Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 360 - 379)

WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000

MR FRED TAGGART

Chairman

  360. Mr Taggart, may I welcome you most warmly. I apologise for keeping you waiting. It is quite unforgivable. Perhaps you would not only identify yourself but also tell us whether you have some general remarks.

  (Mr Taggart) Thank you very much, madam Chairman. My name is Fred Taggart. I am the Director of an initiative called Regeneration through Heritage which was established originally by Business in the Community (which is a charity) at the request of its President, the Prince of Wales, to promote the re-use of heritage industrial buildings for contemporary purposes and to assist community groups and not-for-profit partnerships to develop proposals for specific buildings. We were initially funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and we are now part of the Prince of Wales's Foundation for Architecture.

  361. That is very helpful; thank you very much. You were very critical in your evidence about Sowerby Bridge and Wakefield and British Waterways' involvement. What were the main problems there?
  (Mr Taggart) You will have received some documentation which set out some of the difficulties. I would just like to make clear that those documents were not written by me, they do not reflect my personal views; they were written by the two projects. Indeed, the description of events at Wakefield was prepared by officials at Wakefield City Council.

  362. You are not suggesting that it is not the view of your organisation?
  (Mr Taggart) No, no. We share it. I just want to make it clear that it is not just my view.

  363. Do you think those main difficulties have now been resolved?
  (Mr Taggart) There are a number of difficulties. I do not think it is necessary to go into details of projects but there are some general themes which have emerged which probably have wider applicability and interest. Our criticism of British Waterways, based on four years now of working with them on these two projects, is that they lack an appreciation of the value of the heritage assets which they hold for the nation and their significance for the communities in which they are located, and have no sense of urgency about maintaining them or bringing these buildings back into use. We also feel that British Waterways in these cases have lacked a strategic vision for the regeneration of the sites in which their buildings are located. It is quite evident that their representatives have no clear objectives for the regeneration of both sites and therefore their position is constantly changing. In particular they fail to understand that the Barbara Hepworth Gallery which is proposed for Wakefield, is the catalyst to create a whole new cultural quarter for the city which will change the image of the city and lead the regeneration of the city. As such it is absolutely critical for the future development of Wakefield. Generally we feel that they do not appreciate the wider public benefits of the schemes that we are involved with. We certainly have identified what we feel are difficulties within British Waterways' internal structures. It is hard for me to comment because I have not studied it in detail, but from our contact there does appear to be an overlap between the commercial section, which deals with the property portfolio, and the operation section which deals with running the waterways. The operations section represents British Waterways on the Wakefield project and we have surveying and valuation staff representing them at the Sowerby Bridge project. With all due respect to the professional competence of those individuals in their jobs, our conclusion is that they have failed to see the big regeneration picture and therefore their agenda is not the agenda of the partnership as a whole. We do have a very strong criticism to make of British Waterways' failure to participate in the partnership approach which we know is a very high priority for the Government. The Government wants to see regeneration led by partnerships. Partnerships do exist between British Waterways and property developers. We are talking about wider partnerships which involve the local community, local business interests, local organisations, and those are a slightly different animal. We do feel that in both cases British Waterways is not committed to the partnership approach, does not sign up for the objectives and retains a right of veto throughout. That makes it very difficult to progress schemes. As you will know from my evidence, we have great concerns about what we perceive to be a lack of management control of their officers at the local level. We have not been happy with the way some things have been dealt with.

  364. I think we have understood that, Mr Taggart.
  (Mr Taggart) But we have been unable to have that matter addressed by British Waterways' senior management. We have sought meetings with the Chief Executive and the Chairman which were refused. For partnerships, which are significantly representative bodies including local authorities and major players who have invested and indeed secured substantial amounts of money for both projects, when they are not happy I do not think it is an adequate response to refer them back to the people who are basically the people who the partnerships feel are not doing the necessary job.

  365. Do you think that is indicative of the sort of problem throughout the organisation? It is not just a local difficulty? You feel that this is indicative of the sort of problem you have faced elsewhere?
  (Mr Taggart) I think that would be a very sweeping statement for me to make. I have only really had extensive experience of these two projects and I would not make a sweeping statement like that.

  366. So you do not have any evidence of the same kind of problem some of your colleagues having had anywhere else?
  (Mr Taggart) I have not looked for it. I have been concerned with these two projects. I would say that the criticisms I have just made do point to systemic dysfunctions in the organisation so I would not be surprised if we found that other people were having the same problems.

Mr O'Brien

  367. Mr Taggart, you refer to a wider partnership. Does that include MPs?
  (Mr Taggart) No, it does not include MPs.

  368. Why not?
  (Mr Taggart) The local people felt that they did not want to—

  369. Who were the local people who felt that?
  (Mr Taggart) The people who were invited to establish the partnerships, which were by invitation. A list was prepared in consultation with the local authority of all the local people who might possibly be involved in that, and that includes local councillors, it includes civic societies, SRB companies,—

  370. And they said they did not want MPs involved?
  (Mr Taggart) I do not think they considered it and I think MPs have been involved and have visited the sites and been shown round.

  371. Who were the MPs?
  (Mr Taggart) The MP for Sowerby Bridge is Alice Mahon—

  372. She is not a Wakefield MP.
  (Mr Taggart) No, but she is the Member of Parliament for the Sowerby Bridge project. David Hinchliffe is the Member of Parliament for Wakefield—

  373. There are four MPs in Wakefield.
  (Mr Taggart) David Hinchliffe is the Member of Parliament within whose constituency the project sits.

  374. Yes, but in your evidence you say this is a wider district project, not just for the city.
  (Mr Taggart) I think I was referring specifically to the city of Wakefield which is the constituency—

  375. Is it for the city of Wakefield or the district of Wakefield?
  (Mr Taggart) I think the benefits will accrue to the whole district.

  376. That is right, and there are four MPs in the district, so why do you say that MPs were not invited?
  (Mr Taggart) I do not think it was a conscious decision not to invite them. I think it was a matter of establishing a partnership with the people most directly connected with the site, and of course the local authority represents the entire district, and the key chair is the leader of the Council who have been closely involved in this.

  377. Were you interested in inviting MPs, Mr Taggart?
  (Mr Taggart) If I thought that we could get a Member of Parliament to spare the time to attend all the various meetings—

  378. Were they invited, Mr Taggart?
  (Mr Taggart) They were not invited to be members of the partnership.

  379. That is right, and so how can you say if they could spend the time to take an interest in this? We are here now taking an interest in it. I represent a constituency in Wakefield, sitting on this Committee, and I knew nothing about this until I got the papers. Do you say that that is proper? You are criticising British Waterways Board. Let us have some facts, Mr Taggart.
  (Mr Taggart) You certainly can have some facts. This is not a secret. It has had extensive coverage in the local newspaper, in the Council's civic publication, it has been the subject of a Royal visit. It has been on all the media. I am really very surprised that you do not know anything about it.


 
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