Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Revd Nicholas Holtam, Vicar, St Martin-in-the-Fields (CAB 05)

  1.  The buildings of St Martin-in-the-Fields are a great deal more extensive than meet the eye. That there was a problem, particularly with the 19th century vaults under the courtyard, has been obvious for many years. What to do in response has been a great deal more difficult to work out. In 1999 the parish began the process which included the appointment of a conservation architect to help us understand, and to find a response to, the problems of our buildings. In particular, it became apparent that an adequate project would involve significant intervention into the historic fabric. We began to develop a scheme, but were very hesitant about testing our ideas in public. As we began to do so it became clear that there would be considerable opposition to the ideas that we were beginning to generate.

  2.  In June 2001 this early scheme was taken to CABE for a design review. This meeting was professional, clear and, in a critical way, constructive. What we established was the need to do something. It was also recognised that this work could not be left with a conservation architect per se, but needed the input of an architect more used to contemporary interventions into historic fabric. The consequence of this meeting was that CABE appointed an "enabling architect" to work with us and help us create a project within a recognisable framework, with the support of all the external stakeholders for a building as public and significant as this. CABE was instrumental in our establishing strong relationships with Westminster City Council, English Heritage and The Georgian Group. In addition we ourselves had already identified the Diocesan Advisory Committee and The Princes Foundation as significant partners.

  3.  With the help of the enabling architect we agreed a planning brief with the external stakeholders in response to the need that had been identified here. CABE then assisted us by enabling an architectural competition which resulted in the selection of Eric Parry Architects. Again their input into this enabling process was utterly professional, based on stated criteria, and resulted in a choice of architect who is widely perceived to have delivered an excellent project.

  4.  At that point, CABE's direct involvement ceased. However they have retained a supportive relationship with us and have been constructive "senior friends" of the project.

  5.  In July of that year the English Heritage Commissioners visited St Martin's as one of the projects that they consider an example of excellence, both in terms of the process through which the scheme has emerged, and because of the quality of the proposed architectural solution. There is no doubt in my mind that CABE's involvement at a critical stage for us was a turning point in our ability to bring this project to birth. I cannot speak highly enough of the quality of what they have done for us. Our experience is that they have been rigorous, professional, transparent and consistent. When this scheme is complete in 2007 they will deserve considerable credit for all that they did in the early stages.

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