Commons Gate

The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration

ODPM Committee 9 Feb 2004

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Oral Evidence given by Tony Hurst OBE, Member, Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, Ms Paula Griffiths, Head of the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops' Council and Lead Officer for the CHF, and The Very Revd Peter Judd , The Dean of Chelmsford, Vice Chair, Church Heritage Forum, Peter Longman, Director, Theatres Trust; Yvette Cooper MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon Lord McIntosh of Haringey, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Government Spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Michael Seeney, Head of Architecture and Historic Environment, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Q229 Mr. David Clelland: I wonder if the witnesses would like to outline for the Committee the contribution that historic buildings make in regeneration within each of your respective areas of interest?

Mr Longman: They are large buildings, they are usually prominent, they are often in town centres, and they were built, of course, for a public purpose. Often these days they are in parts of town which are perhaps run down, particularly in the evenings, and one of the advantages of the theatre, if you get it back into use, is that it brings life back into the town at evening. The life that comes in tends not to be the disruptive element and, of course, it then helps other industries, whether they are restaurants, bars, taxis, and so on. It is less expensive to restore or modernise an existing building than to put up the equivalent new one. The London Coliseum, where the restoration is just about to re-open, will have cost about £40 million. The cost of putting up an equivalent new building to that, if you could find a site, is probably at least double that figure. The Hackney Empire is now being refurbished and re-opened at a cost of abut £15 million. The cost of an equivalent new building is at least £30 million, again, assuming you could find a site. There are examples all over Britain where theatre buildings have sometimes been brought back from the dead, as it were. The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, which is now open as the city's opera house, was finally rediscovered. It had been used finally as a bingo hall and was bought back by Edinburgh City Council with help from the Government ten or 15 years ago at a total cost of about £12 million. It is in Nicholson Street, not one of the brightest parts of Edinburgh city, so they have done a regeneration job and Edinburgh has got what is now effectively an opera house at a fraction of the cost had they had to start again. One more example is in Stoke-on-Trent. The Regent Cinema was refurbished and converted and extended into the Regent Theatre as part of a cultural quarter in Stoke-on-Trent alongside the Victoria Hall which was refurbished. Again, it is the same idea: it brings people and life back into cities outside normal hours, and of course it helps with other industries.

The Very Revd Peter Judd: Churches are often at the centre of villages, towns and cities and the regeneration that they bring is pretty clear, I think. I am thinking, for example, of one of the largest and grimmest housing estates in Salford. The vicar there had a rather run-down little Victorian church for which he got Dykes Bower, the architect for Westminster Abbey, to design a brilliant colour scheme inside. By the time he had finished it, it was an enormous morale boost to the entire community. It was one thing that stood out in this rather faceless estate, and everybody was very proud of it in the end. There are lots of examples like that. Churches are increasingly getting themselves involved in the community, opening their church halls, putting in new facilities that can enable community functions and opening themselves up much more to the community.

Q230 Mr. David Clelland: It was not so much necessarily the congregation, but the multi-use of the building?

The Very Revd Peter Judd: absolutely. I have a document here that relates to the churches in my own diocese, cataloguing all the different ways in which they are being developed and opened up to the community. They are often either using their church halls in community use or using the church itself and putting in all the necessary things, such as loos, kitchens and all the rest of it, to enable multi-function use in the community.

Ms Griffiths: I just want to add one point to that, which is that the building itself can be quite symbolic. A building in good repair in a deprived area speaks of hope and a future. A building in bad repair speaks of dereliction and oppression and so there is vicious circle and a virtuous circle very often between the state of a church building and the way in which the community feels about itself.

Mr Hurst: In inland waterways most of the historic buildings are warehouses, workshops, functional buildings which helped operate the canals in their carrying days. They have been contributing to urban regeneration for over 30 years now. On many sites they have been the catalyst that started renewal. In Ellesmere Port, for example, they had derelict docks and they were brought back because the buildings were restored and they were the focus. You can see all over the canal system that a building or a complex of buildings has been the focus for a regeneration project which has spread outwards, complemented with modern buildings, but they have changed the whole focus of city centres by having a nice old building which people associate with, they feel comfortable with, is an economic project and therefore it starts building up and acting as a catalyst for development around it.

Q231 Mr. David Clelland: What are the major sources of funding that you can draw on in order to refurbish and regenerate these buildings?

