Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-69)
MR THOMAS CASSIDY AND MR GRAEME MUNRO
WEDNESDAY 1 MAY 2002
60. It may be best not to go through the detail of Richards, but just the general principles?
(Mr Munro) Our approach is always to be pragmatic, to try to enable an existing industry to carry on in the premises which it currently occupies, and that has been the case, I can quote quite a number of examples, which commercial confidence perhaps precludes me from giving too much detail on, but I am happy to discuss that with you later, but we do always try to enable the existing process to carry on in a listed building. I cannot think of a case where a process has ceased because of listing. The particular case that you have mentioned, there have been extensive discussions with the local authority and with the company about the long-term use of the buildings for other purposes, and, in fact, it has now been the subject of a successful design brief, which indeed won an award last year, both quality and planning, I think, are well on their way to a new use as an urban village with retail and housing, which, I think, as far as the building is concerned, is a good outcome. I think many people would question whether the fact of listing was, indeed, a material factor in the ceasing of the previous industry.
61. I want to take it on from there, because the poison pill turned out to be a poison pill for the company, because when the new Directors decided to try to move on and develop the site they found it impossible; they spent some time, more than a year, discussing the situation with the local authority, and I was involved in these discussions, and it was agreed that a design brief was the way forward, and, as you say, an award was given for that brief. But, at the end of the day, the company just ran out of time, because it took two years, further years, beyond the first year of discussion with the local authority, before that design brief could be agreed, and that was before the company could make any application at all for planning permission. And, in the life of any commercial organisation, three years, when they are in aspic, effectively, is a very, very long time, and that makes me a little bit critical of the way in which you deal with these sorts of situations?
(Mr Munro) The building was not listed until 1997, it was listed then, and we then were drawn into, as I say, these discussions, and our inspectors tried to play as positive a part as possible in taking that forward; and we did not actually have a formal consent application, I think I am right in saying, at that case, to respond to. The point was made earlier that, like our colleagues in the south, we do try to respond to particular situations by getting involved at a very early stage and trying to contribute to the finding of a solution, even where we are not under a strict legal obligation to do so.
62. But it was still two years before agreement could be reached?
(Mr Munro) I cannot say whether that was down to our involvement. Our involvement at that point was, if you like, essentially, a voluntary one, we were working with local authorities, trying to find a solution; we were not under an obligation, at that stage, to do so.
63. Is that an area where you see possibilities for improving, and perhaps streamlining, the operation? Because one of the other criticisms that I have heard of Historic Scotland, and this is just anecdotal, is that the attitude of the organisation depends a lot on the individual inspector, and the suggestion is that there is not a lot of consistency of approach?
(Mr Munro) There should be, because the inspectors have regular case conferences, at which they discuss difficult cases, and the vast majority of cases go through on the nod, because they are relatively straightforward and they come to us from the local authority already processed. For the relatively small number, the 100, or so, a year, that we extend beyond the 28 days, as I say, we hold case conferences and try to ensure consistency of approach. So there should not be, at the end of the day, any material difference from one area to another.
64. Just one final question, I know you want to speed on, and a completely separate issue. We have quite a lot of listed buildings that come on the market in Aberdeen, every one of them seems to end up as a pub; have we no other solution to how we deal with our listed buildings?
(Mr Munro) Buildings find a wide variety of new uses.
65. Not in Aberdeen.
(Mr Munro) Pubs is a very popular solution for banks, there was a superfluity of banks, a superfluity of churches as well, partly down to our tendency in the 19th century to split into ever smaller denominations. I wonder if I could just mention swimming-baths. I understand the Committee is particularly interested in swimming-baths, and doing my homework before coming down, and you give me the chance to mention this, there are 24 listed baths in Scotland, and four which were formerly baths but now serve other purposes, one pub, one pool hall, one Pentecostal Church, and one Masonic Hall.
Mr Bryant: There is one in Penarth as well, now a pub.
66. I was interested in what you said initially about the correspondence that you are receiving now, after devolution, is three times; there are a whole lot of areas that we could explore as to why that is the case. I rather suspect it is because people see that you are closer, and therefore more accountable, and that is one very good spin-off, I think, of devolution. I would like to talk to you about a couple of areas, particularly initially about your attitude to new towns. Cumbernauld was a new town, and I find the policy towards new towns somewhat strange, occasionally. I was instrumental in helping to prevent a very ugly shopping centre being listed, it would have been an absolute disaster had that gone ahead; and yet you do not seem to appreciate the good built environment in new towns. We are not blessed with many wonderful buildings, I think the ones that we do have we have to protect; in my own area, St Mungo's Church, I think you are involved with at the moment. But could you explain how you come to the decisions that you do, about buildings in new towns?
