Friday, 29 January 2010

Seeing red...

Picture courtesy of the Scottish Civic Trust Buildings at Risk website (click to enlarge)

Update: See also

This article caught my attention on last week's Urban Realm website:

Excellent - re-use of a handsome historic theatre/cinema building, a People's Palace, which will again become an asset to the community!

Here's further information, and a picture of the building in its prime:

the listing  on the website of the Theatres Trust:

and here the Buildings at Risk Register entry:

which details its long history, its current state of neglect, and the planning history. Prior to the latest news, planning consent had been granted to retain the facade, and build flats behind it. That permission has expired, all the plans appear to have come to fruition to rescue the building from those who have allowed its neglect, and it is reported that its future now lies in a different direction.

This  Flickr picture shows the building as it is at the moment, a sad sight:

although the attractive  exterior stonework remains  intact, and it requires little imagination to see this as once again a centrepece of its locality, brought back to life with an intelligent re-use, while at the same time giving  historical and cultural continuity to its community. Additionally, surely it is more sustainable to re-use such a building, with all the embodied energy in its stone and brick, than bulldoze and rebuild something which in all probablity won't be anything near as long lasting?  No doubt it is also possible, given how much reworking will have to be done of the damaged interior, to upgrade the building to modern standards of insulation and consider forms of renewable energy to heat it, eg ground source heating, solar panels?  If it can be achieved on buildings in the World Heritage Site of Edinburgh, see many past posts here, such as tenement buildings:

and even such a prestigious project as the  Bank of Scotland, surely it can be done in Glasgow?

...It was thought that the project was an imaginative re-working of a landmark building, combining sensitive restoration with bold intervention. The judges felt the use of modern lighting coupled with restrained interior design enhanced the spaciousness...   also praised for commitment to sustainability by using ground source heat pumps that assist heating and cooling in the building. This halves the previous energy consumption...

As reported last year:

Bid for cash could benefit Glasgow ex music hall.
28th July 2009

Communities in the East End of Glasgow are bidding to win a multi-million share of a new Government fund to improve local high streets. One of the four groups, the local regeneration agency, believe the cash could bring the ex-Olympia Theatre of Varieties back to life and transform a neglected crossroads by restoring it to its former architectural glory.

The money would allow Clyde Gateway to buy the building from its current owners and make it secure, saving it from further deterioration, then look closer at the possible options for use stating that to leave it as-is is no longer acceptable. It has been vacant for 16 years.

The £1.9m bid from the fund would fund the purchase by Clyde Gateway and then another £3.6m would be invested to start refurbishment work, with the likely use being a sports facility or office space for local businesses and services.

Ms Carlin added: "The ambition is to have public access to the building again. If it was turned into a residential development it would mean the loss of a community facility. Competition for the cash is high with the £60million fund attracting 133 bids from around Scotland totaling£125m. Source: Evening Times.

At the end of 2008: Clyde Gateway Urban Regeneration Company have since been successful in their bid for cash from the Town Centre Regeneration Fund to purchase and restore the building to public use, although exact details on that use are not yet known. Scottish Civic Trust

January 2009: Now Gateway has acquired the historic property with government support, designs are being worked up to transform the famous structure for restaurant and public use with offices above Urban Realm

A pity it will no longer house a theatre or cinema, but excellent that a creative re-use is being found and actively pursued, especally in light of this report today:

Sustainable Glasgow look back to the future with trams
29 Jan 2010

Trams and congestion charging are amongst two options being considered in a new report from Sustainable Glasgow, an initiative which aims to transform the city into one of Europe’s greenest.
Led by Strathclyde University the initiative aims to cut carbon emissions in the city by 30% by 2020 Urban Realm

However, I read on, and a small piece at the end of the Urban Realm report on the rescue and re-use of the Olympia caught my attention:

Sadly however a series of historic tenements within Dalmarnock itself will not be saved, Pritchard states that these homes fall within the Athletes Village site and are too expensive to bring up to standard.

Here is a site with photographs showing what will be lost to landfill:

and a spot of history:

As Wapedia reports:

Victorian sandstone tenements in Ardenlea Street, Dalmarnock that were originally renovated as part of the GEAR (Glasgow East Area Renewal) scheme in the late 1970s, have seen their residents systematically rehoused in recent years, thus being allowed to fall into a dilapidated state once more. They are now planned to be totally demolished as part of the 2014 Commonwealth Games athletes village masterplan by RMJM... (yes that's the RMJM of Gazprom Okhta Tower infamy, see many a past post here, and the recent employer of the disgraced banker Sir Fred Goodwin).

And of course, no new development is complete without a tower:

East One, also known as Dalmarnock Tower, is a proposed high-rise residential building in Glasgow, Scotland. As originally proposed, the tower included a hotel, and had a projected height of 180.00 metres over 55 floors, which would have made it the second-tallest building in the United Kingdom outside London, after the proposed Piccadilly Tower in Manchester (188m). However, an updated proposal submitted for outline planning permission in December 2007 shows a reduced tower of 39 storeys. The proposed tower would be built on a site in Millerfield Road, Dalmarnock, close to the site of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The tower will be accompanied by low-rise residential development

Interesting to note that some tenements are seen as more valuable to keep than others.

What is critical to creating a genuine urban environment is restoration of the Edwardian tenements further down Millerfield Road. Pre war housing should be given utmost priority for grant aid as such homes constitute the very essence of Glasgow. The tenements surviving today have done so because they were rehabilitated in the eighties and nineties, although this is clearly futile if they are subsequently abandoned. The Games carry the carrot of a sustainable future for the area, the first such opportunity in a generation.

Such mixed messages!