Mr Hurst: How long is a piece of string? The clever bit is to identify some funding that you can match with some other funding. You can never find a source. There is a question later on this, so I do not know whether you want to go into it now in detail, but there are problems that you have to do this mix and match and find all sorts of different funding streams and organisations who want to put a bit in to match somebody else's, but they all change the rules and the outputs keep changing, so there is an awful lot of time taken up by organisations, certainly in the waterways, and I am sure in the other spheres we are looking at, in trying to find a funding source that will generate the money to achieve the development and the reinstatement that we need.

Q232 Mr. David Clelland: But you have not actually identified any major sources of funding?

Mr Hurst: It changes. Currently you have the RDAs which are a major source. Local authorities contribute to them. There are various government funding initiatives. The Heritage Lottery, particularly in waterways, has put an awful lot of money in. It can only fund the heritage aspect of it. It cannot fund a development. European money in various forms has come in and helped, so it is a mix and match from all over the place.

Mr Longman: We would probably agree that English Heritage is not able to do as much as it was because its grant has been held, as you know, in real terms. The Heritage Lottery is doing an increasing amount to help theatres, and thank goodness it is, because we do have a fundamental problem in theatres. I talk about a theatre building needing restoring, needing building, and everybody says, "What about the Arts Council?". The Arts Council started by putting in the major part of its Lottery budget for arts buildings. It has reduced that gradually and now gives out less than one tenth of its Lottery budget each year to arts buildings. The result is that at the moment we have about £16 million a year to do all types of arts buildings throughout England and that simply is not enough. When you have the other problem that local authorities, which traditionally used to take the lead 20 or 30 years ago in helping regeneration of arts buildings, no longer have the capital resources to do that, I would say that the Arts Council policy needs to change. It is not that the money is not there. It would be good to encourage local authorities more; it would be good for English Heritage to be able to do more, but please do not turn off the Heritage Lottery Fund tap because they are being very helpful.

Ms Griffiths: For churches there is a grant scheme run jointly by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund for repairs to neglected churches and that is extremely helpful. This financial year it is offering £30 million, which is the highest amount ever, and that is great, but set against a repair need of, typically, £100 million a year for Church of England churches alone, it does not go all that far. It is a bit of an irony in a sense in that the only guaranteed funding for church buildings which comes from government or public bodies is the DCMS contribution to the Churches Conservation Trust. That is for churches which are actually closed but kept in the interests of the estate and the Church because they are seen to be of artistic and historical merit. That is three million for about 300 churches per year. I do echo the point about not turning off the Heritage Lottery Fund tap. The grants we get on repairs are helpful but they are by no means enough. We also have the benefit of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme which has enabled churches to apply for the difference between 17.5 per cent VAT and the five per cent which we have been arguing should be supported in Europe. That is extremely helpful. It is also very helpful that the Chancellor has now said that there is funding to keep that going until March 2006. Again, if you can think about a small congregation having to go through what is inevitably a bit of a hassle to make an application to get the paperwork together, it would be so much easier if there was just a simple reduction in the VAT.

Q233 Mr. David Clelland: Does it matter whether a theatre is in private ownership, in the ownership of a trust or in the ownership of a local authority, for instance? Does that make a difference?

Mr Longman: It does in practice because the Arts Council Lottery and the Heritage Lottery have traditionally made it their policy not to help theatres that are privately owned. There is nothing in legislation to stop privately owned heritage buildings, including theatres, being able to benefit from the Heritage Lottery but in practice I think it is a question of demand on the funds and also possibly the precedent that might be set because if you help one type of privately owned building there are a lot of other privately owned types of building in this country.


Q292 Mr. David Clelland: Private developers of course have got particular problems in dealing with conservation sites, have they not? They have pointed out to the Committee the difficulties they have in terms of the time, care and attention involved in these sites, and in particular the requirement to submit detailed planning proposals - planning permissions. Is there going to be anything in the Planning & Compensation Bill to reduce these burdens? It does not appear to address this area at the moment.

Yvette Cooper: We have said that in the whole Planning Bill process we want to get developers, community stakeholders and so on, involved at the beginning of the process rather than much later down the line, and that helps with this because you get the debate at a much earlier stage. You do not get the problem later on where a local authority is dealing with a plan that is six or seven years out of date, or where it does not have a plan at all and English Heritage only gets involved at a late stage in the process, when there is a whole lot of uncertainty, no-one knows which plan they are dealing with and what the heritage issues will be at a late stage. It makes life very difficult for the developer. Simply streamlining the whole process, making it much quicker for local authorities to update their plans which all of the stakeholders have been involved in at an early stage, will itself bring benefits. We are still looking at the issue about outline planning permission. Keith Hill said in the statement on 15 December that we would consider further the removal of the provision in the Planning & Compulsory Bill that abolishes outline planning permission. We are still looking at that. Obviously, we are going to have to conclude that consideration very shortly because the Planning Bill is going through the House of Lords at the moment.

