Friday, 22 May 2009

Merchant's House wins RICS SW Award!

I was mid rant about something else when I read the wonderful news, so this is a short blog this afternoon to say congratulations to Republic Follower Jon on the marvellous, and well-deserved, win at the RICS SW Awards, for his long time repair project on the II* listed Merchant's House, Shepton Mallet.

The South West’s most innovative building projects were once again celebrated at the 5th annual South West final of the RICS Awards during May. From a shortlist of 36 finalists, awards were presented for the best projects in four categories - building conservation, community benefit, regeneration and sustainability, as well as the Project of the Year. Now in their 19th year, the RICS Awards are widely acknowledged as an annual celebration of built and natural environment projects that demonstrate true excellence and commitment to value for money and sustainability. The five winners on the night were: * Clavell Tower, Wareham won the building conservation category* Knowle West Media Centre, Bristol won in the community benefit category* Princesshay, Exeter was the winner in the regeneration category* Swindon Central Library received the award for sustainability* Merchants House, Shepton Mallet won the Project of the Year award

Details here:

As I said in an earlier blog:

I hear that Jon Maine has finally completed the long time repair of the Merchant's House in Shepton Mallet, and Family Maine spent Christmas there. Such good news, a most beautiful and important Grade II* building rescued from dereliction; I leave the website to fill in the background, but I gather Jon is open to offers to come along and work his magic on your own home.

His recent Open Day, with guest Kevin McCloud off the telly, raised a substantial sum of money for the local hospice. Brilliant!

James Gregory, RICS South West Regional Chair comments
: “These awards are hotly contested each year and 2009 saw a particularly strong entry from across the region. We now wish them all the very best of luck for the next stage of the competition which will be the grand final to be held in London in October.”

Back later with the rant!


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Trams in Edinburgh...

Princes Street, Edinburgh World Heritage Site as it is currently - a mess

An artist's impression of the trams; note poles and wires, although in some cases the wires will be attached to historic buildings, owners have little choice...

Well, I said it here on Monday, and today it's confirmed: trams in Edinburgh will not be delivered on budget or on time.

According to the Scottish press today:

Trams not on budget and not on time

May 20th

EDINBURGH'S beleaguered trams system is today officially confirmed as being behind schedule and over budget.

Richard Jeffrey, the new chief executive of tram firm TIE, has conceded the mammoth task of delivering a showpiece tram line through the heart of the city will not now be completed as originally planned in July 2011.

Slim hopes that it might just be completed within its original £512 million budget have also finally been scuppered...

Can politicians be trusted to get anything right?

From The Sunday Times
May 3, 2009

Edinburgh tram sham is a warning to other cities
The much vaunted integrated transport system has never had mass approval, so maybe it’s time to put it to the popular vote...

It all sounded so good in theory, you know, like a Scottish Parliament building, a Millennium Dome, holding the Olympics in the UK and robbing vast amounts of Heritage Lottery cash to do it... oh I forgot, they didn't say that would happen at the time the bid was made, it's only later we find out just how much will be raided from the heritage pot...

Monday, 18 May 2009

Boldly going...

The Caley's brewing coppers

This section of the Republic has in the past week roused itself from its customary sloth mode and travelled far, with investigation into various building and culcha related stuff, and along the way local fayre and ales have had to be sampled, all in the cause of fearless blogging natch. The National Trust is to be congratulated on the standard of its scones at Rufford Old Hall, and I can report with some authority that a glass (straight sided, none of yer soft, southern fancy tankards with handles here north of the Wash) of Deuchar's IPA tasted just as good at the Sea View Inn, Chorley as it did in Edinburgh.

Cheers to the Caledonian Brewery, aka The Caley, sole survivor of more than forty breweries which once graced Edinburgh, long may it continue:

Every brewery will have stories you say. Well how about this then? The only other place you'll find the same chute of our steels masher (which, incidentally, we use everyday) is in Burton on Trent - in the Bass Brewing Museum.

And speaking of a museum, that's essentially what we are - a living, working, thriving museum. A team of highly skilled brewers and motivated individuals all passionately dedicated to continuing the tradition of brewing ale in a Victorian Brew house which remains relatively unchanged since it's opening in 1869...

Our History
As authentic as Victorian distilling may be - there's a very distinct smell to the process. And so it's no wonder that Edinburgh was known as “Aulde Reekie” in the 1800s, given that there were over 40 breweries in very close proximity to one another clustered in the city centre. Whilst beer was the drink of choice (over water) for the working man at the time, high demand was not the only reason for the concentration of breweries...

...a pure supply of water (as one of the chief ingredients in brewing beer) was, and in Edinburgh it was known as the Charmed Circle of Brewing Wells.

The Caledonian was one these breweries and was opened by George Lorimer Jr. in 1869. It was as a result of two things: the death of his father and his love of the golf course. On the links he befriended many eminent Edinburgh brewers. Robert Clarke being one of them and when he inherited his father's estate, the two of them opened Lorimer and Clark's Caledonian Brewery on the current site.

