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8.33 pm

Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): I, too, will not detain the House for long, but I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) on securing the debate, which is relevant to the draft Heritage Protection Bill.

I believe that the listing process has, in principle, been very advantageous in guaranteeing the protection of many of our industrial sites. I agree that it should be brought up to date, but I think that without it many parts of Britain would be much poorer. I feel that heritage is important, and like other Members I actively promote it because of its economic benefits. However, there are other stronger, deeper reasons why we promote heritage.

My constituency is not one that the uninitiated would automatically assume had a range of listed buildings, but it has many, which people might find surprising. A lot of those buildings tend to be industrial. There is the
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Washington “F” Pit museum; Washington old hall, the ancestral home of George Washington; and Penshaw monument, which was built to commemorate Lord Lambton, or Radical Jack as he was known because of his support for the 1832 Reform Act. There are many examples in the constituency where listing has helped.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the brave campaign of the Ryhope allotment holders, who a decade ago won listed status for their pigeon cree—the world’s only listed pigeon cree. We use the term “cree” in the north-east, but many will know it as a loft. The honourable Tony Banks, a former Member of the House who is no longer with us, supported and secured that listing. I dread to think what would have happened to that early example of a pigeon cree without it.

There has been tremendous support for the cree. The men were particularly heartened on Christmas eve when they held a vigil in support of the pigeon cree, and the Prime Minister congratulated them on the 10th anniversary of its having received listed status. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport visited earlier this year and met the men involved. Last week, I received a letter with American stamps on. When I opened it, I found it was from a Hollywood superstar and his wife, who had appeared in panto in Sunderland and had read about the Christmas eve vigil that we held with local children to support the cree. That letter was from Mickey and Jan Rooney, who are still going strong and who are of a ripe old age. They wrote to me, and via me to the men, to say how much they supported the campaign and that they would be more than keen to do anything that they could to help.

I have given those examples for a reason. In what is a fast-moving world, particularly for young people, listing and our industrial heritage provide a compass point. There are fewer and fewer things that unite us, because it is a disparate world that we live in. Heritage is incredibly important, not just for the physical representation but for what that physical representation means.

People see the winding gear at Washington “F” as a symbol. The pit heaps and other traces of our industrial past may have gone, but what lives on through communities is the sense of comradeship and belonging, and the values that were strong in years gone by. That is why I support the Bill that is coming before the House.

There has been an explosion of interest in heritage. It has been great to see locally that miners’ banner groups have been formed in Washington and Herrington Burn and are putting on displays. Local people are getting involved. A local school is celebrating its centenary: last week, I visited the John F. Kennedy primary school, where local children have worked with pupils who attended the school in the 1930s and they have all come together to support their heritage. Heritage is important as it can give us that sense of community. In many ways, changes in society mean that we do not always have as strong a sense of community as we had in the past.

8.38 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): We often have very good debates on the Adjournment and the contributions of all hon. Members tonight have been very important. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) on securing the debate. I formally
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acknowledge in the House the excellent work that she does on behalf of her constituency, both in the constituency itself and in representing her constituents’ interests in Parliament. I have discussed with her informally on a number of occasions the issues that she has raised formally during the debate. I am pleased that she has been able to put her concerns on the record. We have a draft Heritage Protection Bill, which the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is currently considering, and I hope that it will take into account the comments of the Members who have spoken—none of whom serves on the Committee—when making its representations to Ministers as we take the Bill forward.

Let me begin by endorsing what my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) said. Like him, I firmly believe that, at its best, conserving our heritage, including our industrial heritage, is crucial to building strong communities. Sometimes the best of community spirit comes out of celebrating and understanding our past, and of using that to reflect the values of the present and to inform how we think about the future. Heritage, at its best, has a very important role to play in building identity, cohesion, a sense of community and strong communities.

Every city, town and village in our country is made up of a collection of buildings that portray how it has evolved over time. There is a duty on all of us in government to make a list of those buildings that are of special architectural and historical interest. The way in which we designate them is intended to allow the planning system—we will come on to whether or not it works—to protect the buildings and to enable the management of our heritage to be carried out in such a way as to ensure that we leave a legacy for future generations that reflects the strength of our past.

