Commons Gate

The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration

ODPM Committee 26 Jan 2004

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Oral Evidence given by Chris Oldershaw, Project Director, The Grainger Town Partnership, Newcastle, Mike Burchnall, Divisional Manager Planning and Public Protection, Regeneration Directorate, Liverpool City Council and Fran Toms, Head of Cultural Strategy and Peter Babb, Head of Planning, Manchester City Council; Martin Bacon, Policy Chief Executive, Civic Trust, Dave Chetwyn, Consultations Secretary, and Eddie Booth, Chairman, Institute of Historic Building Conservation; Tom Bloxham MBE, Chairman, Urban Splash, Nigel Hughes, Planning and Estate Director, Grosvenor Ltd and Sylvie Pierce, Managing Director, Capital and Provident Regeneration.

Q35 Mr. David Clelland: You made a comment that the number of jobs generated tends to be higher on this sort of site rather than on new-build. Are you talking about jobs generated in the actual redevelopment or jobs generated afterwards in the businesses which follow? Obviously, in terms of redevelopment, you can see why there would be more jobs in that than in new construction.

Mr Chetwyn: I think these are jobs delivered by the investments. There could be elements of both but I would have to research that.

Mr Bacon: On the first part of the question, the Civic Trust takes that as a given, that successful regeneration does require really carefully attention to the historic environment. By that I mean not just buildings but also the spaces. If you look at a number of the publications that have come out over the last five to six years from BURA, English Heritage, Business in the Community and Civic Trust awards, you can see that that is a given. We are really talking about the degree to which we can make that work more successfully for local communities and for the private sector and how we can build on that record of success. As regards the ideal conditions, it is important that all the people involved in regeneration, say in a place like East Birmingham, understand what they are dealing with and that they undertake the proper surveys of what is there. So often one finds that the temptation is to dive in because of some economic problem and not really understand what you are dealing with. Secondly, what is required is openness and a debate about what is there, what can be afforded, what is needed, and a commitment to excellence, as we heard from the previous witnesses, and a recognition too that development has to pay for itself at the end of the day. There is that crucial balance between what can be kept and what can be afforded. That has to be discussed in a very open way between the development industry, the local planning authority and local people.

Q52 Mr. David Clelland: Can I go back to something Mr Bacon said a few moments ago when he was referring to community groups and I think I heard him right when he said that they do not how the money machine works.

Mr Bacon: Yes.

Q53 Mr. David Clelland: Also, in evidence, the Civic Trust have said, "Many local groups are anxious to save and restore historic buildings but cannot compete with professional, financial and development interests." Mr Bacon, could you perhaps say how community groups could play a greater part with the benefit of additional funding and how such funding could be made more accessible to community groups.

Mr Bacon: There is a range of funds for community and groups like the Civic Trust and civic societies. English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund provide some funding for voluntary community groups and both recognise in their funding the value of volunteers as value in kind in assessing grant claims. English Heritage's funding sources are very, very limited, very limited indeed, and one is hard pressed to get hold of them at the local level. The Heritage Lottery Fund is very project orientated, so you have to have a project in order to get the money for the infrastructure. It seems to me that what we could be looking at is more sustained further funding for certain voluntary groups in areas where we know through the development planning process or through RDA work or something that there is going to be a 15/20 year project of regeneration of some size and those groups could be supported in their infrastructure in order that they can make the considerable contribution that they can make through their knowledge and their understanding of how services join up at particular local level.

Q54 Mr. David Clelland: Where will that sustained funding come from?

Mr Bacon: I think it has to come from the public and private agencies involved in development. One would be surprised at what civic society and voluntary groups exist on in their budgets. I have been to the AGM and some of these bodies have £2,000 a year and they run the whole of their advocacy service and the work they do on that, so we are talking about very small sums of money. I just think that it needs a willingness of people to say, "Right, we do think you are valued, we do think that you have something to say. Can we get round a table and share with you our constraints as a developer from the funding regimes that are affecting us from the city in order that you understand our constraints as well as we understand yours" and then get that dialogue going forward. I think it is very important and that not enough of that takes place.

Q74 Mr. David Clelland: I think it would be helpful to the Committee if the witnesses were to put on record their description of the financial risks associated with work done on historic buildings and in conservation areas.

