Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2006
VENNING, OBE, MR
MBE, DR IAN
Q20 Chairman: Yet the Secretary of
State has written a pamphlet about how much she values the heritage.
They have recently had a seminar about Preservation of Heritage
and we have a heritage White Paper coming out shortly, so the
Government can point to quite a lot of rhetoric and also, we hope,
action in due course?
Mr Saunders: It is not reflected
in money. English Heritage is being starved. The budget for grants
that English Heritage has for the whole country to give to outside
bodies is £30 million which is the cost of running half of
a London hospital or buying half a jet. £30 million is pathetic
as a sign of how Government values the heritage.
Q21 Janet Anderson: You see this
problem of DCMS not giving enough priority to heritage, how do
you see this being overcome? Would you transfer it to a different
government department, or is it a case of better liaison between
Dr Dungavell: I was going to say
I think there is an illness in the heart of DCMS to start with.
Until we get heritage valued by the department that owns it there
is going to be a problem wherever you move heritage as a responsibility.
To highlight the problem again, as Matthew was saying of heritage
being the poor relation within the Departmentif you look
at the figure of grant for English Heritage over the period 2000-06,
the English Heritage grant increased by 3%, which in fact equates
to a reduction of almost 10% in real terms. In the same period
you see Sport England, funded by the same Department, having an
increase of 98.6%, and sport as a whole by 143%. That is money
the DCMS is deciding how to split up itself, and it has really
got to prioritise heritage internally before we talk about where
it might sit elsewhere in Government.
Mr Wilkinson: Key is that wherever
heritage goes there is a Minister representing it, and one thing
I feel grateful for is we do have ministers within the Department
at the moment who represent heritage. David Lammy, being a champion
for heritage, has yet to have a chance to prove it, but we obviously
hope that he will. If heritage were to be moved, so long as there
is a minister within that department fighting a corner and willing
to make sure that heritage gets across Government's agenda then
that is going to be a positive thing.
Q22 Mr Hall: In my constituency I
have got a listed building, it is an old convalescent home, Crossley
Hospital, a magnificent example of a listed building of its kind
in total dilapidation because the Crown Agents and the Department
of Health failed to repair it, which goes back to the earlier
points all of you were making about the need to invest in affairs
rather than having restoration as a main option. What do you think
the Government needs to do with even its own properties, which
are historical buildings of great value but have been left to
decline because of a lack of use or no use at all; where we end
up in the position we are now where a building will be redeveloped,
it is in the green belt, and because it is a former hospital site
it is not covered by the constraints of policy planning guidelines
with the green belt; and what will happen is that some of the
buildings on site will be demolished and we will have new four
and five bed-roomed detached houses as well as the restoration
of the site for residential development. A classic example of
the point you were making. What should the Government do to avoid
those problems arising in the future?
Mr Wilkinson: It depends on the
department really. The NHS is the worst offender within
Government when it comes to historic buildings; whereas a department
like the MoD has been very good in recent years, by looking ahead
and seeing what is going to be made redundant and then starting
to think about what can be done with it. The NHS has not been
doing this. What it will do is see a large hospital site, it will
then think about making it redundant, and once it is redundant
it will call in the consultants who will get paid a very fat fee
to draw some lines on a map, get an outline planning permission
while the building rots, the kids get in, set fire to it and trash
it. We have seen this happen at Severalls near Colchester, and
I will provide you with information about this.
Q23 Chairman: I live about a mile
away from Severalls and I know it very well!
Mr Wilkinson: The redevelopment
costs shoot up and demolition, therefore, becomes an option and
an excuse to bung more housing on the site. Yet there are many
examples of how buildings like these can be converted and reused
very effectively creating gorgeous locations and places for housing.
Mr Saunders: At last Crown exemption
has gone. Before you could not take on the Government. As a local
authority you could not serve a repairs notice or refuse them
permission to demolish something. Now the planning exemption has
gone maybe the culture of local government will change, taking
on the big boys in central government and saying, "It's a
disgrace that this building is just wasted and empty. We, as local
people, are offended by it. Quite apart from the heritage of it,
it is just a waste. We want you to do something about it".
The culture of local authorities may change rather more belligerently
towards transparent examples of useless neglect.
Q24 Mr Hall: Would it help if there
was a statutory requirement on the owners of listed buildings
to keep their buildings in a good state of repair, and if that
applied to government buildings like the Department of Health
that would solve part of the problem?
Mr Wilkinson: I agree with that.
That would make sense. Look at the Housing Corporation; housing
associations have a statutory duty of care to keep their buildings
in good condition and they do and it works and it saves them money
as well. In the long-run it will save money and in the short-term
it will cost a bit but it is something SAVE would support very
strongly indeed. I obviously have my hat on as a board member
of Maintain Our Heritage and have a strong interest there but
it certainly makes sense.
