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Reforming the listed building system

PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 1:05 pm
by Closet Classicist
Howdy folks! After articles in both the Herald and the Evening Times last week regarding Steve Inch, the new director of Glasgow's Regeneration and development department, concerns vis a vis rapidly deteriorating historic buildings in the Merchant City (Britannia Music Hall got a name check) last week:

I got on my high horse and dispatched another epistle to the Herald which was published today:

This was something we at the AHSS were coincidently having a debate about last week, partially prompted by Elgin Place Congregational Church's demolition and just general concerns about the listing process not working. Steve Inch's comments struck a cord. So I thought it might be worth opening it up to the floor. Do you think that listing buildings saves them, or does it just condem them to a long decline? Is the system we have in place at the moment working or does it need reformed?

This is the original letter as that link will stop working in a day or so:

Letters to the Editor
The Herald
200 Renfield Street
Glasgow, G2 3QB

Dear Sir

It was interesting to read Glasgow City Council’s regeneration director Steve Inch’s comments concerning the deterioration of some historic buildings in the Merchant City and that urgent action is needed to save them. We at the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland share his concern.

This issue has already been highlighted in the recent City Plan where it is stated that there are 450 buildings in the city centre with vacant upper floors. Glasgow City Council estimates that the accumulative under-utilised floor space is approximately 3.2 million square feet. That is an astonishing figure. To put it into perspective the Freedom Tower, the replacement building for New York’s World Trade Centre, which will be the tallest building in the world when it is complete, contains around 2.6 million square feet of accommodation. Is this floor space being maintained?

What bothers us about this is not the issue of preservation per se but rather what the townscape implications are. Steve Inch is correct when he states that there are buildings which if not refurbished will start to decline rapidly. We have already seen building collapses in Candleriggs, and the loss of the Greek Thomson warehouses in Watson Street. These could be the early symptoms of a larger underlying problem resulting from years of cumulative neglect.

If you view the city as the repository of a society’s culture and achievements then we risk losing a lot that is of value. Glasgow, with its grid structure, is unique amongst British cities. But if we do not act now the dense urban matrix, that gives the city centre its special quality, could be eroded. To get a glimpse of the potential urban future that awaits us, one need only take a walk along Bath Street or Jamaica Street. Neither of these streets reflects well on Glasgow at present, and an attractive urban environment is a prerequisite if we wish to continue to attract both the tourist revenue and the inward investment the city needs to regenerate.

Also all this seemingly redundant space is in itself wasteful. These buildings contain considerable embodied energy. How sustainable is it to simply let them decay? And we don’t have to perceive this space in a negative way. As urban commentators such as Jane Jacobs have shown an abundant supply of cheap second hand space can assist the economic growth of cities. This kind of robust accommodation can be a useful first nest for young start up companies that need a centrally accessible location. It can also help other urban pioneers such as artists or wannabe rock stars as Franz Ferdinand and their ‘Chateau’ aptly demonstrates. Furthermore much of our Victorian office and warehouse stock has proved adaptable to housing. Glasgow City Council officials have already suggested such a potential solution.

While Glasgow City Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Enterprise Glasgow are to be commended for their investment of £3.1 million on measures to improve the Merchant City, the reality is that this is going to be spread rather thin. We think that given the scale of the problem it is unfair to rely solely on local agencies to find the answers. Perhaps what is needed is a re-think at a national level?

It is arguable that fiscal policy, which since the Second World War has promoted new build over maintenance of our existing stock, needs reformed. The establishment of a level VAT playing field would help matters considerably. The architect Richard Rogers has already aired this view in an attempt to influence government policy and thereby start an urban renaissance. Frustratingly, with the sole exception of scrapping VAT on listed churches, the treasury has so far resisted biting.

Much of the stock in the Merchant City will be listed, and that may be part of the problem. Many owners see the listing process, with its increased restrictions and costs, as a hindrance to a return on their asset. However, if the flip side to this process could be the rewarding of a zero rating for VAT on maintenance would this not go some way towards changing this perception? Only then might you release the long term rolling investment required to bring this stock back into everyday use. Given their age and cultural significance many of these buildings have already won their spurs. Maybe it is time we gave them a break?