More here:

The hope for its continuation is not only because if it didn't the world would lose some mighty fine beers, but also because the historic site would be sold off and no doubt something nasty and wildly unsuitable built in its place.

City of Edinburgh Council's dealings with Mountgrange over Caltongate continue to amaze; it is now revealed that the developers, who went bust before managing to demolish the listed buildings which the council was only too happy to bend over backwards, and indeed bend planning policies, to allow, as is its wont, haven't even paid the promised rent on the former city architect Ebenezer MacRae-designed tenements from which the residents were decanted.

MacRae was one of the pioneers of conservation. He renovated a number of Old Town buildings and where that was not practicable he rebuilt several facades in their original form. In his survey of the Old Town he was assisted by a newly qualified planner, William Dey, later of Gordon & Dey, and produced a policy report; and from that he proceeded to produce another policy document, 'The Heritage of Greater Edinburgh', which listed all the traditional buildings in the city which were worthy of retention, very much in parallel with the Marquess of Bute's lists for the country as a whole. A large collection of related papers is preserved in Edinburgh Central Library. His interest also extended to historic statuary, and he published an essay on the 'Lead Equestrian Statue of Charles II' in the Old Edinburgh Club Transactions.

(For more on the statue, and the current funding appeal to repair, see:

More here about the rental fiasco, and a picture of the tenements:

The grand plan was that these, built on the Royal Mile as model housing for the poor, were to form part the fakery facade of a Sofitel five star hotel. That was alongside the facade of the adjacent Sailor's Ark, a listed building, which once served as a seamen's hostel. Not sure if this was intended as ironic or was just plain insensitive. Despite long waiting lists for social and affordable housing, the tenements, perfectly sound buildings in a good state of repair, have been standing empty for a considerable time. The council also emptied a handsome listed building, the Canongate Venture, latterly re-used as small business units but for decades the school for children of the Canongate. Mountgrange was also intending to buy this from the council to demolish, to build a conference centre as part of its Caltongate development. The legality of the deal has never really been explained.

Here's an article which first appeared in the spring 2008 newsletter of ICOMOS-UK by renowned Edinburgh conservation architect James Simpson OBE, on exactly what was wrong with Caltongate:

The “Caltongate” development as it stands will have a profoundly negative impact on the values of the World Heritage Site: it is also a missed opportunity to show that, if the fundamentals of size, scale and grain are got right, new development, however brave architecturally, can be successfully integrated with urban landscapes of international value. Edinburgh was for many years seen as a trailblazer for urban conservation, commended for its far-sighted town planning policies initiated by Patrick Geddes - the father of town planning and of urban conservation - which had allowed the city’s skyline and urban spaces to evolve but maintain their significance over time.“Caltongate” is symptomatic of a new trend towards development of extensive areas of cites as single projects - reminiscent, alas, of the Comprehensive Development Areas of the 1960s. Bath Western Riverside, a large, highly contentious scheme in the centre of the Bath World Heritage Site, is another...

(For more on Western Riverside, those splendid campaigners at Bath Heritage Watchdog are keeping the world updated:

and under that link to the article by James Simpson is a little more about Mountgrange, Manesh Chande, and a few others involved in the sorry tale of Caltongate.

Manesh Chande, millionare co-owner of Mountgrange, the man who owes City of Edinburgh Council the rent, and the people of Edinburgh a huge apology, is currently serving a second term of office as a Commissioner for English Heritage.

It is widely expected that UNESCO, in its forthcoming World Heritage Site report following an investigative visit to Edinburgh in November triggered by mounting concern over Caltongate and other developments, will be very critical of the Caltongate scheme, and the failure of the City of Edinburgh Council to masterplan the site. Instead, it left that to the developer, and architect Allan Murray, and Mountgrange failed to properly consult with residents and heritage bodies over the scheme. Objections were ignored by the council. Historic Scotland also has little of which to be proud over this.

Mr Chande serves on the Finance and Business Committees of English Heritage. He is also a Commissioner Director of English Heritage Trading Ltd. No, honestly, I'm not kidding, he does, it says so here:

Other battles currently being fought in Edinburgh are the Tiger Developments/Richard Murphy designed Haymarket Tower (public inquiry soon) and the B Listed (although Historic Scotland is hoping to upgrade to A) Odeon Cinema, Clerk Street, where the all-important auditorium has been given permission to be demolished to build - yes, another hotel, although it sounds as though Historic Scotland, alongside the Cinema Theatre Association in Scotland

is at least on the side of right over that, and hopefully an inquiry will be called there too. The Theatres Trust and SAVE both objected strongly too, but the council knows best. Developers' profits are of far more importance than the preservation of listed buildings.

