Saturday, December 9, 2023

Editorial: A Tale Of Two Tea Rooms

With the Amber Valley Borough Council election a few weeks away, many of the big local issues facing Belper residents will become battlegrounds for the prospective candidates; the state of Belper’s North Mill, the Local Plan and of course, the tearooms in the River Gardens.

On a summer day there can be hundreds of visitors to the River Gardens. No one will deny that the River Gardens are a beautiful space; we use it for dog walking, boating, picnics, well dressings, music, drama, taking our kids to the playground and so much more. The tearooms, however, are not just an eye-sore, they are at best an embarrassment and at worst dangerous.

Last week Ben Bellamy, the Labour Candidate for Belper North in the upcoming Amber Valley Borough Council elections, said that a Labour victory would lead to the situation with the River Gardens Tea Rooms being resolved. He stated that Labour had pledged to fill the funding gap that was holding back the project and laid the blame solely on the Conservative whom “have completely failed to deal with the Tea Rooms for decades.” Adding: “Belper residents and visiting tourists are appalled by this ugly ruin, which spoils our beautiful park.”

Regardless of politics, it is clear that the issue has plagued the town for decades. In 2011 the people of Belper chose a design they wanted to see as the new Swiss tea room out of six shortlisted nominees. The favoured Latham proposal was then rejected by a selection panel who preferred the designs put forward by McNeil Beechey O’Neill. At the time the debate centred around a conflict between the old and the new, with the Latham proposal being described as ‘outdated’ and not ‘commercially viable’ in comparison to the larger, bistro/bar design submitted by MBO.

In the end, nothing was built.

When asked about why the project had stalled Cllr Cox responded by saying: “The Conservatives have always been in favour of replacing the tea rooms. The replacement must fit in with the River Gardens, must be affordable and must be financially sustainable. The plans that were approved fitted all these criteria. However following the collapse of the economy the design proved to be unaffordable.”

Have any lessons been learnt since then? Well, things do seem to be tentatively heading in the right direction. Last year Belper Town Council resolved to ring-fence £100,000 of funding towards a replacement building to assist in moving the stalled project forward. In February it was then announced that the Belper Tearooms Association had been established to secure a much needed replacement for the derelict site in Belper’s River Gardens. The BTA, formed from members of the Friends of Belper River Gardens, is working in partnership with AVBC to provide and manage a lower cost replacement for the tearooms. Last week it was also announced that AVBC, at its meeting on 23rd of March 2016, had approved the capital budget for 2016/17 which includes a further £100,000 for the tearooms.

The sceptical side of me, the sceptic of party politics and electioneering, is inclined to think we may be waiting another five years before anything happens. A temporary suggestion, why not clear the site and have a rotating selection of pop-up eateries. Each time they rent the location some of the fee goes towards the building of the new tearooms.

Whether the vote in May leans towards red or blue – other parties are, apparently, available – it is long past time for some joined up cross-party thinking to finally get this project off the ground. We’re the town that organises one of the biggest food festivals in the area, surely we are capable of providing something at the River Gardens, even if it is just until the day ground is finally broken on the new tearooms.

8 thoughts on “Editorial: A Tale Of Two Tea Rooms

  • Ben Bellamy Labour candidate Belper North

    An interesting idea to help with funding the project. My understanding is that the old tea rooms cannot be pulled down until the planning is in place for the new one – however that would not prevent having the ‘pop ups’ suggested.

    The editorial is correct that Avbc pledged 100k to the project at the final meeting before the election. They were unable to point to the minutes of any meeting where that sum had actually been allocated, but if it is true then of course it would be welcome. However the sum is not nearly enough. The estimated cost of the project is £450000. The Conservatives have been clear, and quoted in local press that there can be no further funding from the council.

    It is disingenuous of Councillor Cox to blame the lack of progress on the economic crisis. Funds of 1.6 million were found to buy the bungalow off field lane – despite the obvious to everyone fact that there was no realistic plan that would have seen a new leisure centre built. 50 thousand pounds of that purchase price was a ‘finders fee’. Readers will make their own judgement as to whether the right choice was made to abandon spending on the tea room in favour of this pipe dream project. It is also noted that Councillor Cox, when a member of the town council and presented a budget 2015 that included a one off reduction in council tax precept of a few pence that would have cost the town council a huge chunk of its reserve. I raised a petition and embarrassed the Conservatives on the Town to reject their own budget. If they had gone ahead then the Town would have not had any money to pledge. As it stands they still have huge reserves and could, if they wished, ring-fence more money.