I want to pick up on various issues raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport, for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), but with particular reference to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport. She talked a lot about the transparency of the system. She then talked about our having a clearer understanding of, on the one hand, the roles and powers of English Heritage, with its responsibilities for listing and the listing system, and on the other, local authority planning departments and officers and what they have to do within the planning framework. She also talked about the importance of English Heritage giving a clearer indication, when it lists, of the implications of listing—the features that would need to be listed and retained, and matters on which it would have a view and on which listed building consent to alter the building would be required. She talked about the importance of subsidiary criteria to which English Heritage should have regard in listing decisions—not just the statutory criteria, which are those of special architectural and historical interest, but also the wider economic and regeneration implications of listing. Finally, she talked about whether we should have a separate heritage budget so that the costs of protecting our heritage are much clearer. I would like to deal with each of those points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud has talked to me at length outside the Chamber about the issues that his constituency faces. He will understand that the hospital issue is currently under consideration, but I
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will say to him that I have asked that the relevant health authorities also have the opportunity to put in their representations so that I can balance them against the representations of English Heritage. He raised a number of issues that I shall address. One is the importance of marine heritage assets. We address that issue in the draft Heritage Protection Bill, and I agree with him that we will want to bring the management of those assets into the more coherent framework that we are attempting to establish through the Bill.

Such an approach will allow proper protection and celebration of those assets, which are important in Britain, given that it is an island and is thus surrounded by a lot of sea. I believe that 12 miles of sea is in the ownership of the Crown, so we have to employ a complicated mechanism to ensure not only that the Crown takes its proper responsibilities, but that it is properly compensated for any work that it has to do in protecting marine heritage assets. I would like to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud that we are examining the whole issue of marine heritage assets and how we can best ensure, in this radical review of how we manage all our heritage assets, that such assets will also get their proper place in the ecology of our heritage.

Mr. Dismore: My right hon. Friend is making an important point; I grew up by the seaside, so I feel very attached to the things that she is saying. Could she say how that approach fits in with the draft Marine Bill, which deals more with the natural heritage around our coastline? Could she say a little about how the two aspects will interlink?

Margaret Hodge: I am conscious of the fact that the two measures have been drafted in such a way as to ensure consistency in our approach, although I have yet to look at the draft Marine Bill to see precisely how those links are properly established. My officials have told me that in the drafting of our Bill, we have been conscious of the fact that two measures are being considered.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I wish to intervene to make two points. First, I would not want the right hon. Lady to find herself all at sea in terms of what we are meant to be discussing. Secondly, although she was seeking to address her hon. Friend, it would be helpful if she could remember that the microphone is important if her words are to be recorded properly.

Margaret Hodge: I am grateful to you, Mr .Deputy Speaker, for drawing my attention to that point. I certainly want to swim, not sink. I am in slight danger, on this territory, of not yet being totally familiar with the content of the draft Marine Bill, but it is my job, as the Minister responsible for taking the draft Heritage Protection Bill through the process of consideration by both Houses of Parliament, to ensure consistency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud also mentioned the importance of democracy in how we consider whether we should list assets for future generations. I agree with him that, on the face of it, we consider such things in a very democratic way; anybody can ask English Heritage to consider whether to list a particular building. Interestingly, the owner of a building need not be informed that such
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an application has been made, and, therefore, that the process of considering whether or not to list has been undertaken.

Mr. Dismore: Two different principles are at play here. One hates to see an order made about other people’s property without their knowing about it in the first place, but there is always a risk, given the length of time that the process takes, that if a building owner is told that an application to list a particular property is being made, they might knock the building down before the decision is taken. I believe that that happened in a case relating to Kensington town hall a little while ago. One of the real problems that we face is that there is no stop notice arrangement, whereby once an application has been made, it protects the building from demolition while the process is under way. Perhaps my right hon. Friend might think about providing in her Bill that once an application is made, no action can be taken to knock a building down until the process is completed.

Margaret Hodge: My hon. Friend takes the words out of my mouth. The way in which we propose to handle that point in the draft Bill is to ensure that the owner is given the right to know that an application to list has been made. We will couple that with a new provision that once an application has been lodged, no action can be taken to demolish or alter the building until consideration of the application has been concluded. Those two new provisions will ensure a much fairer and more democratic—to use the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud—approach.

Mr. Kemp: If certain owners of buildings that may be listed were given warning, the danger would be that some of our heritage would be lost. Some people just lease out buildings. The people who love buildings, look after them and want them listed are not necessarily those who might want to develop a site. The stop notice would need to be coupled with tough and effective penalties and enforcement measures. A £5,000 fine will mean nothing if a developer stands to make millions of pounds from developing a site.

Margaret Hodge: That is a very pertinent observation. My officials and I are currently considering how we should modernise the penalty regime to make it relevant to the 21st century through draft clauses for the Bill. I shall take away that thought. Consideration of the draft Heritage Protection Bill will be the first time in a generation that both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to consider this hugely important aspect of our environment. We are constantly reflecting on how to achieve a balance among the rights of the individual owners, protecting our heritage and facilitating modern development to encourage buildings that are fit for purpose today.

