Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Grange resident retires from key post

At the age of 59, John Graham retires tomorrow after 5 years as chief executive of Historic Scotland. A civil servant for 37 years he is resident in the Grange.

Historic Scotland has its headquarters in Salisbury Place. It has certainly become leaner and fitter in recent times. For example, it turns round applications and consultations much faster. It has also become more responsive to functional and community needs.

But there is more change needed in the coming years. Its listing process and the rules it enforces carry considerable responsibility for planning blight on a number of buildings - some of which are a blot on our built environment. The derelict shell of the old Chalmers Lauriston church in Lauriston Place is one such example. The sorry sagas of delays associated with the Odeon in Clerk Street is another. Then there is the ill fated attempt to list the Appleton Tower.

It is often not appreciated that the upkeep and functional use of many listed buildings is inhibited by the shadow cast by requirements derived from the listing status. Hence the addition of a few hundred thousands to comply with Historic Scotland requirements sometimes drives away investors who wish to bring a decaying building up to standard or back into use.

Of course, in the majority of cases the listing process is a valid method of preserving what is good in our built heritage. And to be fair to Historic Scotland, they are a government agency and it is the government which needs to change their terms of reference to reduce or eliminate the more negative effects of their existence.

Best wishes to Ruth Parsons, the interim Chief Executive as she continues to move Historic Scotland forward in challenging times.


Cobble said...

There's no point in combating your opinions on the evils of listing as they're deeply entrenched. However, the dereliction of the Lauriston Place Church is no reflection on it's listed status. I know of 2 architectural pratices that designed appropriate schemes for conversion but the owners never progressed them.

And did HS really propose listing Appleton Tower? They surveyed it as part of the the George Square alterations and consulted 3rd parties but as it was part of an imcomplete scheme didn't actually propose listing.

Heritage isn't always pretty, but the Conservative version does tend to the superficial.

CR said...


Thanks for your comments.

I agree I should have been more careful in phrasing my comments on the church. My point is that there is an often hidden cost to listing because of the additional costs which often tip a building beyond viable restoration or reuse. I know there are additional factors in this case, but the schemes to which you refer, and the present regulatory framework, have neither saved the building not prevented the current blot on the landscape.

As to Appleton, this article gives some of the background: http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/edinburgh/Ugly-tower-block-to-join.2678152.jp


Cobble said...

I don't dispute that there can be higher costs in restoring historic buildings but that isn't the fundamental reason for the former church's disuse and slide in to dereliction. It's also an argument for lifting VAT on historic building projects.

Hopefully you'll be able to attend Historic Scotland's November conference on the subject of Listing post-war buildings. It may not alter your opnion but it should leave you well informed and an opportunity for you to contribute to the heritage conversation.

CR said...

Thanks for your comments.

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