Q25 Mr Hall: Finally, what else can
the Government do in terms of assisting people to maintain their
buildings if it is not going to be a statutory requirement? You
have already been very straightforward about the fact of removing
VAT from maintenance and repairs. I assume that is the collective
view of all of you?
Mr Saunders: Yes.
Mr Venning: Could I make one very
simple suggestion and that is: we know that a sellers' pack is
going to come in shortly where, when you sell a house, it will
be a requirement on the person selling to produce a pack. At the
moment there is a very good opportunity to provide much more information
to the person buying about the building that they are taking on
and some of the responsibilities; not a detailed architectural
appraisal but just a bit more information than I believe is planned
at the moment. This would be a very simple thing. Central government
could fund it. We are not talking about large sums of money but
again it would provide an enormous amount of help to the owner
who often takes on an old building knowing very little and not
knowing where to turn. This would again avoid a lot of the expensive
mistakes and give them the helping hand that they need.
Mr Wilkinson: The Government could
also encourage maintenance servicesliterally a man with
a van going around once a year and cleaning out gutters. There
are a few initiatives happening at the moment. Maintain Our Heritage
set up a service in Bath to see how it would work. It does work.
It can be expensive; it can be cheap; it depends how you do it.
Currently there is one in the diocese of St Edmondsbury, which
is getting underway, going round the churches and helping out
there, and overcoming the health and safety obstacles. There is
currently one starting up in the Diocese of London as well and,
I hope, shortly in the Diocese of Gloucester working with its
places of worship. They are perhaps the most vulnerable and the
most governed by, at times, frustrating legislation to do with
health and safety, but ones where there is a real need to keep
our common heritage on its feet.
Q26 Chairman: Can I just come back
to this potential tension between conservation and development.
You have mentioned the NHS and I do know Severalls site very well.
There are plenty of examples where the NHS wishes to invest in
green field new build hospitals, and the way in which they look
to finance this is by giving over existing sites for development.
Severalls is an example where there is potential for enormous
development. The fact that there is an historic building which
is listed is an obstacle to that development. You would argue
that it should not be but that may well be the perception in too
many cases, that in some ways they almost stand by and hope it
deteriorates over a long enough period so they can get rid of
it and build lots of new houses. You have argued in your evidence
that development and conservation should not be opponents of each
other, they should go hand-in-hand. Perhaps you would like to
say a little more about this.
Mr Wilkinson: With these larger
sites it is the power of the mass house builders where they have
a standard product which they want to dump on the land they have
in their hands. They do not employ architects. They do not want
to look at these listed buildings; they are simply not on their
horizon; and yet it is the smaller builders, like P J Livsey or
Urban Splash, who can take on these buildings and can make plenty
of money from developing them into housing. In the current market
housing, however you develop property, it seems, is going to make
you money. If you can develop an historic building you are in
fact investing in the future of that site unlike those large housing
developments of the 1960s and 1970s, which people look at now
and think the estates are foul. However, those sites that are
developed around historic buildings will maintain the private
occupancy for many years to come. Development is about two thingsit
is not just about blatant profit but it is also about looking
to the longer term and creating real places for people.
Ms Cherry: It is also an attitude,
is it not, where one needs to educate the developer to look constructively
at the site, at the potential of the historic building, rather
than just assume it is a nuisance. I think that is a learning
process. There are good examples, as Adam said, where it has been
done and one needs more publicity for such successes.
Mr Venning: One of the advantages
of representing an organisation which is nearly 130 years old
is that we see how rapidly the world changes, and how so often
decisions are taken about a building or site dependent entirely
on the precise economic circumstance of that moment. Things change
all the time; economic cycles change all the time; planning laws
change; attitudes change; strange things like HLF come completely
out of nowhere. The world is constantly changing. If we look back
over our 130 years we can see so often occasions when it is said
the only chance to save this building or site is to do X and it
is something really horrible; and luckily that has not happened
and the world has moved on and something much better has occurred.
I think, as always, trying to assess what is worth or is not worth
doing with a building or a site one needs to say, "Is there
a realistic chance that something might change five years from
now or in 10 years' time?" As we know, in the early 1990s
there was a great slump in the property market and buildings had
very little chance of being saved then; we then had a housing
boom. Things are always changing and so many of these decisions
are based on absolutely most short-term and immediate issues which
may damn a building which has been around. We have plenty of Saxon
buildings still in this countrynot many of them are at
riskbut buildings may have lasted hundreds and hundreds
of years but they are condemned simply because at that precise
moment in time the money is not right or the developer has a particular
priority or the planning laws are as they are. Going back to my
distinguished predecessor William Morris who founded the SPAB,
he said, "We are only trustees for those that come after
us". I think this is something we bear in mind all the time.
