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


Examination of Witness (Questions 380 - 390)

WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2000

MR FRED TAGGART

  380. The question is that I did not know there was this difficulty with BWB because that was not in the newspaper, that was not in the Prince's visit. What you are doing is criticising BWB because of their unco-operative way with the project. I am saying that you are unco-operative when it comes to prime figures who could take an active part in this project. Why?
  (Mr Taggart) Our concern has always been to get a resolution of these issues and not to get involved in a public exchange of views with British Waterways. That is what we have sought to do. We did seek the good offices of the Member of Parliament for Wakefield who was extremely helpful. I felt that that was sufficient.

  381. On this very point, you know that we have the Calder Corridor Group who is looking after the river right from beyond Wakefield into Stanley Ferry which goes through my constituency. I am a member of that group, and yet no reference at that group was made of this issue. My concern is that here we have a problem in the area that serves my constituency with BWB, people that I meet very frequently, and I know nothing about the problems that you are expressing in your report, and I think that that is deplorable, Mr Taggart.
  (Mr Taggart) I cannot accept that it is deplorable. Our concern has always been to get a solution to this problem and we used what we considered to be the most effective avenues, which was direct discussion with British Waterways, direct approaches to the Chief Executive and Chairman, and direct approaches to the relevant Member of Parliament. I think anything more than that would have been overkill.

Chairman

  382. What you said before was that they had actually refused you meetings.
  (Mr Taggart) We had difficulties and we thought, "We want to resolve this. We want to resolve it in an amicable way", so we approached the relevant management, and they would not meet us.

Dr Ladyman

  383. I have come fresh to these issues because obviously, not representing anywhere near Wakefield, I did not know about these issues. Reading the papers that you presented and British Waterways presented, it seems to me that you can summarise it like this. You think they are philistines that are only interested in the bottom line. They think you are a dreamer who does not have a viable business plan. I shall put that to them when they give their evidence, but what evidence do you have that that you actually have a viable business plan that will lead not just to the regeneration of this area but which will be sustainable and will not require considerable amounts of public money?
  (Mr Taggart) I think there are two points there. I am flattered to be called a dreamer; first of all, I have never been called that before. Secondly, the building in Wakefield has stood empty for 25 years. British Waterways have never brought forward a proposal for its re-use. The Wakefield Waterfront Partnership have brought forward a proposal and, more important than that, have brought forward a funding package to make it work. That is supported by technical work undertaken by consultants on the whole waterfront site and by consultants who have looked at the viability of the gallery, so there is a lot of technical work and support for that position. A developer has also been found who has taken over development of the whole site. That would seem to indicate to me that it is a viable project. The City Council certainly think so, and there is a revenue stream in place to keep the gallery going so that it will not be a drain.

  384. So this package you bring forward is not just capital for the initial work; it is long term revenue?
  (Mr Taggart) A long term revenue stream to run the gallery has been identified by the City Council. The City Council has proposed to close its own gallery which contains many important works of art by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, and merge it with the gifted collection of Hepworth sculptures to form the new collection, and has devoted its current revenue budget to sustain the gallery.

  385. Where do the guarantees come from? Who takes the risk if that revenue stream you are talking about does not materialise?
  (Mr Taggart) The mechanics of setting up the gallery are currently being discussed. The indications we have from the City Council are that the revenue that they have agreed to devote for the gallery will be sufficient.

  386. Who takes the risk if that is wrong, if those guarantees are not there? Are you asking British Waterways to take the risk?
  (Mr Taggart) No. British Waterways are not being asked to take any risk.

  387. So who takes the risk?
  (Mr Taggart) The gallery will be run by a trust which is being established for the purpose which will contain representatives of the City Council and reflect an agreement between the trust and the City Council on the revenue element.

  388. Who will be the trustees?
  (Mr Taggart) The trustees will be appointed and that is to be discussed between the City Council and the Waterfront Partnership but it will be a representative trust, representing the public sector and appropriate skilled people from an arts background.

Mr Donohoe

  389. What changes would you like to see to the organisation?
  (Mr Taggart) There are a number of things that I would like to see based on my experience. This is not a review of British Waterways. This is just where we see difficulties. The most important thing is to ensure that heritage assets which British Waterways holds on behalf of the nation are removed from the hands of the operational managers and put into the hands of people who understand regeneration, who understand heritage issues, and understand property development. That might need some re-thinking about skills within British Waterways, because they do have the skills but they are not being brought to bear in an appropriate way on these sites. British Waterways should take on board the wider public benefits created by the regeneration of their heritage assets and they should take note of the Government guidance note[1] which was published by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in the summer of last year, which says that securing the highest receipt for an asset is not necessarily the best thing that they should go for but the receipt which gives the longest term economic, cultural and social benefit to the community, and that is quite clear. I would like them to do that. I think they should get some rules to govern their participation in partnerships, particularly as we are going to see more partnerships which involve community groups and which involve a wider range of people than strictly commercial ones. I do not think it is acceptable for British Waterways to sit in on a partnership which agrees a way forward and then for British Waterways to retain a veto at all stages and to continually move the goalposts. I do not think they should unreasonably withhold agreement in partnership forums or engage in the kind of property speculation that we have seen in both cases. I think they also need to be given flexibility when dealing with cultural and heritage assets in terms of the financial returns that they are seeking. They are required to seek too high a financial return. In Wakefield they were talking about 13 or 14 per cent return on capital invested on heritage assets in a city like Wakefield, which I think is going to be extremely difficult. The Government needs to give British Waterways a bit more space to be able to respond more flexibly.

  390. What additional statutory duties should they be given?
  (Mr Taggart) I do not think they need to be given any more statutory duties. I think they just need to focus more effectively on delivering the ones they have got.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Mr Taggart. That is very helpful and very clear.





1   Note by Witness: Guidance note to all government departments and non-departmental public bodies, "The Disposal of Historic Buildings", Department of Culture, Media and Sport, June 1999. Back


 
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