Q293 Mr. David Clelland: Have you discussed these ideas with private developers, and how do they react? Do they feel you are on the right track?

Yvette Cooper: We have had a whole series of discussions with private developers and all sorts of stakeholders on a whole range of issues around the planning bill. Some of the discussions about the outline planning permission have been directly as a result of further representations and discussions with private developers. Obviously, we have still got to make final decisions on that, but certainly they have been very closely involved in a series of discussions over quite some time.


Q336 Mr. David Clelland: Lord McIntosh referred earlier to the Graingertown project, which is in my constituency.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That is why I said it!

Q337 Mr. David Clelland: It is a marvellous job. Everyone applauds the work that has been done there. However, the biggest needs in a city like Newcastle, and in other urban areas, is in social regeneration. I do not know whether Lord McIntosh is aware, but in Graingertown we had the first million pound apartment in Newcastle following the refurbishments, which may say something about the success of the regeneration. On the other hand, to some extent it feeds the criticism that physical regeneration often leads to the gentrification of an area that is in conflict with the social regeneration. Is there anything we can have from you, Minister, as to how we can bring these two areas together so that this conflict no longer exists?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It is undoubtedly a fact that if you change the character of an area completely - let us take something that was not planned like Hoxton in Hackney - that happened, and artists took over. The rents and house prices then take off, and the original inhabitants are driven out. If you do that without providing for a mix of community and a mix of different kinds of people in a regeneration area, then you will get exactly that, whether it is publicly funded or privately funded, which is a strong argument for the kind of thing that is happening in large parts of London, which is insisting that there should be affordable housing in any regeneration effort.

Q338 Mr. David Clelland: If you are in a conservation area, for instance, that is easier said than done, is it not?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, but if there is any possibility of redevelopment or change of use, then it is possible to insist on affordable housing; and if that is done then the gentrification process - I am not saying it can be wholly avoided, but it can be mitigated or slowed down.

Yvette Cooper: There is a series of ways in which you can attempt to sustain a mixed community, which is what the aim should be. Clearly, there are benefits from the existing community if people want to move back into an area, and you have different people with different levels of income and different backgrounds wanting to move into the area and helping to regenerate an area in that way. We all know some of the problems with areas of low demand where everybody wants to move out, and how devastating that can be, especially when you reach the extremes of the housing market collapse. Turning that round and bringing people in can be a huge benefit and a critical part of the regeneration process. It is certainly something in the housing renewal pathfinders that part of the plan is not only to regenerate social housing but to regenerate the private housing market and draw people back in to encourage people to want to buy houses in those areas. Inevitably, that has impact on house prices and so on if you are successful. The question is, what you can do to prevent the worst-case scenario, which is that the people who have lived there for a long time - the people whose families have been in that area for a long time - feel they are being pushed out or priced out from a regeneration programme. As Andrew said, it is easier where it is a public sector-led regeneration programme than when it is the kind of thing that just happens when you get the private-led regeneration. But even where it is privately led, as Andrew said, there is a lot you can do within the planning system in terms of insisting on levels of affordable housing within housing developments and so on, in order to support those mixed use communities. By putting the idea of sustainable development into the Planning Bill, on the face of the bill, we are reinforcing the idea that we should be developing mixed communities and not these big isolated communities. There should be mixed tenure and mixed levels of income of people living in an area, and we should be actively aiming to support that. If there is public sector investment in the programme then you have even more flexibility; you can use some of that investment in order to safeguard business premises for small businesses, for business start-ups and particularly those from regeneration areas from low-income backgrounds as well as supporting social housing in the area. The housing market renewal pathfinders have a specific remit and that is an important part of the work they are doing, so it would not be possible for them to simply go off down this track of leaving the existing community behind. Equally the growth areas have, as part of their remit, issues around affordable housing and mixed community development. In those areas where we have big investment going in and a lot of public sector involvement, there is a lot of potential to prevent the kinds of problems you are talking about, or the extremes of the problems.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Can I just add one sentence, a very sad comment? When I was Chairman of the Development Control Committee in Haringey forty years ago, the mantra was "non-conforming use" and we were driving out all the kinds of things that we want to sustain now in order to have mixed communities. I hope we have learnt that lesson.

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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