Ted Cantle was Chief Executive of  the City of Nottingham between 1990 and 2001. After eleven years as a successful Chief Executive he was appointed to run the ‘failing councils’ unit on behalf of the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government. His team intervened in over 30 English and Welsh councils to ensure an improved performance. At the same time, Ted was appointed by the Home Secretary to lead the Review of the race riots that took place in English Norther Towns in the summer of 2001. The resulting ‘Cantle Report’ established the concept of Community Cohesion to bring communities together across the divides.

As Chief Executive of Nottingham he oversaw:

  • a transformational management programme known as ‘Nottingham into the Nineties’ which focused on performance and customer service
  • the development of the ‘Green Charter’ into a national exemplar programme, including the Climate Change Declaration for local government
  • the shift from second tier district status to a unitary authority with over 15,000 employees, the City Council again became responsible for education and social services, as well as other strategic roles.
  • a diversity and equality programme for staff and for service users
  • major partnerships with private sector investors and the universities to attract new businesses to the City. This included the successful Nottingham Development Enterprise, and a new tourism strategy around the iconic Robin Hood theme of ‘our style is legendary’

Ted also oversaw a number of particular developments, including:

  • the Nottingham Line One Tram Network
  • The new Nottingham National Ice Centre – a £25m double rink scheme in the centre of the City
  • Nottingham City Challenge – also £25m

After 11 years as Chief Executive Ted left the City Council to take up a number of other job offers which would widen his experience:

He was appointed to:

  • run the ‘failing councils’ unit on behalf of the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government. His team intervened in over 30 English and Welsh councils to ensure an improved performance. 
  • Chair the Queens Medical Centre Trust in Nottingham 
  • Be a Board member of the Environment Agency – and later its Deputy Chairman
  • Chair the Local Government Construction Task Force
  • to Review the causes of the riots in English Northern Towns – This was an appointment by the Home Secretary and the resultant ‘Cantle Report’ on Community Cohesion’ would come to define his next 20 years

However, ten years after leaving the City Council, they asked Ted to lead a scheme to transform the Nottingham Castle. This included creating the concept, raising the funding and developing  the themes into an attraction for national and international visitors.  However, the visitor economy had been neglected for the previous decade and the City Council’s support was, to say the least, half hearted, making the whole project very difficult.


The Development of the Scheme to transform Nottingham Castle and create a visitor economy in the City

It took many years to convince the City Council that the scheme was necessary and desirable. As long ago as 2001, a group of public and private businesses and agencies had tried to convince them to develop a scheme and actually raised £40,000 from local businesses for the purpose. This money had to be returned, however, because of lack of action by NCC.

But in 2011 a new working party was set up, inspired by the then Sheriff of Nottingham and again led by people from outside the City Council. This group, which would eventually morph into Nottingham Castle Trust, were more determined – and successful, despite strong opposition from some City Councillors and some officers who did not share the ambition and did want to give up the Castle to an independent Trust (and arguably, eventually succeeded).

To raise the £30 million needed, the Castle scheme had to be presented by the Trust on the basis of a strong vision that had a ‘wow’ factor. This was especially the case as the Castle was bidding for funding against other national schemes like Canterbury Cathedral and Alexandra Palace.

The Heritage Lottery Fund recognised the scale of the ambition and were persuaded to provide nearly £14 million of the total in grant funding to the Castle. They agreed that the scheme had really good and exciting projects, as did the other funders. So, the scheme was never proposed as a purely local facility, it was clearly intended to appeal to a wide range of visitors from around the country and from other countries, initially attracted by the well known legendary story.

The bid, based on the vision prepared by the Trust and after a lot of local consultation, was formally submitted by NCC. The scheme sought to answer two questions posed by the Nottingham public – ‘Where’s the Castle?’ And ‘Where’s Robin Hood?’.

The Trust built the responses to these questions into these imaginative design themes:

First, by creating a more castle like experience through developing the view across Collin Street to Castle Road and the arrival at the new public square at the bottom of Castle Road where the Castle rock and walls are at their grandest.

Second, opening up of the cave tours and the use of the atmospheric tunnel entrance into the Robin Hood underground gallery (previously used by the City Council as a staff car park) also created more of a medieval environment. This created a response to the ‘Where’s Robin Hood?’ question.

Third, an engaging and interactive ‘Rebellion’ story that set out the rebellious history of Nottingham, commencing with the iconic legend of Robin Hood, linked to the other nationally important episodes – the Civil War, the Luddites and the Reform Act riots – and to draw out the contemporary relevance of ideas of freedom and democracy.

