Late last year I had the pleasure of visiting the site of the former TAC in Ashton-under-Lyne, now demolished to make way for a new state of the art joint public service centre. The visit was an opportunity to see the progress that had been made in laying the foundations for the new building and ceremonially sign the first part of the steel framework that will support the building.
Something that struck me when arriving in the compound was just how large a site the former TAC occupied. Built in 1981 to replace a range of offices across the Borough, TAC brought together Tameside Council staff and facilities under one roof. By the end however the building was half empty and costing more to keep open then was either justifiable to local taxpayers or affordable in the age of austerity. Whilst TAC was an innovative idea and facility when constructed, the 1980s specifications it was built to were unsuitable for the 21st century, and architecturally it’s unclear whether the design was ever consistent with any fashions.
When we commissioned the new building we were determined that we wouldn’t repeat previous mistakes. The new public service centre currently under construction will meet the highest energy efficiency criteria possible and cost significantly less that the £1.7 million per year that TAC cost to run. It will be shared with Tameside College and house their advanced skills centre, further reducing the costs to local taxpayers whilst providing our young people with the skills they need to be successful in life in a first class setting. There will be space for Wilko to return to the site from their temporary home in the Arcades and the historic stone façade, behind which the Co-operative Bank and the Cheshire Building Society were housed, will be retained.
At the time of my visit in December only one staircase had been constructed. Having been in Ashton this lunch time significant progress has been made since. It’s clear that 2017 will be where the building will really begin to take shape and residents will see major changes even from outside the site barriers.
Whilst the signing ceremony itself was a major milestone in the beginning of construction work, the more significant milestone will be the completion. The regeneration of Ashton Town Centre and wider Tameside that this project has kick-started is more significant than anything else since the formation of the Borough in 1974. Jobs have been, and continue to be, created as ‘Vision Tameside’ progresses, and the local economy has been boosted by the money these workers spend locally and the increased footfall in to the town centre.
As I look back at the Council reports that were considered to agree the construction of this building I recall one of the reasons listed as making TAC’s replacement necessary was its £2 million maintenance backlog. Whilst I could spend time wondering how and why it was allowed to get to that point I am more minded to think that we were fortunate not to have spent that money keeping up to date with the maintenance of a building that had not been fit for purpose for some time.