2012 news articles

2012 news articles

St Anywhere or St Albans? – a passionate speech to HRH The Prince of Wales

This is Vanessa Gregory’s speech given at the reception held at St James’s Palace State apartments on Tuesday 1 May 2012: 

Ladies and Gentleman  

My name is Vanessa Gregory; I am proud to be a resident of St Albans. In fact I am at least a 5th generation Albanian.

St Albans is about 20 miles north of London, via Watling Street, the Roman equivalent of the M1, although settlements here predate the Romans. Our built environment reflects for centuries that we were the first overnight coaching stop on route from London.  We are also a place of pilgrimage. Our wonderful Cathedral (known locally as The Abbey) stands over the place where Britain's first Christian martyr Alban, was buried.

I recall even as a child of seven, a sense of wonder and privilege, that from my street I could face in one direction to the green fields of Gorhambury, and yet have the city centre within five minutes walk – a distinction between town and country that still exists today.  

Equally I have a passion for the work of The Prince’s Foundation.  25 years ago, I watched His Royal Highness’ pioneering TV documentary, “A Vision of Britain”.  I recall how his fervent well articulated pleas chimed with something deep within me.  St Albans character had been gradually chipped away, and His Royal Highness was certainly not alone in believing in the importance of providing architecture that had resonance with local people. 

Just over 3 years ago I met and listened to James Hulme from The Foundation at an Historic Towns Forum conference.  He explained how The Prince of Wales' vision had evolved into The Prince’s Foundation. Their work, he explained, reconciled the professional practice in planning and development, with the often seemingly conflicting views held dear by local people. We tend to approach planning, with views that stem from the heart and local knowledge and dare I say it, common sense, rather than just stark rationality.  

I could hardly wait for the lunch break when I waylaid him, and left him in no doubt that I intended to find a way, somehow, for The Foundation to work with the community in St Albans, before our city centre was further damaged.

I must pay tribute to James, as he has consistently encouraged and helped me in this ambition.

My deep concerns were that parts of our Civic Centre redeveloped in the 1960s, when modern architecture of the day was most dominant, were ready to be torn down yet again.

Planning applications were starting to come forward and were met by alarm and frustration from residents.  I have to confess, I have literally cried in our council chamber, when applications have been given approval, which many of us knew were wrong for our city. Very few seemed to have any architectural merit.  We appeared set to make the same mistakes again.  Many proposals could have been, as one resident said, for St Anywhere not St Albans! 

Therefore I was absolutely overjoyed and relieved when recently I and the whole community in St Albans worked with The Foundation, on our collaborative initiative called, ‘Look! St Albans, Inspired by the past – picture your future’.

Through our civic society we formed a city centre steering group, of which I am proud and honoured to be a part. Our one aim was to facilitate the Look St Albans initiative and encourage all the community in taking part in our venture.  We felt design codes would offer a clear and yet flexible tool to enable developments to take place.  Our aim was not to stop development, but to set the bar that was acceptable to the whole community, and would prove durable!

We certainly were not passive in this process. We promoted, advertised and funded the hosting of the community’s events. Our local newspaper The Herts Advertiser provided us with immense support, carrying a special feature each week on our progress.

We asked everyone to take photos of aspects of our city that inspired them and they found appealing. To enable anyone to join in we set up our web presence on the photo sharing website Flickr. 

The work was intense; the team from The Foundation were utterly inspiring with their hard work and encouragement.  It was a totally exhilarating experience.  For once we actually felt we could make a difference, right from the start.

Helpfully I feel the council's Chief Executive recently said of our Look St Albans project; “This is exactly the sort of community initiative that the council’s members and I want to see…. We look forward to the project’s recommendations and working closely with the steering group to make them a reality.” 

The report co-authored by The Foundation and the community will be presented this month.  With the community spirit that has so far been engendered, there is a very strong desire to carry on our work to complete the design codes.