Ann Coffey: My right hon. Friend mentioned how buildings will be designated in the future, and I wish to give her another example. A town such as Stockport will have five or so school buildings from the turn of the last century that are all very similar. An application will be made to list one of those buildings, and it will rightly be listed because of its architectural value. Six months later, another application may be made to list one of the other very similar schools. When applications to list
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buildings are considered, some information should be provided about whether similar buildings in the area have already been listed. The local authority should perhaps be required to consider all similar buildings and make an application for one of them to be listed. Otherwise, five years later all five will have been listed, but they are all the same.

Margaret Hodge: Some interesting issues emerge as we think about the new regime that we want to bring in to protect our heritage. I have felt in the year for which I have had responsibility for this area of policy that all too often those who are immersed in the world of heritage protection have a distinct view that does not relate to the view of many people with other interests in society.

Mr. Kemp: I know from personal experience about the elite in heritage protection. As I mentioned earlier, because Tony Banks came and visited the site in my constituency he was able to go back, engage in discussion and ensure that it was listed. If he had not been prepared to make a 600-mile round trip as a serving Minister, to see the site and to talk to the people, I am not sure that things would necessarily have happened that way. Does the Minister agree that the Bill needs to include some sort of process? I hesitate to use the word “re-education”, as it sounds a little Soviet, but there needs to be a wider understanding among the heritage elite that listing is not just about certain types of buildings. It should be about something that represents millions of people, their pastimes and their employment in Britain, too.

Margaret Hodge: I could not agree more with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. Our industrial heritage and working-class heritage are also crucial.

There is a real difficulty, which we are debating tonight, with buildings of relatively recent construction. On the whole, buildings are not listed according to a thematic review. One would like to get to a position where English Heritage, as the responsible authority, would decide to look at all the schools in Stockport, all the churches in Hendon or all the pigeon crees in Houghton, and would take a view, looking at the matter thematically, about what we should conserve for future generations. At present, that does not happen. We tend to have a spot-listing system whereby a planning application is submitted to demolish or alter a building and somebody with a heritage interest, usually somebody connected to one of the national organisations that are particularly concerned with heritage matters, will submit an application to list.

Mr. Dismore: My right hon. Friend made an important point, which she then started to move away from, about the question of very modern buildings, which might be only a few years old. We have some wonderful architects in our country designing some wonderful buildings. One has only to look at the Gherkin, for example, which is one of my favourites. That ought to be a listed building, and perhaps we ought to list it now rather than in a few decades’ time. How do we ensure that our wonderful modern architecture is preserved and that we do not simply end up preserving Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian town halls, for example? How do we ensure that we reflect throughout our listing process the full range of our country’s thousands of years of architecture?

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Margaret Hodge: During my preparations for tonight’s debate, I came across Westminster bridge after having visited Stonehenge today, and thought, “I wonder whether anybody has put in an application to list Portcullis House.” I do not know what advice English Heritage would give about that building; I am not allowed to prejudge these matters, as I make the final decision. There are some splendid modern architectural buildings, but the judgment that we have to make, which is much more difficult in relation to relatively recently constructed buildings, is about which buildings will be hugely important and which buildings future generations will want to see so that they can understand what life was like in the 20th and 21st centuries. Those are incredibly difficult judgments.

On the whole, applications for listing, particularly of recently constructed buildings, tend to be for public sector buildings, such as schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport asked an important question about the costs that arise when a building is listed and its conservation thus ensured. No consideration is given to the cost or resource implications of listing; indeed, it would be completely unlawful to take them into account.

People in the heritage world say that buildings should be listed only on the basis of their architectural or historic value or special interest. Listed building consent comes through the planning system, and the decision about whether that should be given is the appropriate context for thinking about the economic implications of a decision to maintain, alter or demolish a building.

Ann Coffey: The difficulty is that consequences follow immediately from the decision to list a building. It is strange that when a decision about listing is challenged, it is said to be somebody else’s problem. Surely the intention when listing a building must be to protect it, because it is seen as special. It appears that the very act of listing a building sets off a train of events that means that that building will fall down seven years later because the resource costs of development are too great. The process almost determines that the building will be demolished, not preserved.

Margaret Hodge: My hon. Friend made that point at the start of the debate, and she is right to have done so. The existing legislation contains provisions—we are proposing similar provisions in the draft Heritage Protection Bill—so that in the circumstances that she describes, two things can happen. First of all, grants are available from the Heritage Lottery Fund or English Heritage that can be used to support the maintenance and conservation of buildings. Secondly, the draft Bill provides that either English Heritage or a local authority can take responsibility for carrying out essential repairs to conserve the building. The body involved could either meet those costs or pass them on to the building’s owner.

However, our concern is similar to the one that my hon. Friend expressed earlier, and it is that local authorities may be reluctant to take action to list for fear that the cost of repairing or enhancing the building might have to be borne by local council tax payers.

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