It appears, though, that the council-commissioned-and-paid-for report by Montagu Evans, which handily concluded, following the payment of around seven grand of public cash for work which took no longer than a fortnight to produce, and on the basis of information supplied by the (gosh) developer and the council, that demolition was the best option, has been looked at again. Historic Scotland has paid for another report (Drivers Jonas- what a nice little earner all these reports are for 'consultants') which says that the Montagu Evans report ('Montagu Evans LLP is a highly focused and dynamic property conultancy with a commitment to provide our clients with the best possible advice', clients list: Edinburgh City Council

was (let's be charitable) a tad erroneous and limited in its findings, and should possibly be disregarded. As one insider from the CTA says:

'The Drivers Jonas report concludes that the valuations and rental expectations quoted in the Montagu Evans report were unrealistic and inappropriately calculated, and that the only thing proven was that Duddingston House Properties were only interested in the maximum return for the property. It concludes firmly that "demolition is not the minimum necessary to retain the building. Indeed, we do not believe the demolition of the auditorium is justified". '

Lost is probably the cause of Princes Street, where the council gave permission last week for the demolition of another listed building and the erection of a new Premier Hotel and shop of not a great deal of architectural merit. Historic Scotland, Edinburgh World Heritage, and Architecture and Design Scotland all opposed the scheme, alongside other heritage bodies, but hey, what can they know? The developer, Deramore, wanted somewhere with nice views of the castle. Shame the views from the castle won't be as nice. Shame too that the tram system currently causing uproar will disfigure Princes Street, and views of many world class buildings, with poles and wires, but that's another fine mess by Edinburgh Council which will run and run, unlike the trams, behind schedule and way over budget I believe, which many would like to see scrapped even at this stage.

Recently unveiled too is the new Allan Murray (Caltongate) Hotel Missoni, in the heart of the World Heritage Site, which replaced a building by Sir Robert Matthew. Yes, heritage bodies objected to the demolition, but, surprise surprise, down it came, and the Hotel Missoni is another of those buildings from which it's best to avert the gaze.

Still to come is the Allan Murray Cube, nearing completion near his Omni Centre, and the demolition of the St James' Centre (no loss, although the buildings demolished in the recent past to build it are) for - yes, another Allan Murray. Then there is his SoCo development on the site where a major chunk of the Old Town was consumed by fire, again passed by the council despite it not conforming to the Development Brief, objections from Historic Scotland, Edinburgh World Heritage, etc etc.

As Marcus Linklater wrote in the Times:

Why leave a city's designs in one man's hands?
Edinburgh's celebrated skyline is threatened by a planning policy that puts mediocrity before imagination or beauty...

Thank you again to the Society of Antiquaries for another mention of the Republic:

and the advice given in a recent edition of SALON:

Fellow Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, responded to Mark Horton’s concerns about the impact on archaeology of a Severn barrage with news that solar water heating panels are being installed successfully on the roofs of Georgian tenements in the heart of the World Heritage Site and are already supplying more than 50 per cent of the annual hot water requirement of forty-nine listed properties. Adam says it is essential to ‘dispel the myth that historic buildings are neither energy efficient nor capable of being sensitively retro-fitted with sustainable energy measures’.

He also recommends that Fellows visiting Edinburgh between now and 7 June 2009 should make time to visit the stunning exhibition at the
National Gallery of Scotland celebrating Turner’s love affair with ancient Italy.

Well, the exhibition was duly visited, and it is indeed excellent. Do not miss it. You don't have to be a Fellow, all are welcome.

Friday was the major conference on historic buildings and which I mentioned in the blog here:
This is a Changeworks event, funded by eaga Charitable Trust and Edinburgh World Heritage

It was held, appropriately, at the Hub, a former church in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, now converted to other uses.

I gather that in general the advice was to not worry overmuch about spending a fortune on too many eco-gadgets which may not be terribly effective.

Adam Wilkinson of Edinburgh World Heritage's advice was that sustainability is possibly best served by first of all looking at simple measures such as closing the shutters, draughtproofing and good insulation of existing stock, and above all by retaining and adapting solidly built historic buildings, not demolition, as the embodied energy which they represent is long paid for environmentally. Howard Liddell, of Gaia Architects, a major expert, was rather of the opinion that we are doomed anyhow, unless we really do wake up to the impending crisis, which few in governments, here and elsewhere, seem to be keen to do.
His book is duly ordered:

(Eco minimalism)the Antidote to Eco-Bling

Howard Liddell

In this age of ‘eco-bling' where sustainability becomes yet another buzz word and people rush to technically fix green badges to their unsuspecting buildings, not all ‘green' additions to buildings are necessary. Eco-minimalism: the antidote to eco-bling is timely in highlighting more realistic and cost effective approaches to becoming ‘green' and in showcasing ‘eco-minimalism' - a good-housekeeping approach to ecological building design and specification, involving apparently non-glaringly obvious strategies such as insulation, draught-proofing and the use of healthy materials. This book aims to expose the pitfalls of ‘greenwashing' in an immediate, visually-arresting and authoritative way. The intention is to present basic tenets in a quickfire, highly accessible format that is based on 30 years of practical experience. A number of case studies support its central message, that the scattergun, ‘Christmas tree' approach should be ditched in favour of ‘eco-minimalism' – the holistic, considered and appropriate deployment of building science in support of truly ecological, affordable sustainable architecture for everyone.