We are thinking not just of the immediate but we are thinking
of our children and our grandchildren and what they will enjoy
and what we are handing on down to them.
Q27 Mr Evans: It is true, is it not?
I would just add one thing on that, which is that the economics
of the 1960s in Swansea meant that the council did away with the
oldest passenger railway in the world, and it is a great shame
to everybody that that was allowed to happen and it would not
be allowed to happen now. Do you think it has got betterthat
people are more heritage-aware than they were in the 1960s?
Mr Venning: I think so. There
are all sorts of good reasons for that. Even so, there are still
going to be lots of things that are going to be at risk possibly
for different reasons. The tragedy is you can look back at all
sorts of things which could have been saved but were thought to
be uneconomic but today would be valued, loved and have economic
value if only they had been kept going.
Dr Dungavell: Could I just mention
airport expansion in terms of short-term economic need and long-term
damage to the historic environment.
Q28 Mr Evans: You will be fighting
to save Terminal 5 in years to come!
Mr Saunders: Too young!
Mr Venning: Terminal 6 we do not
Q29 Helen Southworth: What can be
done to foster the kind of entrepreneurial ideas and partnerships?
You talked about the housing opportunities in buildings which
are no longer fit for their original purpose but that is quite
dependent on sets of local circumstances fitting. What other things
can be done that can actually be sustainable? Can we actually
foster a kind of creative attitude that is sustainable?
Dr Dungavell: I think that is
interesting. You start from probably not the heritage perspective
but the environmental perspective and you start to see buildings
as embodied energy, for example. You then question the wisdom
of demolition to start with and you say, "What are we trying
Q30 Helen Southworth: How do we get
the people to do that?
Mr Wilkinson: There are so many
Q31 Helen Southworth: How do we build
up this group of people who can do that?
Ms Cherry: One important thing
is to have buildings that are accessible. Very often if you have
a site which is walled off, nobody can see what there is and it
then falls into dereliction. If there is an openness and an opportunity
for people understanding what exists, that is one of the key things,
and to educate people about their surroundings in ways so they
understand what is on their doorstep. So often people only wake
up when the bulldozers come in and they realise they are losing
things. I think very often it is a question of local education
and making things known to people, opening things up, and I suppose
one comes back to local authorities providing opportunities.
Dr Dungavell: I think publicity
is a really valuable thing as well. There is a fantastic leisure
centre in Nottingham which hasI think it has got a swimming
poolwork out centres in the old train station, so the platforms
have become exercise facilities. There is a former hospital chapel
somewhere in East LondonI have only seen photographs of
it in an English Heritage publicationwhere there is a swimming
pool in the nave.
Mr Saunders: Woodford.
Dr Dungavell: That is tremendously
imaginative. I am not sure what my committee at The Victorian
Society would think about that but I think that is quite an exciting
re-use of an historic building.
Mr Wilkinson: It is this question
of perception and changing perception at all levels. It does not
matter whether a building is listed or just locally valued, if
it is re-used it can revitalise an entire area. If you look at
something like the Hothouse scheme in Stoke-on-Trent, an unlisted
and attractive primary school was going derelict, was going to
be knocked down, but the local authority sponsored one person
to take it on and use it as an incubator for small business. It
ended up with a life of its own and became a central part of the
community through getting people on their feet as small businesses,
then sending them off into the wider world and they take on other
buildings and give those a life and use as well. It is a question
of economic use, of building if the imagination is there and the
will is there, but so often it is the perception that these buildings
are tired, at the end of their lives, when, in fact, they are
far from it, they are just beginning their lives.
Mr Venning: It is essential that
we have more professionalsarchitects, surveyors, engineers
and otherswho understand old buildings and can work creatively
with them. That is not about preserving them in aspic but finding
new uses for them which at the same time do not destroy the very
things that make them interesting. That is the problem. There
are plenty of architects who work on old buildings but who do
not have that sensitivity or knowledge.
Q32 Helen Southworth: The DCMS has
set targets for visits by new users from minority and socially
deprived groups. How effective do you think the heritage sector
is in meeting those targets in terms of tying these things together?
Dr Dungavell: It is a slightly
barmy way of approaching things anyway because one of the problems
at the DCMS is it seems fixated by the idea of heritage as a visitor
attraction. You can go and consume heritage in a museum and anywhere
there is a turnstile they like it, but if you are walking through
an historic neighbourhood, how can you be counted? How can we
count those in Westminster?
