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Saving St Annes - residents campaign on the Fylde coast

PUBLISHED: 20:17 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013

Visitors Harry and Joan Allen stroll along St Annes Road West

Visitors Harry and Joan Allen stroll along St Annes Road West

Will a controversial new development in St Annes be worth raising a glass to? Paul Mackenzie reports

Ashton Gardens in the heart of St Annes is more than a beauty spot, it's a source of controversy. The leafy paths and green spaces seem like the perfect place for quiet reflection but they have been the battleground for a series of confrontations between developers, the local council and the campaign group set up to protect the Victorian park.

The Save Our Ashton Gardens group was formed in the late 1990s when a proposal was made to turn a quarter of the Grade Two listed gardens into a supermarket car park and since that plan was dismissed the group shifted its focus to raising funds for improving the gardens.

They are now waiting for confirmation of a lottery grant to fund a restoration of the memorial to Lord Ashton who financed the creation of the gardens.
But they are also keeping a close eye on plans to develop a restaurant and entertainment venue in a new pavilion in the centre of the gardens.

John Harrison, the vice chairman of the Save Ashton Gardens group, said: 'The council has granted itself an alcohol licence for the new restaurant and caf which is a matter of concern for us. The gardens are in the centre of an area where drinking alcohol in public is prohibited and yet this licence applies to the caf and the terrace. That isn't what we think the gardens should be for.

'There were some very well made speeches in objection to the application and the details of the licence were amended slightly but they can still serve alcohol until 11pm, although only to diners.

'There is very little crime in the Ashton ward but the vast majority of the unruly behaviour we see occurs in Ashton Gardens. Maybe the presence of diners at this new venue will have a calming effect on those youths, we'll have to wait and see.'

Ashton Gardens was opened as a public park in 1874 and originally had views to the sea. These days that view is blocked but the park is home to Japanese gardens, rose gardens, water gardens and a lake as well as children's play areas and bowling greens.

But councillor David Eaves, the chair of Fylde Borough Council's licensing panel, insisted: 'The park is benefiting from massive investment in regeneration and the council's aim is to ensure as many people as possible come to benefit from it. Allowing a quiet drink to accompany a meal at this fabulous building will help enhance the experience and the enjoyment of the surroundings.'

There's plenty else besides to experience and enjoy in St Annes, with wonderful shops, lovely architecture and expansive golden sands.

The town was planned and laid out in the 19th century. But although it can pin-point its founding to March 31 1875, the origins of the Viking village which stood on the land previously are much less specific; Kilgrimol was thought to have been established in about 900BC.

The town was mostly laid out according to a plan drawn up by businessman Elijah Hargreaves, an astute sort of a chap who saw there was money to be made from bringing workers from the mill towns to the coast. Much of his plan is still evident although the town has changed quite a bit in recent years.

It is still a traditional quiet resort with scores of hotels, the beach, donkeys, ice cream stalls and pier but it is in the town centre that most of the major changes have taken place.

Modern blue street furniture has been added to the main shopping street, St Annes Road West, where poetry and artworks have also been set into the paving stones. And nearby Wood Street has been transformed into a culinary quarter, offering a menu full of high-quality food from all over the world.

The changes have revitalised St Annes and have worked in attracting people back to a resort which was in danger of fading from the tourist map

But one thing has remained constant throughout much of the history of St Annes; JR Taylor's department store opened in 1901 when memories of the town's founding were still quite fresh.

But the grand old lady of shopping in St Annes has had a facelift in recent times to keep her as fresh and contemporary as the younger stores which line the streets around the centre. Although the town has only a compact shopping area, there is a wealth of shops and boutiques - many of them charming independents.

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