Fourth, the use of the caves and Brewhouse Yard folk gallery to tell the story of the Castle’s 1,000 years of history, including one of the Country’s most important historic events – Edward lll entering the Castle through its cave system (Mortimer’s Hole) to take his rightful crown.

Fifth, new art galleries to showcase Nottingham’s creative pre-eminence, in both Lace and in medieval alabaster (the latter story was never previously told, yet Nottingham was the centre of the international art world between 1300 and 1500)

Sixth, a new learning and educational experience, especially in support fo the ‘freedom, democracy and citizenship’ theme to engage young people in particular and which was particularly attractive to some funders

Seventh, new and exciting facilities to cater for the increased number of visitors – a special coach drop-off zone, a new visitor centre, a land train to take visitors around the entire site, an enlarged cafe and restaurant, a play area and new events spaces

Eighth, an extended visitor experience, lasting at least half a day, with a circular tour through the Ducal Palace at the top of the site, going down to Brewhouse Yard folk museum through a new great cave experience, and returning via a story telling land train journey.

Ninth, The bid also included proposals to repair the fabric of the Castle, following years of neglect by NCC. At around £12m, this constituted one-third of the total cost – money which could have been spent on an enlarged visitor experience had NCC looked after the Castle properly.

The components of the scheme were set out in the concession agreement signed by the Trust and NCC. Indeed, providing all of these facilities was a condition of the grant aid.

NCC was then responsible for the building works and for the delivery of the scheme as agreed. However, the scheme was not as agreed with the Trust and funders and it was delivered late and was unfinished when initially opened in June 2021 – and even when it closed some 18 months later.

Although the quality of the building works was generally good, the NCC design of some elements fell flat with visitors. In, particular, the Robin Hood and Rebellion galleries, were not sufficiently engaging, the AV presentations in particular, were not immersive and lacked contemporary relevance (this became a major dispute between the Trust and NCC). All galleries failed to sufficiently engage visitors. The Cave tour, Folk museum and land train route were not even completed.

Unfortunately, NCC did not deliver the following agreed improvements to the visitor environment around the Castle and in the City Centre:

  • The pedestrianisation of Castle Road and improvements to the public realm
  • The demolition of the college buildings on Castle Road and their replacement with
    lower rise buildings that complemented the heritage of the Castle
  • A new public square at the bottom of Castle road, opposite the Olde Trip to
    Jerusalem, to create a sense of arrival and to steer visitors up Castle Road so
    that visitors actually saw the ‘castle’, or at least understood its commanding
  • Support for promotion, including signage, marketing and logistics, let alone any attempt to provide the necessary infrastructure to create a visitor economy with the thousands of jobs that would have followed.

None of the above have been delivered and the collapse of the Broadmarsh scheme has made the City more unattractive to visitors.

Had the full scheme been implemented as all partners had agreed, together with the wider improvements to the City, Nottingham would have begun to attract many visitors from other parts of the Country and a good number of international tourists who visit Britain. The aim was to put Nottingham on the tourist circuit who generally only visit London and a few other areas, for example Stratford Upon Avon and York.

This may have appeared as ambitious, but all partners – and more importantly, funders – agreed that the projects were achievable. To make the scheme sustainable, it was necessary to attract 300,000 visitors per year, a relatively modest target for a national attraction. Again, all of the Trust’s partners agreed that this was both desirable and feasible. Of course, no one had then predicted that there would be a global pandemic, nor that it would still be very evident at the time of opening. Although there were also a number of personal and political agendas with which the Trust had to contend, the simple fact is that the pandemic was responsible for the closure of the Castle. The Castle, along with one-in-five similar visitor attractions nationally, who had experienced a 76% drop in visitor numbers,  had no choice but to close.

Rather than the support the Castle Trust through the pandemic, the City Council chose to see the Castle close and eventually to re-open under its own management. This was a surprise, given the fact they that were facing bankruptcy and that £12million of the scheme cost had actually been used to fund their backlog of repairs. And that the Castle had made an annual loss of £350,000 prior to the scheme. It was more surprising that this entailed writing of millions of pounds of loans that could have been repaid by the Trust or another independent operator.

It is to be hoped that it is better managed in the future, however, the Castle re-opened in summer 2023 and it is already clear that, while the Castle has so much more to offer as a result of the work by the Trust, the City Council still has no intention to create a scheme worthy of Nottingham’s history and reputation around the world.

Ted will be writing more about this experience in due course.