Reviewed by Adrian Cave, Principal, Adrian Cave Associates:

This compact little book practises what it preaches, using the minimum number of words and resources to convey important ideas about sustainable design. The author, who is recognised as one of the leading ecological design architects in Europe, with expertise in building biology, ecological design, sustainable development, masterplanning and community architecture begins by refuting many common assumptions about sustainable design. This will make uncomfortable reading for many architects by demonstrating the irrelevance of much current practice...

From a 2002 paper by Howard Liddell, Gaia Architects:

To return to the beginning of this paper - it is not the fact that the responsibility of delivering sustainable developments and the whole ecological agenda in buildings is “daunting”- it is the fact that it is being made more complicated than it need be. The world is suddenly full of carpetbaggers purveying their eco-goodies and quack doctors with their snake oil remedies, whilst the populace is still insufficiently knowledgeable about the nature of the status quo to be able to resist.

The advice therefore is simple. Trust your traditional instincts to do the straightforward thing first and be wary of strangers bearing gifts.

Much of ecological design lies in the identification and revival of commonsense and good practice - albeit it often requires new knowledge and insight to underpin it. It also needs for us to go back and question all the new man-made and often "magical remedy" materials that have rushed into buildings over the past four decades.

Nothing wrong with a good wool vest, is my view. Warm and ecologically sound.

Finally, I cannot allow anyone to pass by this site without reading the latest offering from Caius Plinius, and I hope the letter from from Archibald Clark-Kerr, 1st Baron Inverchapel, British Ambassador to Moscow first penned in 1943, and which I wonder if he ever thought would become quite so public, continues to bring a little ray of light to illuminate the gloom!



PS Republic Follower Jayne has sent me this e-mail:

It's so depressing that absolutely nothing seems to stand in the way of developers massacring such beautiful places. See this article about St George's Square No heed was paid. Our lovely cobbles were dug up and replaced with pink Chinese tiles which look horrendous. And to add to all the fun - the main contractor doing the job went bust a couple of months back before work was finished. God knows what the end result is going to look like :(


Thursday, 14 May 2009

MV Wincham - pay back time?

MV Wincham - now

and then...

The sale of the historic vessel MV Wincham by its Trustees for scrap has reached the columns of Private Eye. Piloti's Nooks and Corners, in the newest issue (May 15th), decribes this most sad of sagas.

Why indeed was it scrapped, and not mothballed?

Well, as it seems the vessel cannot now be brought back into use, as the Trustees literally have sold her down the river, Piloti reports, as many of us hoped might be the case, that the Lottery fund, which stumped up forty seven and a half grand for work to the Wincham not so long ago, is now asking for its money back.

Sounds as though the five grand received for the scrap value won't go far. This will be an interesting one to watch. Will the Trustees of the Wincham Preservation Society have to stump up from their own pockets? I think we should be told!

As Piloti says:

Until recently the society received most of its funds from the Friends of National Museums Liverpool as the Wincham, as an historic Mersey vessel, was a suitable ornament to the Albert Dock, home of the Merseyside Maritime Museum. But the Friends were disbanded last year ...

...Given the hype around Liverpool and its history, the Maritime Museum might have been expected to rescue the boat; but no. And now the Heritage Lottery Fund, not unreasonably, wants its money back. Yet again Liverpool has shot itself in the foot.


Monday, 11 May 2009

It's grim oop The North

Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire: the shape of things to come?

You know when you've arrived as there is a sign on the motorway saying The North, just in case the unwary have strayed inadvertently from long weekending with chums in the Cotswolds and taken a wrong turning on the way back to Kensington. Maybe it's a warning to lock the doors and wind up the windows, and don't stop until you've managed to U turn back and reach where you may be in daily danger of a mugging, or a stabbing, but at least one can understand the aarccint of the assistants in Fortnums, a Pashmina will be adequate to protect from the weather, and if tripe is on the menu it's because it's fashionably rediscovered and offally trendy (served wittily with a drizzle of jus des ognions) and not a cheap daily staple. Or is it for when they pack the Purdeys and the tweed in the Range Rover for the annual murdering of the grice, just so they know they aren't too far from a snifter at the shooting lodge, where even if the natives are a tad scarily incomprehensible they will still touch forelocks and doff the clorth cep, and do a jolly good job as beaters?

I don't recall seeing a sign saying The South.

Well, that's a few of my irrational northern prejudices, alongside a spot of unwarranted stereotyping, given an outing for this week. What follows is of course perfectly logical and untainted by personal bias.

