In 2014 we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the creation of Tameside Council. Figures from the Office of National Statistics have shown that the average (median) age of a UK resident is also 40. Put simply, this means that a majority of our residents do not remember a time before the existence of Tameside Council. In recognition of this, I’ve decided this week to explain how our nine towns on the banks of the River Tame came to be grouped together.
One of Tameside’s most defining features is that, unlike most of the other Greater Manchester councils, no one town has grown to dominate the area in the manner of Stockport, Bolton, Wigan etc. This is no accident. Unlike most of the other new local government areas created by the Local Government Act 1972, Tameside did not have a County Borough town to build itself around. Although they shared close links with each other due to history and existing or proposed development, to the outside world the nine towns of Tameside clung to the very fringes of Lancashire and Cheshire, out of sight and out of mind to the people who made the big decisions in Preston and Chester. People who complain about the council being distant and unresponsive now would have been tearing their hair out back then.
Industrialisation and urban growth in the preceding century had also made nonsense of traditional local government boundaries. To give an extreme example, the area that would be reorganised into the West Midlands metropolitan county was split between no fewer than eleven separate counties and boroughs. Tameside was scarcely any better, as below county level administration was split between five boroughs and four urban/district councils, which together formed the historical nine towns. This proved as much of an organisational nightmare as you could imagine, and vital issues that covered anything more than a couple of towns, such as housing and traffic congestion, were almost impossible to handle effectively.
Tameside gives us the best of both worlds. It retains the identities of the nine historic towns, which people rightly continue to take pride in, but also allows us to do what needs to be done to make all of Tameside a place to live, work and do business in in the 21st century. In no way does this invalidate Tameside’s historical legacy. We carry the history of the nine towns on with us, just as the nine towns carried the history of the four medieval manors, Roman Britain and the Celtic kingdom of Brigantia before them. If Tameside Council is replaced by something else in the future, does that invalidate everything that we have achieved? Tameside the borough may only have existed since 1974, but Tameside the place has thousands of years of history. If people want to play silly games with that history in the name of petty points-scoring, they should know that they do a grave disservice to the history and the towns that they claim to hold dear in the process.