I hope I have given you a flavour of why I am so immensely proud to have been a part of this project.  My joy has been to see people who were hesitant to take part, blossom.  New friendships have been made, contacts established and working relationships cemented.

However most of all my beloved St Albans now stands a chance of being shaped by those who care most, us, the community.

We in St Albans are very grateful that our initiative has been partially funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government ‘Communities and Neighbourhoods in Planning’ programme.

My fervent hope is that people like me, in other communities, who care just as passionately as I do are given the opportunity to work with The Foundation, so they too can be inspired by their past and picture their future!

Thank you

Find out more about the Look! St Albans community intiative

Removing zero rate VAT = removing incentive to protect historic buildings

By removing the zero rate of VAT on alterations to listed buildings, the Government is making it harder to protect our heritage. According to English Heritage research, half the people who live in listed buildings are in lower socio-economic groups. The VAT relief on alterations is usually the only incentive available to care for our historic buildings.

Alterations to listed buildings require specialist craft skills, and the type of work allowed is carefully controlled through listed building consent. This increase will cause real damage to our heritage and be a further brake on the economic recovery.

Say NO to VAT on work on listed buildings - sign the petition

See the response from 15 organisations including the Historic Towns Forum to the HMRC consultation - ‘VAT: Addressing borderline anomalies’.

HTF Chair addresses 2012 China-UK Cultural Heritage Forum

HTF Chairman Debbie Dance visited China as the guest of the British Council to speak at the 2012 China-UK Cultural Heritage Forum in Zhouzhuang, China. This was the first international heritage conference, with UK representatives joining Chinese policy-makers, scholars and practitioners to exchange their experience in practice, government policy-making, cultural industry development and involving young people in heritage protection. The delegation was led by Professor Ruan Yisan of the Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation, who has visited the UK on a number of occasions.

Debbie Dance delivered the keynote speech on ‘Heritage and Tourism’ highlighting the contribution heritage and historic towns make to the UK economy. Tourism contributes £97 billion 9.8% GDP, in which heritage plays a significant role, being the reason for 2/3rd of visits to the UK, and with over half of all city visits being heritage linked. Debbie, who is Chief Executive of Oxford Preservation Trust, used Oxford Castle as a Case Study for investment in heritage. http://www.oxfordpreservation.org.uk/projects/castleyard

Six other UK speakers from recognised heritage organisations also spoke including Kersten England, Chief Executive of York City Council, and representatives from the International National Trust and others.

Debbie says “The opportunity for each of our countries to talk together and to meet as individuals to share experiences was invaluable. This visit was an ideal opportunity to compare and contrast culture and heritage and learn from best practice from across the world.” A delegation from China will visit Oxford in the Autumn.

Read Debbie's paper on Balancing Tourism and Heritage - a UK perspective

HTF invites professionals working in the historic built environment to join the membership

The Historic Towns Forum (HTF) invites professionals from all sectors working in the historic built environment to join the membership.

It is an excellent opportunity for members to exchange ideas and information with leading players from within the sector.

The Historic Towns Forum’s mission is to promote the prosperity and heritage of historic towns and cities.  Its work is rooted in the recognised value of heritage assets to social, economic and environmental well-being.

It is the only UK-based organisation which represents all professional disciplines and sectors working in the historic built environment by identifying and sharing good practice.

The Historic Towns Forum:

  • Supports and offers guidance to practitioners in their work and professional development opportunities
  • Identifies and shares good practice in matters affecting the historic environment
  • Supports members in delivering corporate objectives and achieving sustainable communities

HTF welcomes Members from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. HTF’s Membership categories have been carefully defined to reflect the needs and resources of those who would benefit from Membership. The categories are:

  • Local Authority
  • Corporate
  • Associate
  • Civic & Amenity Society
  • Community, Town & Parish Council
  • Individual
  • Reciprocal 
  • Honorary

Why join HTF:

  •  Access to a strong network of like-minded professionals supporting your work
  • There is strength in numbers when it comes to lobbying Government and other decision makers
  • Promote your work and achievements
  • Discounts on conferences, seminars, publications and free publication downloads
  • Opportunities for professional development
  • Regular e-newsletters    
  • Full access to the resources on the HTF website including guidance documents and members directory

Annual Membership fees start at just £50 (per annum - members joining during the year will be charged a pro-rata fee).