I'm intending to visit Hebden Bridge this week, a town oop north of quaint, rugged, old fashioned charm, which in part relies for trade on people like me visiting to spend my money. I like it, and presumably those people who choose to live there do also, because in the main it is a town of quaint, rugged, old fashioned charm, with traditional buildings and a conservation area at its heart. If I wanted to visit somewhere full of jokey 'iconic' ironic architecture, then the City of London is where so much of it is at . Yes the City still has its pockets of joy, but it also has a great deal of crap, thanks in part to its City Planning Officer Mr Peter Rees and his desire to allow developers to build whatever nonsense will bring them all, developers, architects and City council, most cash. This isn't confined to the City, of course, but so far some London boroughs have resisted this sort of lunacy. However, these days I avoid London as much as possible, and stick to the charms of places like Hebden Bridge. Perverse I know, stick in the mud certainly, but I Knows What I Likes. And I like small towns in the north.

Hebden Bridge isn't really where you'd expect to get a cheery welcome if you decided to impose on the locals your 21st century idea of what is good for them, and anyone who thought that strange lumps of wonky buildings, with stone cladding, large sheets of glass in odd places and the now usual random fenestration was something the place was crying out for must hardly have expected an easy time, and...

Studio BAAD's Hebden Bridge scheme triggers death threats

Hebden Bridge-based Studio BAAD has become the victim of a hate and intimidation campaign after submitting revised plans for a mixed-use development in the West Yorkshire town.

Over the last few weeks bricks have been thrown at the practice’s windows, staff members’ car tyres have been let down and the firm’s PR has been told in a phone call that he would be ‘drummed out of Hebden Bridge in a wooden box with the lid nailed down’.

The practice is pointing the finger of suspicion at opponents of its ambitious £10 million Garden Street project, which could create 48 homes, eight shops and 160 ‘much-needed’ car parking spaces in the centre of the former wool-producing town...

Well, after a long battle the public inquiry ended last week, and the outcome is waited with interest. Odd that Stephen Bayley, he of the Observer and predictable rants against anyone who doesn't think that anything new by one of his pals in the architecture game should be rubber stamped through no matter how unsuitable (the Holburne extension in Bath for example: hasn't so far branded those in Calderdale Council who failed to wholeheartedly approve, and the many local people who rose up to object, uninformed Philistines. Or not yet, at least, for yesterday he was too busy ranting predictably about HRH The Prince of Wales. Given a choice of old buffer to be marooned on a desert island with, I think I'd choose HRH over Borer Bayley any time.

(Why is he given so much space in the Observer? He's got nothing fresh or informed to say about architecture. Or indeed anything very much, these days. Yesterday's man, really.)

Anyhow, for those who want to see what folks have been making a fuss about, here's Hebden Bridge's own version of the current Chelsea Barracks furore, which seems to have stolen so much of the meeja limelight away from Yorkshire, possibly because of HRH's involvement in trying to have that dog of a development in London stopped:

That link also leads to the planning website, where it's worth looking at the documents showing the elevations.

Yes folks, that's right - this is what was proposed for the Hebden Bridge Conservation Area, apparently to solve a parking problem! This is what the developer says on its website:

The proposed mixed-use Garden Street Development in the centre of Hebden Bridge is set to play a pivotal role in tackling the town’s desperate need for additional car parking facilities, and will have a positive impact on the town’s future economic, housing and tourism growth

Now I'm not saying it's terrible architecture, it isn't, in the right place it could be fine, like, say, Croydon, but... Hebden Bridge? And future tourism? Me, I'd never go again if the place was spoiled with this bizarre scheme.

Cut one trend setting modern architect and they all bleed, of course... being artistes and therefore prone to the vapours... actually I think mostly they hate each others guts and bitch behind backs about each other summick dreadful, but when it looks as though the gravy train may be halted they do tend to club together and pretend that they aren't in in simply for the spondoolicks, and in fact are missionaries bringing light to lead us into the path of right. I love the letter written to the Guardian by a bunch of 'leading architects' calling on the profession to boycott HRH's speech to em... the ROYAL Insititute of British Architects, on the grounds he's sometimes rude about them.

Here's the letter:

In the mid-1980s, Prince Charles publicly trashed several works of modern architecture, both built and unbuilt. In doing so he used his influential royal position by intervening in the democratic process of planning applications securing, for instance, the secretary of state's rejection of the design for the National Gallery extension.

Twenty-five years have passed. At the end of March, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects announced that Prince Charles is to deliver the RIBA Trust's annual lecture on the 12 May. Within a week, the press reported that Prince Charles had re-established his mid-80s technique of seeking to oust modern architecture in favour of his preferred style of architecture, dismissing the Rogers Stirk Harbour design for the former Chelsea Barracks in favour of a published neoclassical design (The view from Highgrove, G2, 23 April).

