Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been asked to support plans to turn a decaying former colliery into an industrial heritage park.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis raised the issue of Chatterley Whitfield during Prime Minister’s Questions, calling on Mr Johnson’s government to back the long-standing ambition to bring the site back into use.
Mr Gullis believes creating a heritage park would boost local tourism, create green jobs and help keep North Staffordshire’s industrial legacy for future generations.
The colliery closed down in 1977 and while a mining museum operated on the site for a while, it closed in 1993.
Since then the site has deteriorated and is now on Historic England’s Heritage ‘At Risk’ register. According to the register, the site’s condition is ‘very bad’, with an ‘immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric’.
The Friends of Chatterley Whitfield group is currently working with Mr Gullis, site owner Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and Historic England to draw up new plans for the site, which could form the basis of future funding bids.
But any restoration project is likely to cost million of pounds.
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Mr Gullis, who previously raised the issue of Chatterley Whitfield in his maiden Commons speech, used his question at PMQs to seek the Prime Minister’s personal support for the project.
He said: “In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, I have the incredible Chatterley Whitfield colliery. Once the beating heart of the industrial revolution, Chatterley is now, sadly, at risk of being lost.
“Will my right honourable friend support me, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Historic England and the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield to protect and preserve this historic landmark by creating an industrial heritage park to stimulate tourism, create new green jobs and memorialise the history from the pits to the pots?”
Mr Johnson said the government would look into more detailed plans for Chatterley Whitfield once they have been drawn up.
He said: “I congratulate my honourable friend and the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield colliery on the ambition that he has just outlined for a heritage park. It is a proposal that he needs to work up in more detail and bring to the Government, and we will certainly look at it with interest.”
Nigel Bowers, chairman of the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield, says there has been newfound optimism over the future of the site.
He believes there should be a focus on priority buildings, such as the Hesketh power house and winding gear – one of several listed structures at Chatterley Whitfield.
Mr Bowers said: “In April, Mr Gullis organised a Zoom meeting with ourselves, the city council and Historic England, which was very fruitful. We’re now in the process of drawing up a Vision 2020/25 document for Chatterley Whitfield.
“In the past people have talked about restoring the whole site, but I think we have to be more commercial. We have to look at each building and say this one could generate income, this one could be restored, while we might need to let that one go.
“Mr Gullis has suggested we do something similar what’s happened in the Ruhr area of Germany, where they’ve turned old industrial sites into heritage parks.
“We’re looking at producing a three or four page document in the next few months. The National Lottery will be accepting bids from October, so we want it to be ready for then.”
Dan Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration at the city council, said: “I’m very optimistic about the future of Chatterley Whitfield now, largely due to Jonathan taking up this issue and raising it at the highest levels of government.
“Nigel has been very active as chairman of the Friends as well. What we need to do is set out our vision for the site, in broad strokes, and draw up a roadmap on how to get there.
“But our main concern is the big chimney. If that goes down it could take much of the rest of the site with it.”