(Mr Munro) We do not apply any special criteria to New Towns per se. In terms of more modern architecture, we do have to be fairly selective in what we list, the reputation of the architect, will be one factor we take into account, the significance of the building, in terms of social development or economic development of the area. Aesthetics is not always the main criterion. Sometimes we will list something which does not look very nice, but it may have some particular technological development aspect to it. I think the proposal which you refer to, which was quite a number of years ago now, to look at listing the whole of the centre of Cumbernauld, was essentially a recognition of the fact that it was, as you know yourself, a landmark development in Scotland, in UK terms, it had a lot of recognition for the perceived quality of its location on the hilltop, there have been comparisons made with Italian hill towns, etc. I think the actual effect on the ground was somewhat different. There was a gap, as is often the case, between the concept and the reality, and I think it was for that reason that we did not persist with that particular listing. St Mungo's, which you mentioned, we listed in the year 2000, that was after an approach from North Lanarkshire Council, and it has now applied for a grant, and we are looking at that currently. There is also a very fine Coia church in Cumbernauld, which I am sure you know, which has a fantastic interior, but I know it better than St Mungo's, having been to it, St Mungo's I know by reputation. So we certainly do look to list landmark buildings in New Towns, or indeed other modern areas of housing. We have listed a number of Coia churches in the Glasgow area, and we are currently grant-aiding a Coia church in Easterhouse; so it is not purely New Towns. And we are very, very conscious of the symbolic importance that a good-quality building can have in areas like Easterhouse, which perhaps do not have a lot else architecturally to commend them.
67. Sometimes, I think, as Mr Doran said earlier, you are seen as a barrier by the local people rather than being supportive, and I think that is a problem for all of you to try to overcome. Locally, we have coverage of, for example, people do not understand why you do not allow, what appear to be, perfectly good PVC windows in areas of conservation; it is very difficult to explain to people that this is not, you know, and I think that is a problem that you have?
(Mr Munro) That is possibly the biggest single issue that we are trying to address currently. I think it is a challenge for us to try to change public opinion on that particular aspect. There are very, very good technical reasons, and indeed environmental reasons, quite apart from the aesthetics, in favour of using traditional materials; many of the older sash and case windows can be repaired at far less cost. Many of your constituents will have had a hard sell from the salesman on behalf of modern windows, a lot of which, frankly, is just not founded in fact. PVC windows probably have a lifespan of 20 years; sash and case windows may already have been there for 150 or 200 years, and are capable of another 50 or 100, but it is slightly more hard work to find a local joiner with the skills to do it, and that is one of the areas that we are working very hard on.
68. I think that is what I am trying to say, that is what you really need to address, is (a) the cost, and (b) the availability of the people who have the skills to do the job, because it does make it very difficult for local people. And that particularly applies to, my final question is about old town main streets, I think that is another area we have, with the kind of shopping that people do now, which is out of town and everyone wants to drive and have good parking, etc., it leaves a real residual problem within our old towns, in the main streets. We have got a fairly successful one in Kilsyth, but how much of an involvement do you have with the local authority, in dealing with that?
(Mr Munro) Under our grant scheme, we have a town scheme element where we can offer grants of up to 50 per cent ourselves, with the local authority giving 25 per cent, so a 75 per cent grant in total is available to people within town schemes; these are outstanding conservation areas which have been designated by local authorities and ourselves jointly as town schemes. The uptake is much lower than we would like to see. We would actually like to see a much higher uptake in that sector, and we do talk regularly to local authorities about ways in which we can publicise these schemes; but that is something where we would, again, like to see much more being done, in that area. Some places have been quite successful, Dunbar, in East Lothian, which I know very well, has benefited from HBR, Historic Building Repair Grants, for particular key buildings, and the town scheme there has been quite successful, quite a good take-up; in other areas the take-up has been much poorer. I think we need to work more with local authorities to publicise these schemes locally.
Rosemary McKenna: Well perhaps this will be an opportunity for people to pick up on that. Thank you.
69. I have just one question, really, it is a request whether you could be at the forefront of doing this, but bring in all the other agencies that are responsible. If you have disabled parents or disabled children, or you are disabled, when you book up to go to visit something, it is very difficult to understand what exactly I can get into if I am disabled, and it is not just the hearing or the sight, but also whether the wheelchair access is front or back, or non-existent. Would it be possible to get some proper, I forget what they would be called, but logos, so that under the new regulations coming in next year we will be able to tell, when we visit, that there is a hearing loop, wheelchair, blind, whatever it is, Braille translation, whatever, so that the ten million people who are disabled can have just the exact same rights that we have when we go to see buildings? So you could come back to us with a sort of "These are going to be the new logos that will be in every RAC book," or AA book, or tourist pamphlet, or whatever? It would be really appreciated by those that are disabled.
(Mr Munro) We have produced a leaflet for all our Properties in Care, which describes in large print what the facilities are there for disabled people. It addresses, as you say, not just the question of the ambulant disabled but people with other disabilities. I am sure more can be done; your idea of symbols is a helpful one. I had a meeting on Monday, in fact, with the Disability Rights Commission in Scotland, which was a very fruitful meeting, and, as a consequence of that, we are going to have further meetings with them and look particularly at ways in which we can give more information, through our publicity material, for people with disability. I would also make the point, it is not just about physical access, it is about staff training, and I think that is very key, and we have put a lot of effort into training our stewards at our sites, but also the inspectors who deal with applications from people wanting to adapt listed buildings.
Derek Wyatt: Increasingly, you get linguistic ability, with a special number, but you do not get a disability officer nominated at a hotel, or . . . I just think it would be really helpful. Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. We hope to see you back on future occasions. Thanks very much indeed.