The prince's latest move displays the destructive signs of his earlier interventions, when he set out to scupper modern architecture. This intervention must now be resisted by the profession; not because of the question of architectural style, but because his actions again threaten an important element of our democratic process. To all architects who value these democratic procedures, we advocate a boycott of the Prince's lecture at the RIBA on the 12 May.

Peter Ahrends

Will Alsop

Ted Cullinan

Paul Finch

Tony Fretton

Piers Gough

MJ Long

Ian Ritchie

Chris Wilkinson

Those posturing architects, and others who have made such a fuss about his (perfectly legal) intervention in the Chelsea Barracks debacle, fulminating about the fact it's 'not democratic', clearly can't see the funny side of trying to stifle free speech. If they think they are so right, and he's so wrong, why worry? Surely the 'democratic planning process' they are lauding will bring about the right result?

We wait to see if the same democratic process will bring about the right result at Hebden Bridge, where the local authority planning committee members turned the application down, against the advice of officers (CABE loved it, natch) and the developer appealed.

Another place oop north looking forward to a public inquiry is Lancaster. What is happening there is becoming ever more weird; the local authority, having failed to take heed of what all sensible local people want (their lovely old city, with its listed buildings and conservation areas treated with some sensitivity, since you ask) jumped into bed with developer Centros. Centros, it seems, now has a policy of targeting anywhere which hasn't so far been comprehensively ruined in the recent past with some ghastly shopping mall, 'mixed use' development' and 'public' arid area with a few scattered seats and beds of litter-strewn shrubs usually referred to as a public piazza. Naturally, it carries out fakery consultations, approaches local planners to tell them that what everyone is calling out for is a new commercial development with a Debenhams at its heart (well, who can live without a Debenhams on the doorstep?) and they are doing you the biggest of favours by 'investing' in your little place, where they won't be making pots of dosh but charitably bringing jobs and shop til you drop joy and affordable housing.

Anyhow, after a mega fuss about the plans passed for Lancaster, (I'm not saying it's bad architecture, it isn't; it's really terrible architecture, and it also involves the loss of some eminently re-usable traditional buildings) Centros isn't actually going to be there to defend its plans. No, I don't think I've ever known an inquiry without the developer being there either, but Centros, wily operators that they are, have saved themselves a shedload of money by allowing the local authority to do all the defending of the scheme at the inquiry. So it's going to be an interesting one.

I wrote about it here:

But I will repeat the appropriate links again to the SAVE site:

which has the details, the background, the pictures (see in particular the e-report, and Ptolo Dean's articles on the subject of Lancaster)

and also the Lancaster campaigning group, It's Our City, driving the opposition to the plans all the way:

SAVE commissioned architect Richard Griffiths to draw up an alternative plan for Lancaster, re-using historic buildings and stitching the regeneration area back together with a fresh and sensitive scheme, which will surely enhance Lancaster, if given the chance to be implemented.

So, if you want to go along and see for yourself, here's the opportunity:

Special Event

A new vision for the Canal Corridor

A presentation by Richard Griffiths
Wednesday 27 May, 20096.30 – 8pm
The Storey GalleryMeeting House LaneLancaster, LA101524 844133

Admission free. Everyone welcome.

Richard Griffiths of Richard Griffiths Architects will present his ideas for for the conservation-led regeneration of the Canal Corridor site in Lancaster.

As well as discussing his vision for Lancaster, Richard will show and describe other successful conservation-led projects he has worked on in London and Oxford.

Richard has been commissioned by SAVE Britain’s Heritage to produce a new ‘high level’ scheme for the Canal Corridor site and will be appearing as one of SAVE’s expert witnesses at the forthcoming Public Inquiry in June.

There will be a question and answer session after the talk. Richard’s plans and drawings will be available for viewing at the Storey on Thursday 28th May 11am – 5pm.

Will Palin
SAVE Britain's Heritage

So far, no coterie of 'leading architects' has written to the press to complain about the 'intervention' of SAVE in the 'democratic process'. Rather better for all concerned had it not got to the expensive stage of a public inquiry, concerns from local people and national conservation groups been listened to, and something decent been drafted in the first place, of course, but that's democracy for you.

As for HRH, breaking news this evening on the BD website is that:

Prince Charles will use his RIBA lecture tomorrow night to tell architects that they are “first and foremost place makers and not designers of buildings”.

No mention of carbuncles it seems.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Normal service will be resumed...

II* Listed Park Hill, Sheffield, by Chris Downer soon as possible, as they used to say when the Beeb broke down.

It rarely does now; I wonder what sort of fevered activity went on to find the blown fuse in those far off days when telly was still all new and exciting.

Thankfully, the Republic computer has been repaired, returned and lives again. As one who learned to type (two fingers only) on an ancient Imperial, black, glass sides, and extra long cork carriage (legal docs and accounts, I believe) the laptop I was loaned for a short while daily, with its flimsy keyboard, simply wasn't up to Grumpy Old Blogger style bashing.

