It was a cold November’s day, and I arrived in Alderley Edge by train, the station located on the edge of the town centre. It was a few years since I’d been there, but little seemed to have changed: it was all bling, big cars, up-market retailers, and ladies of leisure ‘doing lunch’.
I was in Alderley Edge for work purposes, but I’d got a bit of time to kill, and so I wandered into town, and had a glimpse at the properties on the market in the window of the Bridgfords estate agent people. It was eye-opening, but not surprising. The cheapest property was a four bed 1930s semi, with an asking price of £725,000. The rest ran comfortably into seven figures. Alderley Edge can also claim the most expensive street in Cheshire – Whitebarn Road – where the average house price is just over £2.3million. A little slice of London in north Cheshire.
Everyone knows what is behind the monetary madness, and as if to prove it, a white Lamborghini passed me; its registration plate was ‘1000 GK’. The Costa almost seems out-of-place among such opulence, but that’s where I skulked off to, to get a cheap coffee.
Alderley Edge and other nearby villages – Prestbury, Mottram St Andrew, Nether Alderley – have been places of wealth for a long time. As architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner noted, “the railway arrived in 1842, and at once Alderley Edge began to develop as a residential district for affluent Mancunians…the prosperous businessmen of Manchester”, describing northern Cheshire as “the Surrey of the north”, while admiring the area’s Victorian architecture, and “villas in gardens with Rhododendron drives”.
That was how he described the area in the early 1970s. I’m sure if Pevsner was around to visit the now so-called Golden Triangle today, he’d be astonished with what he would witness.
Many of those handsome villas he admired have disappeared, replaced by garish and bloated battleship housing with plenty of room for powerful and sleek cars and equally bloated 4x4s. For Cheshire’s Golden Triangle is no longer simply the domain of the merely rich – the bankers, stockbrokers, and property developers – it is now the territory of the nouveau super-rich of the English Premier League and its Sky TV millions; the land of wags, fashionistas, and champagne socialites. And they – and the developers that cater for them – are rapidly changing the character of what has become a very exclusive part of semi-rural Cheshire.
The attraction of north Cheshire to the North West’s big-time footballers is pretty obvious. It is close enough to the motorway network and to the big clubs, but at the same time far enough out to enjoy a kind-of modern country squire lifestyle, and the strange, gruesome culture that the Real Housewives of Cheshire shines a light on.
But although they actively seek a semi-rural setting for their home lives, they apparently cannot do without the urban mod-cons they are accustomed to. This is reflected in the houses they build which come with 6, 7, and sometimes 8 bedrooms, cinema rooms, gyms and swimming pools, and garages that are bigger than average sized houses. And we are now seeing the spread of what has mainly been a London phenomenon: the mega-basement.
Though you do get the odd genuinely impressive pile, very few of the newer properties bear any resemblance to their setting and context, and appear completely alien to the countryside surroundings. And as a result, the Cheshire architectural vernacular that Pevsner so admired is being eroded, and it isn’t necessarily pretty, and now you have an eclectic mish-mash of styles ranging from mock Tudor and pastiche neo-Georgian piles, to extreme 21st Century efforts of steel frames clad with block, render and timber, and you can most clearly see the impact on the south-eastern fringes of Alderley Edge off Macclesfield Road, and some of the country lanes around Prestbury.
It has also given rise to unintended and perhaps unexpected economic consequences. A couple of years back, Prestbury Parish Council bemoaned the fact that the rich footballers had pushed up local property prices massively, but weren’t using local services and facilities, preferring to head to Manchester and Liverpool, leading to an emptying out of the village centre.
Locals can now count many household names as neighbours. Wayne Rooney and his family are among Prestbury’s most recognised residents, as is former Stoke City striker Peter Crouch and his family, while his former Potters team mate Erik Pieters – now with Burnley – resides in nearby Nether Alderley, whose house is characterised by a huge chandelier in the hall that looks like a massive glowing penis. Manchester United’s Phil Jones is another resident of Nether Alderley, while Burnley full-back Phil Bardsley – another former Stoke City player – is also a prominent local, though his wife Tanya probably has a higher profile thanks to her Real Housewives of Cheshire role. Former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli was often more renowned for his off-the-field antics, yet anything Mr. Why Always Me did pales into insignificance compared to an incident a few years back involving a local former Premier League player, who allegedly threatened a courier with a shotgun.
This part of the world is quite sensitive for a number of reasons, located within the Green Belt and being of historic interest, and so you would have imagined that the local authority would have sought protections against the more outlandish efforts. Yet this does not seem to be the case, and money appears to ride roughshod over local policies that the average Joe would struggle with, and the developers that cater for the footballing community tend to get the decisions they are looking for.
In some respect you can understand why the local authority can be attracted to such a development model. Cheshire East Council currently charges £3,587.42 a year Council Tax for Band H properties, which is what the footballer’s mansion would be liable for. And yet the big-time footballer would have a pretty light public service footprint. Household waste would be minimal due to the time they spend elsewhere. Footballers tend to have their children – if they have them – schooled privately. And their call on other council services would probably be close to nil. For the local authority, it’s almost free money.
There has been some disquiet amongst some local people about the more extreme examples of excess and gaudy design, and the local parish councils are looking at ways in which they can rein some of this in. This is not a politics of envy thing; no one is saying that football-related investment isn’t wanted – indeed, many welcome it – but who is going to stand up for the local environment? Who is going to put a brake on the erosion of the area’s architectural heritage?
The super-rich footballers have been having things their own way for quite some time, their money giving them a louder voice than most others. And their voice has often spoke a different language. As Dylan put it, “money doesn’t talk, it swears”.
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