Hansard debate on the future of English Heritage

Yesterday (2nd April) a debate was held in Westminster Hall with the purpose of discussing the future of English Heritage. It is most interesting and worth a read in Hansard here, but with in specific reference to points I made on Monday about recommendations for listing made by the Farrell Review I’ve pulled the following quote:

Helen Goodman: … No doubt the Minister will tell us about the Farrell review of architecture and the built environment. There are a number of good ideas in that report, but I was not immediately attracted to the proposals on cultural heritage. Is not the proposal to make listing “less academic” code for dumbing down? The Minister is looking puzzled. He wrote the foreword to the report; he obviously has not read it. Seeking to elide the views of the Design Council with those of English Heritage is surely a way of suppressing the views of English Heritage. The report says:

“The value of our building stock is no longer just historical or architectural”.

That is very worrying. Had we had listing by public opinion polls, St Pancras railway station would have been demolished 50 years ago. It was only the sustained campaign by Sir John Betjeman that made it popular in the public mind.

2 Apr 2014 : Column 284WH

The point is that architecture goes in and out of fashion. That applies not just to modern architecture, but to views of earlier architecture. How boring it would be if London consisted only of Georgian terraces or only of the mediaeval and the modern. A place is complex and multi-layered, built over time by many generations, and all of those things should be reflected in the built environment.

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): 


The point about the Farrell review was to celebrate the fact that the artificial divide between modern architecture and heritage has dissolved. Heritage and modern architects now work a great deal in partnership, as was shown by the fact that the Stirling prize, traditionally seen as the great modern architecture prize, went to the Landmark Trust last year for a heritage building that had been beautifully restored by a modern architect. As someone who took the “brave” decision, as my officials would have described it, to list Preston bus station, I bow to no one in my homage to modern architecture, but as someone who regards Durham cathedral as one of the most magnificent structures in this kingdom, I also bow to no one in my devotion to heritage. In fact, that is what has led us here today, because I want a fantastic future for English Heritage.

How is it possible to prevent the loss of buildings which are ‘unfashionable’ without the objective academic assessment of listing? But on the other hand, how can we claim to subscribe to the ideology that heritage is based upon what the people value if we don’t also have a mechanism for public feeling to be weighed in designation decisions (of whatever form)? Can a single system do both? I would argue no. But there are positive examples of where these principles are employed.

Examples include Bristol City Council’s Know Your Place project and it’s innovative community layer, and the Welsh Archaeological Trusts’ Archwillio. Could these kinds of tools generate a crowd sourced map of value in the built environment?

An interesting debate.

It is also currently being discussed on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=5856389506713821185&gid=3297985&goback=%2Egmp_3297985#commentID_null


About Rob Lennox

Currently studying at the University of York, investigating the transition in planning-led cultural heritage policy in the last two decades. I am using this blog to share the findings I make during my research with the hope of stimulating debate and increasing understanding of the implications of government policy on the historic environment in England. In particular, my research focuses on the ways in which the public engage with archaeology and the ways in which we as archaeologists or heritage professionals construct the processes of knowledge gathering, and to what ends. I hope that through this blog other interested parties will be able to influence and be influenced by my observations and findings as they occur in real-time, and that ultimately it will contribute to the overall understanding of the heritage sector.
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