Visit to Yorkshire, Monday 15 January 2001
Mr Andrew Bennett MP
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP
Mr Bill O'Brien MP
Dr David Harrison (Clerk)
Ms Katie Smith (Committee Specialist)
The Committee received evidence criticising British
Waterways' involvement in two regeneration projects in Yorkshire,
at Sowerby Bridge and Wakefield (details can be found in IW44,
IW73). In summary, British Waterways was criticised for: an overly
commercial approach to heritage-led projects where the benefits
are more than simply monetary; a disregard for accountability
and the need to consult; and a failure to work properly in partnership.
We gave British Waterways the opportunity to respond to these
criticisms. In a supplementary memorandum, the organisation stated
that it did not accept the interpretation of events by Regeneration
through Heritage and others and pointed out that it has an "excellent
track record" in regeneration partnerships (see IW52A).
Three members of the Committee accepted an invitation
to visit the projects at Sowerby Bridge and Wakefield, and to
visit other completed waterside projects in Leeds.
Sowerby Bridge Wharf
After a tour of the site, the Members met with representatives
from Regeneration through Heritage, British Waterways, Calderdale
Metropolitan Borough Council and the tenants who run businesses
from the site. The partners in the project put forward their,
somewhat differing, perspectives on its development. We were told
about a number of difficulties:
- funding. There was
much discussion about British Waterways' approach to putting a
funding package together for the regeneration of the Sowerby Bridge
canal basin. The Heritage Lottery Fund had rejected an initial
bid made by British Waterways on behalf of the Sowerby Bridge
Wharf Partnership to refurbish and convert two listed warehouses.
We heard that there was now disagreement among the partners as
to who was best placed to submit a revised bid. British Waterways
was of the view it should lead on the next application, but the
other partners believed that a local trust would have more success
because the HLF may be more sympathetic to a bid from a community-based
trust. In addition, such a trust would be able to assemble a funding
package free of any requirement to achieve the sorts of yield
British Waterways seeks. A key issue is whether British Waterways
would be able to accept a rate of return on the project lower
than the 8 per cent specified in its financial memorandum. In
addition, the tenants felt that British Waterways was being overly-optimistic
regarding the level of funding which could be expected from HLF.
- communication. The
tenants claimed that British Waterways had not been communicating
properly with them and, in particular, had not responded to correspondence.
However, after some discussion within the group, they conceded
that this was more perception than fact.
A number of action points were agreed. First, British
Waterways promised to set up meetings with a) Yorkshire Forward,
to establish whether it would be prepared to provide grant funding
for the project and b) the Heritage Lottery Fund to discuss the
likelihood of a second application succeeding. British Waterways
also promised to ensure that all parties were kept informed by,
for example, inviting a tenant representative to attend the meetings
with funding bodies, and reporting back on progress to all partners.
Leeds and other regeneration
The Members visited several waterside sites in Leeds
City Centre which had been successfully redeveloped for residential
and commercial uses. (Granary Wharf; Bridge End/Dock Street; Fearns
Wharf). The projects involved British Waterways working successfully
in partnership with the public and the private sector. Redevelopment
of such sites has been instrumental in kick-starting the renaissance
of Leeds' city centre. Over lunch, members were invited to view
presentations of a number of other British Waterways sites that
have been successfully regenerated in partnership with a variety
of bodies. These included sites at Sheffield, Nottingham, Newark
on Trent and Market Harborough and involved, in some cases, the
restoration and reuse of derelict Grade II and II* listed buildings.
At Wakefield, the Members visited the Waterfront,
and toured around the listed Navigation Warehouse and other parts
of site. This was followed by a meeting at Wakefield ArtsMill
with representatives from British Waterways, Regeneration through
Heritage, Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, Wakefield Waterfront
Trust and the developers involved in the project: CTP/ St James
and Bellway Homes.
The key area of difficulty on the Wakefield Waterfront
project was disagreement among the partners about the future use
for the Navigation Warehouse. The local authority and other partners
were promoting the proposal to locate the Hepworth Gallery in
the warehouse. They believe that a flagship project is essential
to make the most of the Waterfront site, and would be a catalyst
for the regeneration of Wakefield as a whole. However, British
Waterways had some concerns about this option since the original
feasibility study raised some concerns that a proposed extension
and other internal alterations would be potentially damaging to
the fabric and setting of the Grade II* listed building. In addition,
a key stumbling block appeared to be the levels of yield British
Waterways was prepared to accept on its investment. British Waterways
believe that the Waterfront can be regenerated without the Hepworth
Gallery in the Navigation Warehouse.
However, progress on the Wakefield Waterfront project
seemed to be more certain. At the time of our visit, the partners
were on the verge of signing a collaboration agreement and agreeing
Heads of Terms for the development of the site. The acquisition
of a key site, currently owned by Decorative Labels, was proceeding.
A second feasibility study had been commissioned, and the partners
had agreed to be bound by its findings.