    Labour plan to turn this Field lane disaster into a success. We will do this by using enough of the proceeds of the sale of that land, to ensure the funding gap that exists is plugged and that the tea rooms are finally be built. The Conservatives were incredulous at the Borough meeting that they had seen our pledge and asked for clarification that we would indeed do this – an assurance was given by Labour group leader Paul Jones. No such undertaking was given by Councillor Cox.

    I have been asked why I think the Tea rooms is so important and worth spending the money on. Firstly, we are a world heritage site and should be using that status to bring tourists into the town. The river gardens are one of our biggest assets, yet we are unable to use them as we should. The Tea rooms will provide a focal point, will provide jobs, toilets and bring money into the town. If managed, as planned, by a community interest company, there would also be some rental income. The alternative is to do nothing. Leave the carbuncle as is. Accept that the problem is too difficult, be happy for the tourists to take their money elsewhere. Be happy with seriously substandard toilets that are neither child nor disability friendly.

    I want better for Belper – we deserve it, we can get it and we can make it happen.

  • Sue MacFarlane

    As you say Ed, other parties are available. Red or blue are not the only colours the vote could lean to – especially if people are looking for a change from ‘politics as usual’. There will be Green Party candidates standing in every ward up for election on May 5th, people who want to look with fresh eyes at projects like this that have stalled no matter the ‘colour’ of the council in previous years. I would encourage anyone who is disillusioned with two party politics to vote Green, to vote for change.

  • George Gunby

    I think it would be very helpful to see the breakdown of the £450,000 budget.
    Is it available to view?

  • maurice neville

    As is so usually the case, Sue’s comment has nothing whatsoever to say about the Green Party ideas on the actual issue. Also, as is usually the case, Sue tries to lump the Tory and Labour record on the Tea Rooms together when it is perfectly obvious to all concerned that is a lack of Tory action over many years in charge which is the problem – not even Alan Cox tries to pretend otherwise. Sue has made previous public statements about Labour and Tory being no different and councillors of both kinds not being concerned about voters. As has been pointed out to her on more than one occasion, directing these sorts of remark against councillors, many of whom, unlike Sue, have decades of public service behind them, is just the sort of cheap remark she wants us to believe she is above. Sue is not offering a different sort of politics – in fact we have heard nothing substantive from her about the issues at all – just some lame attempts to deny the important distinctions on policy and priorities which Labour is setting before voters. We have a chance to make a real difference to Belper on 5th May, a difference which Labour is clearly setting out and capable of delivering . The Green vote can put the Tories in again but it won’t result in any Green councillors in North Ward or anywhere else in Amber Valley. Sue’s vain attempts to brush over the yawning gap between Tory and Labour are transparently dishonest.

  • maurice neville

    This would need to be addressed to the Tea Room Association – by the way the group has been working together on this since at least January 2015, with support from AVBC staff, first under Labour and then Conservatives, and are to be congratulated for their persistence.

  • Sue MacFarlane

    As is so usually the case, Maurice tries to personally discredit me by using the word ‘dishonest’ to describe my actions. Integrity is something I feel very strongly about and I am glad to say that, apart from some local Labour activists, dishonesty is not a word I have seen or heard used to describe me or my actions. Maurice is correct in saying I have little experience of serving as a councillor, but I do not necessarily feel that this would be a disadvantage should I get elected in May. Mhairi Black, the new SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South seems to be doing a great job even given her lack of previous experience. Maurice states here as a fact that green votes won’t result in any Green councillors in Belper North ward or anywhere else in Amber Valley but, as we have not had the election yet, he cannot know this as a fact. Given that this has, again, descended into a personal attack on my integrity, I will make no further comment on this thread.

  • maurice neville

    My comments are about Sue’s facile slurs on the integrity of all serving councillors and her obviously false assertion that there is no difference between Labour and Tory, combined with a complete absence of reference to the actual substantive issue – the Tea Room problem. She either can’t understand a simple point or deliberately tries to mislead the reader by pretending that I am saying her lack of experience is the problem. A Green Candidate who asserts that she stands for something different and better, then indulges in exactly the sort of behaviour which demonstrates the exact opposite can expect to be criticised. Let’s hear Sue actually address the issues which matter instead of repeatedly trotting out these grandiose assertions of superior personal integrity.


    Thank you Maurice. Very helpful. Do you have an address because I can’t find one anywhere.

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