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

Memorandum by Regeneration Through Heritage (IW 73)


  Regeneration Through Heritage (RTH) is an initiative established at the request of HRH The Prince of Wales to promote awareness of the potential which heritage industrial buildings have for contemporary economic, social and cultural uses, and to assist community organisations and not-for-profit community-based partnerships develop proposals for the re-use of particular buildings in areas with high levels of economic and social need. RTH was initially funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is currently funded by English Heritage and private sector business sponsors. Originally located in Business in the Community, RTH is now part of the Prince's Foundation for Architecture and the Urban Environment.

  Since 1996 RTH has been supporting two projects in West Yorkshire located in buildings owned by British Waterways:

    —  the Navigation Warehouse and Wakefield Waterfront Project; and

    —  the Salt Warehouse and Number 4 Warehouse Project at Sowerby Bridge Canal Wharf.

  Formal local partnerships have been established for both projects of which BW has been a member from the outset.

  In Wakefield, the Partnership has spent three years developing a robust strategy for the entire Waterfront and has incurred a cost in excess of half a million pounds. The Warehouse, which was built in 1790 and been vacant for nearly 30 years, has been upgraded to Grade 2*, previously unlisted mills are now listed and the entire area declared a Conservation Area. The Strategy rests on the adaptation of the Warehouse to house a collection by Barbara Hepworth, who was born in Wakefield. The Collection, to be gifted by her Trustees, will merge with Wakefield Council's own collection of works by Hepworth and Henry Moore, who was also born in the District, to create a Gallery of international significance. Together with developments for water-based recreation and a hotel this will generate the visitor footfall and investment necessary to regenerate the whole Waterfront. It will be a classic example of heritage-led regeneration. Independent consultants have tested the strategy and a developer has been appointed who has undertaken considerable preparatory technical work. The proposal to house the gallery in the Warehouse has also been examined by separate specialist consultants and the alternatives evaluated. It was recommended as the preferred location and judged feasible.

  In Sowerby Bridge, the Partnership agreed on a strategy for the Wharf that would conserve its historic character, retain existing businesses, build on its potential for water-based recreation and create an environment attractive to visitors and high-value new businesses. To do this would require the regeneration of the 18th century Salt and No. 4 Warehouses, which sit in the centre of the basin and are largely vacant. It was proposed that the key existing businesses, which operate from adjoining buildings on site, would buy out the private company which held the head lease from BW on the two warehouses and other buildings on site. BW, in order to facilitate the proposals for the two warehouses, would then restructure the lease terms, to secure this investment and other investment by these businesses in buildings elsewhere on site. On this understanding the key tenants bought out the remaining lease from the head leaseholder for around £100,000. Calderdale Council, with English Partnership and SRB money, then built an access road and carried out lighting and car park improvements. English Heritage approved a Conservation Area Partnership scheme, to which the key tenants also contributed match funding, for other buildings on site. The Partnership funded a consultant to undertake the necessary technical work on the two key warehouses and the wharf as a whole. Almost £1 million has been either spent or secured for the project to date but the bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund has failed.

  Although British Waterways, as owners of these buildings, have been partners in both projects from the beginning, and party to all the key decisions, it became evident early last year that they were not as committed to the Partnership approach as we had thought. Indeed, as work on the development of both projects proceeded it became clear that they were moving from a position of regarding their buildings as liabilities, which could best be addressed within the framework of our Partnerships, to one where they perceived them as having an independent value. Obviously we would like our initiative to increase the value of the properties but to do this it is necessary for all the participants to adhere to the agreed common strategy if benefits are to be shared equitably. We felt that BW was willing to thwart the strategies in order to pursue and maximize their own independent gain at the expense of others. Both projects effectively stalled.

  To bring matters back on track the Chairman of RTH, Sir William Castell, in June 1999, sought a meeting with the Chairman and then the Chief Executive of BW. Both declined to hear our representations. In November 1999 I eventually met their Commercial Director and Regional Director and hoped they had moved to a more supportive position. Sadly this was not the case and in April 2000 the situation at Wakefield was such that I again sought an opportunity to put concerns, first, to the BW Chief Executive and, when that was rejected, to the Waterways Minister, Lord Whitty. The meeting with the Minister took place in early August and has helped move the Wakefield Project in a more positive direction. However, the project at Sowerby Bridge is still stalled.

  The projects at Wakefield and Sowerby Bridge are exciting and innovative examples of heritage-led regeneration, which depend for their success on their waterway location. They deserve to succeed and will have an exemplar importance for the rest of the country.

  However, it is evident from our work that they have failed to progress because of what we perceive as organisational dysfunctions within BW and BW's own excessively narrow interpretation of its role and responsibilities, which in some measure is a consequence of its requirement to maximise income. The RTH projects demonstrate an inability on the part of BW to participate effectively in the kinds of cross-agency and community partnerships recognised by this government as necessary to promote regeneration projects. Further, they show a failure on the part of BW management and Board to be accountable to local partnerships and the wider public interest for their activities and the conduct of their officers. This simply cannot be in the national interest. As a monopoly business, trading with national heritage assets, BW surely should be able to work in partnership with other public and community organisations, and be able to address any concerns they may have. Local Partnerships should not feel driven to approach the Waterways Minister to gain a hearing.

  Accordingly I am writing to invite the Select Committee to visit Wakefield and Sowerby Bridge to view our projects, meet the local Partnerships and study their experiences. The Partnerships include the local authorities, the business community and community organisations. The projects will be useful case studies for the committee and will throw light on the sort of problems groups concerned with waterway-based regeneration projects have with BW. There will undoubtedly be lessons of national applicability,

Fred Taggart


September 2000

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