 So, a part of the history of  Scotland  is being erased, handsome stone tenement blocks bulldozed for an Athlete's Village? Well, see also past posts here re  the US, and the razing of a number of  important buildings for an Athlete's Village for a failed Olympic bid:

I haven't seen the figures for the claims about it not being  economic to repair; I wonder how short a term and narrow, and indeed convenient for achitect and developer, a view this is? Surely the cost to the environment of hoying all that beautiful stone, all that embodied energy, could also be considered?

And the subject, the longstanding, longrunning weeping sore, of the attempts to have the ludicrous VAT regime in this country amended, has to come into the picture?

Give or take some concessions for various situations which are small in number,  there is no VAT to pay on new buildings, yet repair of existing buildings attracts the full rate of VAT. It might not sound a great deal, but for work on the  scale of re-using large areas of tenements, the sums added to the bill will be huge. Again, we have a 'sustainability' agenda, boiler scrappage schemes, encouragement to insulate to ever hugher standards, seal ourselves in with double glazing, save energy by changing lightbulbs, but we fail to see the bigger picture.

Is this because governments are in thrall to developers of new builds? It sounds suspiciously like the powerful development industry has its ear. Or is it because it hasn't really ever considered what a harmonising or no VAT regime could bring in benefits to the existing building stock?  With a more sensible VAT regime, refurbish/retrofit  rather than raze could become far more common than it is at present.  Builders would still be required, as would architects, suppliers, developers; a change of emphasis would be better for the environment, and save so many more of our traditional and handsome buildings.   I suspect communities throughout the country would welcome such change of emphasis both for buildings in the 'public realm', and for repairs/extentions/upgradingscarried out to their own homes.

 An article worth re-reading:

For Fraser, sustainability means working with existing environments as much as it means creating new ones. Make do and mend is his mantra, and a good Scottish virtue it is too.

So I leave the last word on this to Malcolm Fraser in the Herald following the announcement of the site plans: full screen link to doc

Malcolm Fraser Tenements

And so on to further destruction.  Another unnecessary demolition has begun, a different part of the UK, Medway, Kent.  The bulldozers moved in last week to begin  razing Strood's Aveling and Porter building.

A Press Release from July 2009 gives a little history:

William Palin, Secretary of SAVE says, ‘To lose the A&P building, one of relatively few buildings of architectural merit in Strood would be a tragic waste. This is a finely detailed and stonkingly well-built  Edwardian commercial headquarters, in excellent condition and ripe for sympathetic conversion. Medway Council has the opportunity to preserve this much-loved local landmark and promote its integration within a wider development scheme. This building, with its rich history and quality of design, could be the jewel in any future scheme for the riverside. Its destruction would surely be viewed by future generations with anger and disbelief.’

There is no need to demolish the Aveling and Porter building, the building appeared sound, SAVE and Hugh Thomas had drawn up an alternative and attractive plan to incorporate it into a new development, but  razing is apparently far preferable to retaining some history and a very decent building. The craft skills with which it was built we will rarely see the like again. I bet that Strood has a sustainability policy though...

Pictures and further details of what is currently happening: full screen of Press Release below from last autumn:
SAVE Strood Press Release

An alternative plan for the building and the wider site:


The unlisted Aveling and Porter building is one of only a handful of buildings of architectural and historic significance in Strood. It dates c.1906 and was designed by local architect George Bond as the headquarters of Aveling and Porter, manufacturers of agricultural engines. The firm built its first steam engine in 1861 and went on to become the world’s leading producer of steam rollers. The firm’s handsome office building has stood as a prominent landmark on Strood riverside for over 100 years. Now, the owners, Medway Council, want to see this fine, solid and well-maintained Edwardian building destroyed to facilitate the sale of the wider site to developers.

Although currently empty, the building is in good condition and remarkably intact (all the original windows survive for example). Clearly, it is eminently capable of conversion for a number of new uses. Its waterside location, with views across the Medway to Rochester is a major attraction.

Final word from Medway's  Coun Hubbard.

Bulldozing over history, heritage and public opinion

Labour campaigners, led by Stephen Hubbard, questioned the leader of the Conservative council in March 2009. We cited the significant concerns that the Conservative Party was bulldozing over a historic asset, purely to sell the land to cover the massive black hole in the council books caused by overspending on the Chatham two-way fiasco. The leader of the council made no clear statement to support the building and it is now extremely likely that the building was be demolished. Another piece of Rochester & Strood history laid waste by a culturally moribund administration.

Local residents and the SAVE Britain's Heritage Group have suggested that whilst the majority of the building be demolished the older, historic Aveling & Porter building be retained as an historic facade and tribute to the cultural history of Rochester & Strood. The Labour Group suggested that developers may be open to the retention of the historic building as a value-add to any development or alternatively the Council could use the building for young people in Strood.

Sadly the Conservative run Medway Council does not wish share that ownership of Strood’s manufacturing heritage and is proposing to demolish all the buildings on the civic centre site in order to maximise the profit from selling the site to a developer. In May 2006 the council’s Tory Cabinet adopted a Building Height Policy that gave them the right to give planning permission, on the civic centre site, for blocks of flats between 6 to 8 storeys high - right up to the river’s edge.

£800,000 Cost to tax payer

In June 2009, it became clear that the Tories had massively underestimated the cost of the demolition of the Strood Civic Centre which was budgeted at £300,000. This figure has now doubled to £800,000.

£800,000 which could have improved all the road surfaces across Strood and still had spare to spend on a youth centre.

The Tory relocation to Gun Wharf was justified on cost grounds, but it has became increasingly clear that the £800,000 cost was a staggering financial oversight.

£800,000 which could save a primary school from closure or paid for extra teaching assistants in our classrooms.

Indeed. And what about the cost to the environment? And the historic environment? What a scandalous waste.


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