Mr Hughes: The principal financial risk is in terms of the cost of dealing with a listed building or historic building, the uncertainties that you only find once you start to do the building work. The other risks are in terms of the amount of money you have to put up front for the planning negotiations. One of the local authorities that we deal with, you now have to pay for a pre-planning application meeting before you then start to pay for the planning application itself and the amount of information that is required at the planning application stage involves a myriad of consultants that you would not necessarily always employ. Where historic buildings are concerned, also we have had a requirement to do detailed planning application for those historic buildings as part of the master-planning and again it is additional expense but also you are perhaps tying yourselves to something which you may want to reconsider at a later stage once you have completed your master-planning exercise.

Ms Pierce: I would agree with all that. I would also add that one borough we are working with does not have pre-application meetings at all. So, if you are dealing with a listed building and you have to put in a detailed planning application, they do not give you any meetings, so you are working completely in the dark and at risk. There is also the issue of planning use because, especially if you are working in buildings that have been in the public sector, they usually have a B1 use and therefore not being able to speak to the planners is pretty difficult. The last thing I would add is that one of the things I have talked about in my evidence is, if you like, the split between conservation officers and English Heritage and we have certainly had experience of having very good support from English Heritage but much less good support from a local conservation officer.

Mr Bloxham: It will always cost more than you think and take longer than you think with an old building - you can rely on that one - and then just the bureaucracy and the amount of detail and plans which you have to go through to actually get the consents.

Q75 Chairman: What scale are we talking about? What is the size of this risk against the overall cost of the project?

Mr Bloxham: For us, if we are doing a £10 million projects if it is in a conservation area or a listed building, it will cost us probably hundreds of thousands of pounds, certainly tens, extra in fees and probably delay the process by six to 12 months.

Q76 Chairman: What is the difference in delay comparative to a new build? Was that the difference in the costs that you were describing?

Mr Bloxham: Yes, the difference in the costs.

Q77 Mr. David Clelland: I suppose that another complication in this area on historic sites is the different regulatory regimes: conservation areas, listed buildings, scheduled monuments and other archaeological features. How does the existence of several regimes affect regeneration projects in which you have been involved?

Mr Bloxham: It certainly does not make them more easier and more helpful. I suppose that, in a way, we get and I will not say jaundiced about it because a historic environment is very, very important, so let us keep all this in perspective, but we know that we have to get an architectural survey done, you are going to have claims for new construction because you are going to have researchers in there photographing and digging up buildings and, with almost all the buildings, you do photographic records. The thing that we find most difficult is this hierarchical almost auction that goes on. When you are putting consent through with different interested parties; they are all very well intentioned but they are all putting pressure on the conservation officer to actually accept their point and you need a very strong conservation officer who actually says, "No, this is what is important about the building. We must keep this. The other parts are actually not vital and, for the sake of redevelopment and saving the building, let's give on those but keep that one."

Ms Pierce: I would agree with that and I would just like to give an example. We are doing a scheme in a London borough which is a mixture of new build and refurbishment of a listed building. We try to be proactive and go and talk to as many of the bodies that are involved as possible. We could not speak to the conservation officer because he does not do pre-application meetings, but we did talk to the Civic Society, local organisations and English Heritage and we received fantastic support and we chose what we thought were really exciting architects. We did all that work and then found that there was a kind of dispute in the heart of the borough because actually the conservation officer had a completely different view, and it did not matter how many letters of support we had because, in the end, we put a lot of money into working with people we thought were giving good professional advice on heritage only to fall when we finally got to speak to the planners. So, you can do your very best but actually, because the regimes do not coalesce, you only have to upset one person who has quite a lot of power and it can undo all your good work.

Q78 Chairman: Are you happy with those answers, Mr Hughes?

Mr Hughes: Yes, I am happy with those.

Mr. David Clelland: I did not hear any simple solutions to it.

Q84 Mr. David Clelland: What are the attitudes of the big institutional funders like pension schemes to heritage-led regeneration projects?

Mr Hughes: Our silence probably says it all! I cannot really comment on that one, I am afraid.

Mr Bloxham: My own experience is that people have always used finance as a reason why things do not happen. My experience in a number of different businesses is that actually finance has never been an issue and I think that, if you have a good scheme which stacks up, the financial institutions do not care an iota whether it is a brand-new building or whether it is a historic building, they simply need to see demonstration of the returns and all they are interested in are the financial returns.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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