The Grimsby Ice Factory - Public Debate
On 24th September 2009, the Grimsby, Cleethorpes and District Civic Society called a public meeting about Grimsby Ice Factory. Even those members who had passionately argued over the future of this listed building were pleasantly surprised by the number of citizens who answered the call. This event led to the formation in 2010 of the Great Grimsby Ice Factory Trust - a standalone organisation dedicated to the Ice Factory.You can find out more about GREAT GIFT at http://grimsbyice.co.uk/
But first - back to 2009 and the debate....
The Ice Factory has been an ongoing concern since the inception of the Grimsby, Cleethorpes and District Civic Society, with much disagreement on what should happen to this listed building.
In the words of Chairman Paul Genney, 'There are those who would like to save it. Others', would prefer to demolish it and use the land for something else.'
On 23rd October 2008, Stephen Peel, Conservation Officer for NELC was a guest at a Civic Society committee meeting, discussing a wide range of matters. The subject of the Ice Factory provoked more heated debate with Stephen Peel confirming that this is a unique building.
To try and sum up the points; the Ice Factory was built at the turn of the last century to provide ice for the fishing fleet. The factory became redundant in 1990. It is generally agreed that it is the ice-making equipment in its original location which makes the building unique and earned its Grade 2* listing from English Heritage. Over the years the factory has fallen into disrepair. Some have argued that the machinery should be relocated as a monument to the past, others argue that the building itself should be renovated.
As a result of this discussion, George Bullen proposed that one of our 2009 members meetings should be devoted to the Ice Factory. Stephen Peel confirmed his full support for this proposal with North East Lincolnshire Council generously donating the use of the Town Hall for the purpose. Our secretary Pauline Lee was left with the task of organising the meeting for 24th September 2009. After discussion between Stephen Peel and Chairman Paul Genney it was agreed that a 'Question Time' format with a panel of interested parties and lots of time for the public to give their view would be the best format.
Humber Clipper Event
We got some indication of potential interest at the Humber Clipper event, held a few weeks before on Grimsby Dock. NELC's Tony Sargent had assembled a magnificent display not just of the Ice factory, but also the other listed buildings on the docks. Many of the attendees were former dock workers and fishermen who had come to the event for a look round at their old workplace. Combined with the news that Alfred Enderby's Fish Merchants had applied to the EU for protection of the term Grimsby Smoked Haddock, there was a strong current of enthusiasm for heritage throughout the day.
The Big Day.
As the meeting grew near, we were pleasantly surprised to find that all the interested parties on our 'wish list' were willing to take part. So it was that Councillors Martin Vickers, and Andrew De Freitas, Giles Proctor of English Heritage, Shona McIsaac MP for Cleethorpes, Austin Mitchell, MP for Grimsby, Kevin Francis, Regional Property Manager for Associated British Ports, Tony Hunter, Chief Executive of NELC, and Stephen Peel took to the stage. Interest from the media was strong with both the Grimsby Telegraph and the Cleethorpes Chronicle represented at the meeting. Even the great Peter Levy introducing a filmed item on BBC Look North with Giles Proctor of English Heritage being interviewed live outside the Town Hall.
Ice Factory Video
Luckily, we were also able to get permission from Martyn Bullock and Cleethorpes Camera Club to show extracts from two videos. The first, made in the last week of operation of the Ice Factory provides a fascinating insight for those of us who had never considered, let alone seen the process of industrial ice making. Reminiscent of the 1930?s film 'Things To Come', the sight of the 16 foot high condensers, tipping cranes and giant moulds being hauled out of the brine tanks to disgorge slabs of ice is fascinating. Sadly the second film by Roy Mathews and Terry Willey shows the state of neglect which the Ice Factory had fallen into only a few years later, with the gleaming machinery now rusted and grimy.
The Top 7% of Listed Buildings
Following an introduction from Chairman Paul Genney, Tony Hunter stated that as a relative newcomer to the town he was there to learn and to hear the views of the citizens. Stephen Peel outlined the importance of the Ice Factory and revealed that the Council had commissioned a survey into the current state of the building. Giles Proctor of English Heritage argued that as a unique example of ice making machinery in its original location, the Ice Factory was in the top 7% of listed buildings and painted a picture of it being a centrepiece for a working museum.
As can be seen from the Grimsby Telegraph reports here and here (and a further report in the Cleethorpes Chronicle)all points of view were covered. Shona McIsaac was passionately in favour of preserving the Ice Factory, pointing out that a similar factory in France had been developed into a tourist attraction. Austin Mitchell was dispassionately in favour of demolition. He had visited the site that afternoon and brought scores of photographs showing even further decay.
The ABP View
Bravest man of the evening had to be Kevin Francis who came to put forward the views of Associated British Ports. As the company charged with operating Britain's ports, ABP is 'not in the restoration game'. Indeed, part of the problem with the Ice Factory seems to be that it is located on the edge of a working dock and a huge swathe of this area would have to be opened up for any serious heritage development. Kevin Francis said ABP would be willing to listen to anyone who had the plans and the finances to restore or develop the area, but that so far no-one had come forward with a complete package. Indeed a common thread seemed to be that NELC was already short of funds and could not commit taxpayers? money to renovation.
During the intermission, North East Lincolnshire Council provided refreshments and attendees were able to view NELC's display of listed buildings, and Austin Mitchell's impromptu display of colour photographs from that afternoon's visit. Members of the panel such as Andrew De Freitas took time to discuss the subject at greater length with the audience before returning for the second round.
Support for Demolition
Support for Demolition
As the meeting was opened up to the audience, some support for demolition was voiced. Representatives of the fish merchants working on the docks argued that the crumbling exterior at the entrance to the docks provided a dispiriting welcome to buyers from the nation's largest supermarkets. A viewpoint echoed by Councillor Martin Vickers who thought the factory, (which in the words of Pevsner's Buildings of England, "looms over small shops, stores and tall smoking houses")sent the wrong image to visitors cruising the A180 flyover. Others had worked on the docks and felt that the past was done and should be ruled off. Others felt that areas within the centre of town were more deserving of preservation.
However, the mood was largely in favour of preservation. The Chairman of the Humber Cruising Association gave some hope in the example of a leisure organisation which had successfully negotiated a tenancy with ABP on a previous redundant section of the docks. A former worker in the fishing industry waited patiently to put his view that the town had been built on fishing and without the ice factory there would have been no deep sea fishing. Now it was time to pay something back.
A representative sample of machinery
A Representative Sample of Machinery
The most interesting aspect of the meeting was the attempt to pin down specifics and cut through misunderstandings. Who has a duty of care for listed buildings? The owner or the local authority? How many millions would it take to restore the building and where would the money come from? Several of the participants had been under the impression that English Heritage demanded nothing less than total restoration, but the answer seemed to be that English Heritage would be happy with a representative sample of the machinery preserved within a redeveloped building. It's also been long understood that the building itself is unremarkable, but speaking from the audience Keith Miller the English Heritage Inspector of Monuments said that while the majority of the building was dull, the frontage contained some intricate decorative brickwork that he would like to see preserved.
At the end of the evening, Paul Genney appealed to the audience for resolutions. The first; that the Ice Factory be delisted and demolished was not carried. The second, that the Civic Society continues to facilitate the search for a solution was carried. As someone once said, not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.
Thanks again to Stephen Peel and North East Lincolnshire Council for hosting the evening and providing refreshments, to the Civic Society members who acted as stewards, raffle sellers and technical assists (especially Martin Turner for running around the audience with the microphone during the second half) and most of all, our secretary Pauline Lee for organising the event.