Yours sincerely

Niall Murphy
AHSS Caseworker

PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 2:06 pm
by crusty_bint
David Martin wrote:The following are approx figures:

Population of Scotland: 5 million
Buildings in Scotland: 2 million
Listed buildings in Scotland: 40,000 = 0.02% of all buildings in Scotland

Best conservation practice is applicaple to roughly 5-10% of listed buildings.

Another interestig letter there CC. My answer to your question is yes, yes the listing process is in dire need of reform. As it stands at present with the VAT system, the beaurocracy and Historic Scotlands somewhat ultra-orthodox stance on conservation techniques and principles there is a real dis-incentive to maintain and re-use historic/listed buildings.

As the figures above show, the ratio of historic to modern structures in our built environment is tiny, and ever-depleting. This isn't helped by the fact that all listed buildings are expected to be treated in the same manner i.e. minimal intervention. Im not knocking this principle, as I believe it would be the ideal, in an ideal world, but financial constaraints on the owners of such properties mean that all too often these buildings are left to fall into the sorry states of repair that we see throughout Glasgow (and the rest of Scotland). And more often than not, owners of these buildings have the desire to preserve what they have but are unable to carry out basic consolidatory wprks due to the red tape and cost involved.

As discussed on the SkyScraperCity Glasgow forum, judging each building on its own merits would be a more suitable sytem for our financial and socio-political climate. But this worries me also. Take the Murray Dunlop proposal for Clyde St as an example, I love the proposal, and think GMAD have produced something that would enhance the area, but it worries me that this building is to replace part of a listed terrace when there are so many gap-sites scattered throughout the city centre. There is a huge rift between disciplines at present, and I dont just mean Architects vs Conservationists, there appears to me to be a real inter-disciplinery lack of understanding beteween Architects, Planners, Conservationists, etc. This is only something that can be resolved if all parties have the desire to do so.

Crux of tha matter, I dont have the answers but levelling the VAT playing field would be a great start!

Crusty :D

PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 4:09 pm
by Fat Cat
GCC own the majority of buildings around the Merchant City.

If they sell them for development, they'll make a fortune.

If they let them get into a state is disrepair, then it's easy to say, "oh, it dangerous, we must pull it down"

Then we can look forward to lego-style flats selling for £250K a pop.

Paddy's Market did not have it's license renewed. Could this be because of the more affluent resident now taking up residence around this area. I know it was a dump, but it was never a problem before, was it.

Next building to go. The one in the Trongate next to the Tron with the council flats in it.

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 9:15 pm
by escotregen
Closet I did pop a letter into the Herald following on from yours... but my name clearly does not hold the same sway as yours :) . I agreed with the letter and praised the lack of blame-allocation or histrionics in what you said. I went on to say that the Planning Approval and Building Development Control system urgently needs updating to lessen the adversorial tendencies. As the system stands, it set up developers and agencies against the all the other parties in a pointless 'good versus evil' battle on individual developments. There is a lack of opportunity in the existing system for productive (but robust) discussions between countervailing interests that could better encourage a sense of partnership or at least compromise.
There is also a need for a statutory duty to be placed on Local Authorities to act as facilitators. As part of this they would be required to act proactively in holding records on listed buildings and on how their own Approval and Control policies would affect types of development proposals on specific buildings. Consequently, purchasers or developers would be advised at the outset of the true status and worth, and onorous responsibilities of a listed building. On the other hand, 'other relevant interested parties' could register their interest in being advised of any change in ownership or development proposals affected a listed building. All parties would be better informed, and at an early enough stage to allow scope for willing minds to work together on proposals. Meantime the effectiveness and impact of a Local Authorities policies would be much more open to public accountability from all parties.
Alongside this facilitator duty, Local Authorities would be expected to take a step back from direct ownership or attempts at 'micro-managing' development proposals. It may also be appropriate to bring in legislation requiring a Local Authority to release historic buildings that they own but have no realistic prospect of having funding to maintain or develop in ways that respect the heritage value.
There are some exciting posssibilities rattling around Scotland on local communities purchasing buildings and land under the terms of the Community Ownership Act (don't know if I've got the right title there; the one that was aimed at island or rural communities buying out their big estate landlords).


PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 8:11 am
by Closet Classicist
Thanks for your post escotregen been meaning to get back to you. No sign of your letter in the Herald alas! Things are looking up though. Got a letter at the weekend from the Scottish Stone Liason Association who revealed that they have complied a report on the condition of 200 properties in the city centre for Glasgow City council and Scottish Enterprise Glasgow so there is obviously a high level awareness of this. Anyway this article appeared in the Herald this morning with a quote from our very own Councillor Hanzala Malik no less:

Greater use of the council's existing powers and cumpulsory purchase to force owners to do something... Will the big stick approach work?

PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 9:25 am
by escotregen
The article in the Herald was good news indeed. I think that CPOs are only a small part of the answer. I would prefer to see the Council making use of its existing powers before we go giving them more. After all, it seems from some of the recent disaster demolitions the problem was inadequate (maybe even innappropriate or inept) use of existing powers. My view on CPOs is based on my experience in the 90s in the tenement rescue and rehab business. Unless the Local Authority has its own resources to do something with an acquired property or has a ready purchaser, it will not want to take on the burden of ownership. Moreover, I think that part of the Thatcherite anti-local government legislation made it illegal for local authorities to CPO unless they had their own resources or a ready buyer. Another problem is that as soon as there is any hint of the CPO process starting, the owner/proprietor need only to get a couple of labourers carry out some nominal supeficial work and thereby be able to 'demonstrate good intent' and scupper the CPO process.
Despite my reservations I think we have to offer acknowledge and support to the Council for what it's saying at least. I'm also one of those people who respects Steve Inch and I think his appointment was a plus for Glasgow.
On the Stone Liaison Group (are they the ones that made the play 'The Stone Tapes :) ) they seem to have gone through some sort of re-birth and become more active (or were they formed more recently than I think?
I also noticed in the Sunday press that CTB-ConstructionSkills is recruiting a 'Heritage Training Advisor' to maintain a focus across the full range of building and conservation work on historic buildings. The post holder will cover England, Scotland and Wales. A bit of a stretch but wouldn't it be great if somebody from HG, like Crusty, or Turbo!, got such a post.
All in all, some hopeful developments.

PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 11:08 am
by crusty_bint
I remember 3 years ago when the Council first announced the Stone Liason Groups survey was to be carried out and the numbers seem to be pretty much what everyone was expecting. Here's hoping this report will be the catalyst that gets something happening!

I have my reservations about the use of CPO's by the Council though. As Ed points out, without these orders being backed up with funding/resources or a buyer willing to carry out any works required it could all be futile: take the St Vincent St Church for example. However, this could also have a positive impact on the current situation if negligent owners of listed buildings are threatened with new and improved Council powers. Not sold on this entirely I must admit.

With regards to the VAT legislation, was this a post-war or Thatcherite instigated policy? Would the Council not make better use of its correspondance with the Executive in bringing the issue to the fore? I wonder what Prince Charles' stance on this is? (hehe)

Have to admit though, with each loss I become increasingly cynical, I even find myself supporting GM&ADs Unicorn tower proposal for the replacement of parts of the Clyde St terrace because i know (I just frikkin know) that if its refused consent, some developer is going to come along in 5 years, have the buildings declared unsafe and build whatever they like!

The Herald wrote: Agree a programme for publicising buildings at risk in Glasgow comprising website, register and publicity literature.

Could this form part of HG's "new role"; a subject I'm reluctant to return to (I have my reasons... they know who they are)?

PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 11:11 am
by crusty_bint
escotregen wrote:I also noticed in the Sunday press that CTB-ConstructionSkills is recruiting a 'Heritage Training Advisor' to maintain a focus across the full range of building and conservation work on historic buildings. The post holder will cover England, Scotland and Wales. A bit of a stretch but wouldn't it be great if somebody from HG, like Crusty, or Turbo!, got such a post.

Hmmmm.... whats the pension like? ::):