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Old Boys 'rightly outraged' by Tranmere Rovers' WWI memorial sell-off

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Old Boys 'rightly outraged' by Tranmere Rovers' WWI memorial sell-off

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Communities and also in Featured, Housing, Local Government

Old Boys 'rightly outraged' by Tranmere Rover's WWI memorial sell-off Old Boys 'rightly outraged' by Tranmere Rover's WWI memorial sell-off

Back in October, 24dash reported on Tranmere Rovers Football Club's plans for a housing development on land set aside as a memorial to Wilfred Owen and his 87 fellow pupils from the Birkenhead Institute who were killed during World War I.

Here Alun L Hughes, an Old Boy of the school, Tranmere Rovers supporter and housing professional, sets out the finer details in the controversial affair:

"On 21 April 1926, Alderman G H Solly laid the foundation stone for a new pavilion overlooking recently acquired playing fields for Birkenhead Institute School, paid for entirely from donations of goods, services and money from the families and friends of 88 former pupils of the grammar school who went to war in 1914 and never returned.

In his address reported in the local newspaper, Alderman Solly hoped that the day would not be one of sorrow, but one which should be remembered with “hope and truth”, so that, “All that had been gone through would not be in vain”.

The playing fields were subsequently supplemented by an ornate entrance gate, bell and in 1931 by the planting of 88 trees around its perimeter, one for each of the fallen Old Boys, which included the most famous of all War Poets, Wilfred Owen. Generations of pupils were brought up to revere the sacrifice and courage of those brave men.

When the school closed in 1994, the council sold the three acre site, in the heart of a residential area to Tranmere Rovers Football Club (TRFC), whose stadium was a short distance away.

At that time, concerned Old Boys sought reassurance from the club as to its long term future, which was to be as a training ground for the first team, declared to be by its then manager, the best in the league. In addition they ensured the site was recorded on the UK National Inventory of War Memorials, a body set up because of alarm amongst the public at the gradual loss of these important historical icons.

Old Boys’ concerns were well founded as, despite restrictive covenants imposed upon the club, key features began to be removed and the pavilion allowed to run down.

In 2011, TRFC applied for planning consent to build 90 houses on the site, linked to a proposal to redevelop council owned facilities in Woodchurch, some 3 miles away. Withdrawn, then resubmitted in 2012 the application received approval, ironically a matter of 3 weeks before Remembrance Sunday commemorations.

The ‘so-called’, Heritage Statement submitted by architects Paddock Johnson Partnership is a scurrilous apology for TRFC’s owner, Peter Johnson, a multi-millionaire tax exile who now lives in Switzerland and whom is rumoured to personally benefit from a share of the anticipated £5m proceeds. He will not countenance any talk of its heritage status, despite the weighty evidence to the contrary, beyond offering to place the foundation stone in a new brick ‘skate-boarding ramp’ in one corner of the site. Old Boys are rightly outraged.

Apart from conflicts of interest concerning the council who stand to benefit from investment in its own facilities, the council is a team shirt sponsor for the club at the cost of around £125,000 per year and many councillors enjoy match day hospitality as a result.

The heady mixture therefore of such issues coupled with the site’s historical as well as emotional value are therefore rightly concerning the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who has put a block on the Planning Approval, pending a decision on whether to call the application in for his determination."

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