 11th November 2010.

A meeting was convened with HS which was attended by individuals from the council’s technical, conservation and legal departments and members from our own group. The person who turned up from Historic Scotland was not our original contact and it was immediately evident that she was completely un- briefed. She did not seem sympathetic to the memorial’s primary function which is, after all, to commemorate the men inscribed upon it, but seemed more taken with its setting and its allusion to “Elysian Fields”. She actually did not seem to mind the state it was in and we got the impression that she seemed to think that the dilapidated condition added to the charm of the structure. We took her up to the proposed new location and explained our thinking behind moving it. Somebody quite cleverly pointed out that by placing it in a sports arena this would continue the classical “Elysian Field” connection. After the HS representative left we agreed with the council that they would submit a plan for permission which included its repositioning in the sports arena. There is also a backup plan for its renovation in its original position with a hard standing area around it and a fence with which we are not entirely comfortable.

In July, despite promptings on a monthly basis, we were concerned that we had heard nothing and we wrote to the council. After a while they confirmed that the application had been submitted at the beginning of that month to HS and an answer was expected by the end of September. Half way through September we again contacted the council and urged them to inject some sort of urgency into the situation. We were informed that HS was still sitting on the decision and as it was now evident that the work could not now be completed by the 11th Nov we were offered the interim solution that the memorial would be cleaned up and the broken tablet which is inscribed with the names be replaced with a temporary plaque. We refused this in the sure-fire belief that a temporary repair may quite quickly transform into being the permanent solution. Alert to the way things were going we contacted our original contact in Historic Scotland to ask what stage the application had reached and when we could expect a decision. Two weeks ago we received a reply from him telling us that he was not involved with this application now but he promised to find out the current situation and get back to us. He e-mailed me last week giving us the name of the person now handling the case but very little other information. We have written to the council indicating that as the original group responsible for involving HS we intend to contact HS asking for a firm answer as to when a decision will be made on the application. The council have responded welcoming our intention and urging us to engage with Historic Scotland so that the whole matter can be resolved.

We will continue to keep the readers of the forum appraised of developments as they happen.

Ian is happy to answer any questions or concerns you may ave about this memorial. You can direct them to Ian either via the comments here or by emailing scottishwarmemorials@hotmail.co.uk

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