A short post then for now, to say thank you to the Society of Antiquaries for the very kind mention of the Republic in SALON, although the sex change came as a surprise I can assure all I never felt a thing.

If the august Fellows of the Soc of Crocks are liable to keep dipping in to the Republic, possibly I had better cease mixing metaphors.

Sadly, I can't say I thought that last Friday's English Heritage prog showed conservation as being A Good Thing. I can't say anything terribly good about what seems to be happening at Park Hill, Sheffield, much as I would like to, beyond the fact it wasn't bulldozed. I appreciate Urban Splash's desire for a marketable product, but surely conservative repair, not wholesale destruction, should have been rather more to the fore? William Morris, where are you now?

I did think that listing was the right thing to do; I actually find a great deal of twentieth century (and earlier) concrete construction, and its history, interesting; shame EH and DCMS got it so very wrong in refusing to list the equally as architecturally exciting (for Gateshead) and in my humble opinion, although not that of those who exist in the terracotta tower that is EH, iconic 'Get Carter' car park, destined for the wrecking ball.

The reasons for refusing to list are increasingly sounding less than convincing for that rare car park/shopping centre combination (the fact the restaurant never functioned seemed to loom large, that may be because Gateshead folk's idea of eating out was Friday at the chippie, haddock, chips and mushy peas for health) but sense and listing don't seem to go hand in hand. The more you learn about the inner workings of the DCMS and English Heritage listing and delisting lot, the more risible it all becomes. See also the link to SALON and the delisting of the Colin St John Wilson / Arthur Baker house, not an isolated incomprehensible incident I believe, but more on that at some other time.

(It's worth perusing the correspondence released under the FoI Act on the DCMS website relating to the refusal to list the car park. As someone who took some small part in the campaign to try to save it, I say a loud thank you, to that person who is still arguing the toss with the powers that are, and who take not one jot of jobsworth's notice.)

However, what is happening at Park Hill now seems to fly in the face of the listing. I wonder, if faced with a new application to list a building with so much of it comprehensively junked, what EH's recommendation to the Secretary of State would be?

The 'squint test'? What was all that about then? Hell, let's demolish St Paul's but leave the dome? 'Constructive conservation' is all very well, but reducing a building to what is perceived as its important part (in this case the concrete framing, and possibly the more intangible cultural significance) is a dangerous road to meander along.

Sure, the interiors required some refreshing and rethinking, but I watched with growing horror as the carefully considered, subtly coloured and sound brickwork and fenestration of the II* listed building was attacked with hammers and consigned, presumably, to a landfill hole, or worse. Sustainability, anyone? Conservation of the earth's resources? I even recall a whole heap of EH documents on the very subject.

English Heritage’s three-fold responsibility is set out in our Sustainable Development Strategy:
  1. to ensure that the historic environment is recognised as a finite and non-renewable environmental resource in its own right
  2. to ensure that the value of the other environmental capital embodied in the historic environment is not wasted
  3. to ensure that our own activities, actions and advice are fully sustainable
    Our climate change policy forms an important part of this.

    Does one part of EH not ever link with the other parts? This is the same EH, and the same Simon Thurley, currently carrying out a campaign on Conservation Areas (see blog entry:

    Flats and maisonettes. 1957-60 by Sheffield Corporation City Architect's Department under J L Womersley, designed by Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith with F E Nicklin and John Forrester (artist); Ronald Jenkins of Ove Arup and Partners, engineer. Formally opened in 1961 by Hugh Gaitskell. Reinforced concrete frame, partly board marked, with concrete balcony fronts and brick infill in four shades - a progression of purple, terracotta, light red and cream. Continuous flat roof of even height throughout the estate. 995 flats on 17 acres (total site 32 acres) at density of 192 ppa and a unit cost of £2,800 each (total cost £2,158,591). The scheme includes 31 shops, 4 pubs, a laundry boiler house, Garchey refuse station and garages....

    Park Hill is of international importance.

    It seems I wasn't alone, as reported in this week's AJ:

    Shown on Friday night at 9pm, English Heritage is comedy gold - albeit unintentionally so on the part of those filmed - and frankly wasted at a time when most architects are discussing the woes of the recession in the pub.

    This week saw Simon Thurley and his spiffing tweedsters (surprisingly) take on the overhaul of Park Hill, the 1950s brutalist flats in Sheffield, with regeneration darlings Urban Splash. Few come across well - with perhaps the exception of Christophe Egret, who keeps on smiling through the buffonery as the scheme slowly goes awry...

    If you missed it, here's a chance to watch again:

    It seems also that great minds etc as a reader has posted this comment:

    Taken together with previous weeks offering on Apethorpe Hall (EH as developer), they are classic investigative and unconsciously humorous TV. Particularly liked the squint test applied to a concrete frame when all the subtle colours of brick and fenestration had been just chucked away as if it wasn't part of the original concept. It was also interesting to see the caretaker driving around the streets in the air past what looked like sensitively restored front doors and lots of friendly residents....

