Tuesday, 24 February 2009

World Heritage - who cares?

A small section of the SAVE exhibition, snapped at the preview by Nem

Liverpool (a World Heritage Site) featured in this blog a week ago, with news and a report of a SAVE exhibition and book:

and on Feb 12th here:

and I am delighted to report that in today's Independent there is an excellent review of the SAVE exhibition:

Liverpool’s agony has also been an internal one, witnessed by residents and visitors alike, in the unceasing destruction of its architectural heritage. A bomb-site necropolis long after the Luftwaffe had visited, the city began an extraordinary programme of self-mutilation, starting with the demolition of John Foster’s magnificent Customs House in 1947,


despite the fact that its war damage was quite repairable. This story of a disappearing city, which continues to the present day, is chronicled in a superb exhibition of photographs, Triumph, Disaster and Decay, at the milkandsugar gallery....

...Individual records of philistinism and neglect unfold across the gallery walls. Of the 19 churches in Everton described by Nikolaus Pevsner in 1969, only six remain. A photograph of Abercromby Square shows Foster’s church St Catherine’s, demolished in 1966 to make way for the university’s Senate House. More heartbreaking still is the fragment of wrought ironwork from a gallery inside the Old Sailors’ Home, a beautiful neo-Jacobean marvel senselessly destroyed in the 1970s. Canning Place, where it stood, itself no longer exists, swallowed up by the huge (and controversial) Paradise Street shopping centre, Liverpool One. It echoes another outrageous scarring, of elegant old Clayton Square, flattened to make way for another mall in 1986. By whose decree? The answer isn’t always clear, but a combination of rapacious property developers and incompetent councillors have usually done for it.

That legacy of near-criminal negligence seems to have been handed down through the DNA of Liverpool City Council. One might leave this exhibition feeling indignant and deeply depressed, for the disasters of the 1960s are returning, in the shape of the Government-sponsored Pathfinder schemes. Hearteningly, campaigns are being fought against further depredations. Elizabeth Pascoe still battles a road-widening scheme that would destroy 400 perfectly good family houses in and around Edge Lane. Florence Gersten also continues a valiant rearguard against municipal vandalism, having helped to save the Lyceum building in Bold Street back in the 1980s. Save Britain’s Heritage itself deserves immense credit for supporting the fightback, and for mounting this exhibition, splendidly curated by Robert Hradsky...

Caltongate in Edinburgh as a place does not of course exist, apart from in the mind of whichever PR drone thought it up as the adspeak new face of ruining a World Heritage Site (see yesterday's blog and the movie The Canongate Project as well as http://www.eh8.org.uk/ and the related blog, linked to from this site). Currently, it is still a hole in the ground in Edinburgh, following the demolition of a bus garage. Under threat of demolition are listed buildings, with facade schemes for others, and the sale of 'common good' land, a peculiarly Scottish concept, for buildings whose future planned contribution to the 'common good' is baffling many. The council seem to think that selling off these public assets to a private developer for pennies in order to hugely enlarge the development site was sound sense. That says a great deal about the council.

Of course, mega businesses have megabucks to spend on selling their schemes to gullible (or worse) councillors and naturally they have the cash to spend on PR agencies to help overcome any little local difficulties and carefully manipulate the entire process. And indeed Mountgrange was able to take advantage of a spin company called Invicta PA, whose blurb on its website carries with it a sickbag warning before you read it:

A little past history is worth reading:


'Organised and determined' campaign group - militant? Dear me yes! Armed to the teeth with only a love of their community and city and the concept of Word Heritage, into battle they went.

Oddly, many more of the citizens of Edinburgh were not too happy about having thrust upon them yet another crappy scheme of second rate architecture, the city has had too many of those in recent times, with little heed taken of objectors (the planning 'consultations' by the developer Mountgrange carefully avoided taking much note of objections from local residents, Edinburgh World Heritage, ICOMOS, etc). So they joined in the protests, and when local politicians aided by Historic Scotland (whose role in this affair has surely yet to be fully explored and exposed) passed the plans and the Scottish government scandalously declined to call them in for public inquiry, they took their protests to UNESCO, a body to which the UK is a state party and signatory to the World Heritage Convention. UNESCO duly sent a mission to investigate matters.

The mission arrived last November. It first visited Bath, then Edinburgh. The council wined dined and generally schmoozed the two delegates, presumably in the hope that a full belly and copious amounts of alcohol would blur their vision and make them see the Emperor's magnificent suit of spankingly new attire. Such profligacy with cash seems not to have had the desired outcome however, as a draft of the (confidential) report was apparently sent to the council, Historic Scotland and the government last week. Confidentially too no doubt, but apparently forgetting to say so, the Convenor of the Planning Committee 'Sunny' Jim Lowrie (see him in action here:)

managed to spill a few beans to a Scotsman journalist, who felt duty bound to allow the wider public to know that UNESCO seems to not have been entirely delighted by the scheme, and is waiting for the culprits to come clean about what on earth they were playing at.


It should also be pointed out that 'Sunny' Jim is on the Board of Edinburgh World Heritage Trust (a registered charity); quite how he squares that role with his desire to vote through anything and everything which EWH seems to feel not appropriate for the city is possibly a puzzle to many. Let's see how he votes when the plans for the St James' Centre redevelopment come before his planning committee. Heritage and other bodies have all objected, but naturally the council planners have recommended passing the plans.

Latest critical comment is Wilson's Weekly Wrap, on the Architecture Scotland website today:

Given that Mountgrange (one of its Directors serves as a commissioner for English Heritage) seems to have (allegedly) gone financially tits up, and rumoured as trying to get cash to keep the sinking Caltongate afloat from that rock of the finance world the Royal Bank of Scotland, I cannot think many will shed a tear really for its demise.

As Mr Wilson says: Time then for a proper (i.e. not developer-led) appraisal of what this site really needs and what this part of the Old Town can actually absorb. In other European cities such a study would form the basis for an international design competition: here we can only dream of such things.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh City Council apparently has cash in trust to 'temporarily' landscape the site until such time as something can be done permanently. No doubt it will be rushing to spend it. Possibly it can look at the buildings standing empty also, and consider re-letting those.

Edinburgh World Heritage Trust continues its good work in the teeth of such problems, and news from its website is that a Conservation Plan has now been drwan up for Riddle's Court, also in the Old Town:

The conservation statement prepared by consultant Andrew Wright brings together for the first time a combination of archival sources along with a detailed site inspection. His research throws a new light on many aspects of the building.

There is some archival evidence that the lime harling of the exterior walls had at one time been a startling yellow with window margins tinted a pinkish red, some of which still survives on site.

Of particular interest is a stone hood on the south wall of the inner court, considered to be a rare survival from a hoist, suggesting that the upper storey was used as a merchant’s warehouse.

Additionally, a fresh appeal for funds has been launched in order to complete the excellent conservation work at Well Court:

See also the Related Links section at the bottom right of that page for more.

It's not all bad news!


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