Memorandum by Regeneration Through Heritage
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS: SELECT
Regeneration Through Heritage (RTH) is an initiative
established at the request of HRH The Prince of Wales to promote
awareness of the potential which heritage industrial buildings
have for contemporary economic, social and cultural uses, and
to assist community organisations and not-for-profit community-based
partnerships develop proposals for the re-use of particular buildings
in areas with high levels of economic and social need. RTH was
initially funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is currently
funded by English Heritage and private sector business sponsors.
Originally located in Business in the Community, RTH is now part
of the Prince's Foundation for Architecture and the Urban Environment.
Since 1996 RTH has been supporting two projects
in West Yorkshire located in buildings owned by British Waterways:
the Navigation Warehouse and Wakefield
Waterfront Project; and
the Salt Warehouse and Number 4 Warehouse
Project at Sowerby Bridge Canal Wharf.
Formal local partnerships have been established
for both projects of which BW has been a member from the outset.
In Wakefield, the Partnership has spent three
years developing a robust strategy for the entire Waterfront and
has incurred a cost in excess of half a million pounds. The Warehouse,
which was built in 1790 and been vacant for nearly 30 years, has
been upgraded to Grade 2*, previously unlisted mills are now listed
and the entire area declared a Conservation Area. The Strategy
rests on the adaptation of the Warehouse to house a collection
by Barbara Hepworth, who was born in Wakefield. The Collection,
to be gifted by her Trustees, will merge with Wakefield Council's
own collection of works by Hepworth and Henry Moore, who was also
born in the District, to create a Gallery of international significance.
Together with developments for water-based recreation and a hotel
this will generate the visitor footfall and investment necessary
to regenerate the whole Waterfront. It will be a classic example
of heritage-led regeneration. Independent consultants have tested
the strategy and a developer has been appointed who has undertaken
considerable preparatory technical work. The proposal to house
the gallery in the Warehouse has also been examined by separate
specialist consultants and the alternatives evaluated. It was
recommended as the preferred location and judged feasible.
In Sowerby Bridge, the Partnership agreed on
a strategy for the Wharf that would conserve its historic character,
retain existing businesses, build on its potential for water-based
recreation and create an environment attractive to visitors and
high-value new businesses. To do this would require the regeneration
of the 18th century Salt and No. 4 Warehouses, which sit in the
centre of the basin and are largely vacant. It was proposed that
the key existing businesses, which operate from adjoining buildings
on site, would buy out the private company which held the head
lease from BW on the two warehouses and other buildings on site.
BW, in order to facilitate the proposals for the two warehouses,
would then restructure the lease terms, to secure this investment
and other investment by these businesses in buildings elsewhere
on site. On this understanding the key tenants bought out the
remaining lease from the head leaseholder for around £100,000.
Calderdale Council, with English Partnership and SRB money, then
built an access road and carried out lighting and car park improvements.
English Heritage approved a Conservation Area Partnership scheme,
to which the key tenants also contributed match funding, for other
buildings on site. The Partnership funded a consultant to undertake
the necessary technical work on the two key warehouses and the
wharf as a whole. Almost £1 million has been either spent
or secured for the project to date but the bid to the Heritage
Lottery Fund has failed.
Although British Waterways, as owners of these
buildings, have been partners in both projects from the beginning,
and party to all the key decisions, it became evident early last
year that they were not as committed to the Partnership approach
as we had thought. Indeed, as work on the development of both
projects proceeded it became clear that they were moving from
a position of regarding their buildings as liabilities, which
could best be addressed within the framework of our Partnerships,
to one where they perceived them as having an independent value.
Obviously we would like our initiative to increase the value of
the properties but to do this it is necessary for all the participants
to adhere to the agreed common strategy if benefits are to be
shared equitably. We felt that BW was willing to thwart the strategies
in order to pursue and maximize their own independent gain at
the expense of others. Both projects effectively stalled.
To bring matters back on track the Chairman
of RTH, Sir William Castell, in June 1999, sought a meeting with
the Chairman and then the Chief Executive of BW. Both declined
to hear our representations. In November 1999 I eventually met
their Commercial Director and Regional Director and hoped they
had moved to a more supportive position. Sadly this was not the
case and in April 2000 the situation at Wakefield was such that
I again sought an opportunity to put concerns, first, to the BW
Chief Executive and, when that was rejected, to the Waterways
Minister, Lord Whitty. The meeting with the Minister took place
in early August and has helped move the Wakefield Project in a
more positive direction. However, the project at Sowerby Bridge
is still stalled.
The projects at Wakefield and Sowerby Bridge
are exciting and innovative examples of heritage-led regeneration,
which depend for their success on their waterway location. They
deserve to succeed and will have an exemplar importance for the
rest of the country.
However, it is evident from our work that they
have failed to progress because of what we perceive as organisational
dysfunctions within BW and BW's own excessively narrow interpretation
of its role and responsibilities, which in some measure is a consequence
of its requirement to maximise income. The RTH projects demonstrate
an inability on the part of BW to participate effectively in the
kinds of cross-agency and community partnerships recognised by
this government as necessary to promote regeneration projects.
Further, they show a failure on the part of BW management and
Board to be accountable to local partnerships and the wider public
interest for their activities and the conduct of their officers.
This simply cannot be in the national interest. As a monopoly
business, trading with national heritage assets, BW surely should
be able to work in partnership with other public and community
organisations, and be able to address any concerns they may have.
Local Partnerships should not feel driven to approach the Waterways
Minister to gain a hearing.
Accordingly I am writing to invite the Select
Committee to visit Wakefield and Sowerby Bridge to view our projects,
meet the local Partnerships and study their experiences. The Partnerships
include the local authorities, the business community and community
organisations. The projects will be useful case studies for the
committee and will throw light on the sort of problems groups
concerned with waterway-based regeneration projects have with
BW. There will undoubtedly be lessons of national applicability,