    Totally baffling. Conservation Officers throughout the land must have been crying into their half pints watching that. How on earth are they supposed to explain to yer average listed building owner just why they can't rip out original windows to replace with nice, easy to maintain, modern uPVC, and why 'historic fabric' should be treasured?
    Here's the much admired PPG15, and Annexe C:
    It's worrying that an update is being prepared. Let's hope Park Hill is not the shape of things to come.
    Good news is that Caius Plinius, Being the inconsequential witterings of a builder-cum-conservation project officer has come out from the lambing shed, and has posted on his blog again:

    A reminder that the SAVE Liverpool exhibition is now in London at the gallery at Cowcross Street, if you have so far missed it at its previous two venues (one Liverpool, one London) then this is another chance to catch it.

    Triumph, Disaster & Decay from 5 - 22 May at The Gallery, Alan Baxter Associates, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ. OPEN DAY 14 May (9am - 8pm), otherwise by appointment only.
    See also:
    A reminder also from SPAB Mills' Section, of which some at the Republic are keen supporters, that it is National Mills' Weekend this weekend, May 9th and 10th:

    Good luck, too, Save Dreamland campaign, with the applications for Heritage Lottery and Sea Change funding, the most worthy of causes.

    If anyone wishes to view the latest plans for the Heritage Amusement Park (which includes the II* listed Dreamland cinema, as well as the newly listed Sanger animal cages and the Scenic Railway) and the applications here they are:

    Reminder number three that the hugely historic and rare rides at Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, are not covered by any listing; the Grand National was refused a listing for the most bizarre of reasons in 2000ish, then the Scenic was listed... with similar 'flaws'. Noah's Ark, the finest collection of 'woodies', Hiram Maxim's Flying Machine...

    If Amanda Thompson could do what she did at Southport Pleasureland and bulldoze the Cyclone woodie, and a great deal else besides, (another EH and DCMS cock up meant a last ditch campaign to have it listed was foiled) then I doubt much would stand in her way at Blackpool either if she thought she could make a faster buck.

    Rant mode off, a reminder there is a further episode of jolly japes and restoration comedy at English Heritage Friday evening on TV.

    Back soon.

Friday, 1 May 2009

A Wish for William Morris

Kelmscott Manor

One of the greatest poets of our time, UA Fanthorpe, died yesterday, age 79. Sad to think that there will be no more of her words.

Apologies to Peterloo Press for probable breach of copyright, but I loved her work and hope possibly others might enjoy it also. This seemed the most appropriate poem for this blog. Kelmscott Manor is owned and managed by the Society Of Antiquaries of London.

"To read U.A.Fanthorpe is always to enter into a gathering sense of the seriousness of poetry, of its project of recording human meaning, and, above all, of the importance of affection. "Love is so persistent, it survives/With no one's help", as one of her earliest poems ('The Watcher', p.23) points out."

A Wish for William Morris
(for Nick Bailey)

I’d have let him die here
That great lover of things
In the place he loved best.

Not graceless Hammersmith
That he healed in his book
But in the old manor,

Kelmscott by the river,
Where the bed was ready,
That he wrote the verse for,

May curtained, Jane sewed for,
With grass scent, late rose scent,
Invading the window,

Distant shouting of sheep,
A bravura blackbird,
Always his true love Thames.

The last time he came here
In springtime, in springtime,
Cuckoos whooped at seven,

Rooks and appleblossom,
Mediaeval garden,
Friend with a manuscript.

I’d have let him die then,
Saved from the wheelchair,
The hallucinations,

Blood leaping from his mouth,
Not knowing anyone.
He died in Hammersmith.

But they brought him home
In a harvest cart
Vine leaves all over

Past the house he’d found
To the church he’d saved
By his true love Thames.

O if there were justice they’d have saved him –
Twelve statues at Oxford on Mary Virgin’s spire;
Blythburgh church; Peterborough’s
Great interior; the north-west tower
At Chichester; the lock-keepers roof
At Eaton weir; a little barn
Vandalised at Black Bourton

Fights of his last three years.

O if there were justice they’d have saved him –
The tower, the Suffolk angels, the non-pareil nave,
The tower, the roof the barn – they’d have pulled him back
As he did them. And Rouen itself,
Rouen itself and little Bourton
Would have come to deliver him

But things are as they are.
It was raining. Leaves still on the lime trees,
Church ready for harvest.

William Morris died at Hammersmith on 2 October 1896. His funeral took place on 6 October, at St George’s Church, Kelmscott, Oxfordshire.

This poem is by UA Fanthorpe, from her collection Queueing for the Sun 2003. Peterloo Poets Calstock, Cornwall.