Q33 Helen Southworth: What happens
if you are living in an area which is not an historic neighbourhood,
how do you find out about them?
Dr Dungavell: It is amazing how
many areas do have historic elements. I live in an area of 1960s
comprehensive redevelopment in Kentish Town and the local swimming
pool there is 1901, a tremendous building, but the council is
thinking about closing that down. For many people that is their
only experience of the power of the historic environment and that
is not appreciated.
Q34 Helen Southworth: Does nobody
Mr Wilkinson: You can lead a horse
to water. People are interested in their areas, it is very hard
to quantify that, and yet local history societies flourish. No
matter where you go in this country there is a bit of heritage
somewhere, whether you are tripping over an old gravestone somewhere
or walking past a local church or just people's houses. As with
these areas in the North that we have been dealing with in the
Pathfinder areas, the local communities live in and are surrounded
by their heritage. Most town centres, even those that have undergone
some kind of comprehensive redevelopment in the 1960s, still have
heritage left in them. Look at Coventry, it has got some fine
medieval bits left in it. You can show people that they are there,
you can change how people use towns, to walk through towns to
try and help them perceive this, but you cannot count it. You
cannot count how people react to their surroundings unless you
are going to be on the street corners counting it, and that is
not our job as societies fighting for historic buildings.
Ms Cherry: I have to come in here
and say that heritage is not just things in the distant past,
heritage is the 20th Century as well. The 1960s is interesting
in its own right. Certainly local history societies flourish and
tend to attract an older generation, but what about the schools,
what about education? Here you have the opportunity to encourage
children to be interested in their surroundings at primary level,
at secondary level, they can think about design problems, they
can debate what sort of buildings they like and so on. That is
where one should be focusing to try and get an appreciation, an
understanding and an enjoyment of the world around one which is
not just heritage spots here and there but it is everything, it
is your local street, which may be 1960s, it may be 19th Century,
it is more likely to be a mixture of them. If you can encourage
children to understand that, appreciate it, enjoy it and debate
it, then they can become intelligent adults who will take an interest
in what is going on around them. It is not good enough just to
send schools out on school visits to heritage spots. That is pernicious
in a sense. They may have a good time but they have got this idea
that it is something out there and it is different from their
daily life. What you have got to do is encourage their interest
in local history, local design, local environment and develop
Q35 Helen Southworth: Should the
sector be doing more to see those things happen?
Ms Cherry: Yes, absolutely. The
difficulty is here we are going beyond DCMS perhaps, but that
is what I would like to see happening.
Q36 Janet Anderson: Do you think
it would be helpful if HLF grants were more widely available to
Ms Cherry: It depends how they
Mr Wilkinson: It is very hard
for the voluntary sector to deal with the grants sometimes because
of the mass of paperwork that goes with them. If you are a professional
body dealing with it, it is much easier. It is not necessarily
a bad thing that you have certain hurdles to jump but how would
you then account for how a private owner does with that money.
It is very hard indeed.
Dr Dungavell: I think also the
HLF resources are shrinking for various reasons, partly to do
with the Olympics and partly to do with how they are able to spend
their money. In the public sector for the HLF there is not enough
money for the need and if you spread it more thinly then some
of the projects that we think should be supported
Q37 Janet Anderson: Do you not think
it would persuade private owners to be more responsible about
protecting our heritage?
Mr Saunders: I must be careful
because this is an issue HLF is looking at very closely. It has
always been an assumption that Lottery money is for the public
good and if you start keeping the roof on a private house where
the public does not have access you have difficulties of potential
private gain, but what HLF would say is English Heritage is the
Q38 Janet Anderson: You have still
got the environment even if you have not got access to it. This
was the point that Bridget was making.
Mr Saunders: It is. English Heritage
is there not to provide exclusively for private owners but it
has never had a prejudice against private owners, in fact almost
the opposite. If you can prove poverty and your building is very
important to the street, even though interior access might not
be possible, English Heritage will help you, but the Lottery is
a much more difficult creature to use in areas where there might
be an element of private gain. This is way beyond what conservation
is about, this is almost what the Lottery is about.
Ms Cherry: The way in which English
Heritage has been able to help through things like town schemes
which have given seed money, balanced by local authority funding
plus private owners, to improve the condition of small buildings
in a high street can be extremely effective. To apply an HLF approach
to that would be immensely complicated. Even the town schemes
are difficult because they have to get so many agreements with
so many different sorts of people. The way HLF grants workI
know through being on the receiving endis a very complicated
business and I think it would collapse for local owners, I do
not think they could cope.
Chairman: I think we are going to have
to stop there. Can I thank all five of you for giving evidence.
You have given us a lot to think about and we will be returning
to a lot of these issues in the course of the next few weeks.