To join please visit www.historictownsforum.org/join or call 0117 9750459 if you have any questions.

Apply now for the English Heritage 2012 Heritage Angel Awards

The search is on to find winners for this year's English Heritage Angel Awards. The annual competition was founded last year by Andrew Lloyd Webber to reward the efforts of local people in saving their heritage. The Telegraph is media partner for the awards. This year’s Angel Awards will be bigger and better and will include Grade II buildings and sites which have been at risk.

You can apply for yourself or nominate others find out how to apply

English Heritage examines crime to historic buildings crime

The first comprehensive survey on the effect of crime on England's historic buildings and sites, commissioned by English Heritage, has been released. The survey shows a worrying rate of damage. Read more

On the survey’s release Heritage Minister John Penrose showed his concern:

"This survey makes for depressing reading. When historic buildings and sites fall victim to vandalism, damage and theft, it's not just the owner who suffers. Very often the thing that's been stolen or damaged is literally irreplaceable, and the whole community is the loser.

"So I pay tribute to English Heritage for drawing everyone's attention to this problem, and for the work they - along with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service - are doing to help combat it."

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage commented:

"The figures are alarming, particularly for our churches. Whilst heritage assets are not necessarily being targeted over other places, save perhaps for their valuable materials and artefacts, they are suffering a substantial rate of attrition from crime nonetheless.

"Damage done to a listed building or an archaeological site can often not be put right and centuries of history will be lost forever. These places have an obviously high value to society. Their particular vulnerability warrants every effort to ensure they are still around for future generations to enjoy just as much as we enjoy them now."

Planning Aid England now funded to end of July

Planning Aid England’s contract under the Supporting Communities and Neighbourhoods in Planning fund which supported community outreach work concluded on 31 March 2012.

However, DCLG has since formally agreed a four month continuation to their grant to the RTPI under the Supporting Communities and Neighbourhoods in Planning scheme. The grant period has now been extended until 31 July 2012, and the focus of the work has been modified to reflect the final provisions of the Localism Act and in light of the new Neighbourhood Planning powers that have come into effect.

The DCMS red tape challenge

Those with a stake in the sport, heritage, gambling and lottery industries now have a chance to declare war on the rules and red tape that are holding back their growth and stifling their chances of success.  These industries will be able to name and shame the regulations they want to see scrapped, through an easy-to-access website:  http://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/home/index/

Ministers and government officials will use this information to help them cut the right regulations in the right way.

Planning departments finance supplemented by voluntary fees

Westminster City Council has raised more than £400,000 to plug a shortfall in its planning department's finances by charging the developers of major schemes extra fees in return for agreed timetables for when their applications will be processed.

Worried about the threat posed to the council's planning service by budget cuts and the extended delay to government plans to let councils set their own fees, the council agreed a series of planning performance agreements (PPAs) with developers. These deals see developers of major projects pay the council a voluntary fee of £26,000 in return for the council committing to a timetable for determining the application and to meet with the developers to overcome issues that arise.

The added income has helped the council's planning department meet its budgetary shortfall, fill vacant posts and keep on staff at risk of redundancy.

On the subject of council’s setting their own planning fees the Government has been urged to come to a decision. In response to last month’s budget and launch of the NPPF Faraz Baber, director for policy, London First, said

“They [the councils] will however need resources to allow them to deal with the responsibilities that the NPPF, the community infrastructure levy and neighbourhood planning will bring. It’s important that the government comes forward with a decision about whether to let councils set their own planning fees. The private sector needs to be able feel confident that the public sector has the resources to deliver for them.”