Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
17 APRIL 2007
Chairman: Dr Ferry, Mr Wilkinson, welcome.
We are very pleased to have you with us this afternoon. There
are several formal things I have to do before we start: one is
a ruling. Notice of appeal has been lodged in the case brought
by SAVE against Westminster City Council relating to the planning
application for altercation of Middlesex Guildhall. I have decided
in consultation with Mr Speaker to waive the sub judice
rule insofar as it applies to the question of accommodation for
the new Supreme Court in order to allow this session to proceed,
but no reference should be made to the court proceedings which
are the subject of the appeal. Secondly, any interests have to
be declared and I declare an interest as a member of the Victorian
Society. Has anybody else any interests? In that case, it is over
Bob Neill: Perhaps, for the record, it
might be safer if I say that, although I no longer practise at
the Bar, I have appeared at Middlesex Crown Court in the past,
so just to get that on the record.
Q1 Chairman: Perhaps I could invite
you to give us an indication, just giving some oral supplement
to the material you have very helpfully provided us with, of what
you see as the architectural features of the interiors of the
Guildhall which it is important to preserve and which these works
Dr Ferry: I think to start with
it is worth reiterating the fact that this is a Grade II* listed
building so that listing covers the whole of the building, the
exterior and the interior. It was built in 1911 to 1913 and the
Middlesex Guildhall is acknowledged as the masterpiece of the
architect James Glen Sivewright Gibson who undertook the commission
with his partners WSA Gordon and Frank Peyton Skipwith, and it
is a rare example of an Edwardian Gothic building. The Gothic
style had gone out of fashion by the time they were designing
this building but obviously to fit in with its nearest neighbours,
Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, this Gothic style
was chosen but it is definitely an Edwardian Gothic, it has got
touches of the Art Nouveau and a slightly baroque sense about
it. The important thing, when considering this building, is to
consider it as a whole. The exterior is a wonderful essay in this
Edwardian Gothic, but it is also, like many civic buildings of
its time, in the tradition of the arts and crafts movement, it
was designed to be a work of public art. The architect was superintending
the design but he was also bringing in craftsmen to undertake
his vision, plasterers, people who could produce the exquisite
stained glass in the building and also the sculpture on the exteriors
by a famous sculptor at the time called Henry Charles Fehr, who
also undertook the sculpture on the bench ends in the main council
chamber and so the whole building really has to be seen as an
integral piece. That is why we are here because the interiors
are such an important part of this that removing all of the furniture
and the fittings will have a detrimental impact on the character
and the historic importance of the building.
Adam Wilkinson: If we can put
it in a slightly wider context as well, both Professor Gavin Stamp
and Professor David Walker, who are foremost experts in the field
of this period of architecture, rate it right up there on an international
level of importance. Its importance goes beyond the Square, it
goes beyond London, it goes beyond the UK, it goes beyond these
shores. It really is at the highest level, not just the building
but also the furniture as well. It is put together by the foremost
carpenters and craftsmen of the day. I think the nearest equivalent
you can get in the area is in the Houses of Parliament where you
have the furniture designed as part of the entire building and
it really belongs there. If you were to take that out it would
ruin the character of the place and it is very much the same with
the Guildhall, if you remove the furniture, you remove part of
Q2 Chairman: Would you have contemplated
or been willing to consider a more conservative and sensitive
use of the building but for the same purpose which involved the
removal of much less of the furniture, perhaps adjustment of floor
levels and some things of that kind, or are you saying that so
distinctive is this building that it needs to be either preserved
or to continue in use? In one respect, it does not continue in
its old use because Middlesex County Council does not exist to
meet there, but as a court it does indeed.
Adam Wilkinson: I think it is
a question of the architects' brief and what they are told to
do. You can certainly sensitively approach the building. The current
proposals are not the most sensitive way of dealing with a building
of this importance. In some respects they are pretty clumsy, they
are showy, they are trying to make something of the building that
it is not. You could possibly insert a library without damaging
the courts and the Lords could easily work with the existing furniture
in court number three, that is the very grand courtroom with the
wonderful bench ends, without having to radically reorder that
room, without having to completely level the floors, without having
to cut off the bench ends and stick them on a bit of new furniture.
This does not have to happen, it is a question of the brief.
Dr Ferry: I would agree with that.
Q3 Mr Tyrie: Could you remind me
what you think the total cost of the project is going to be?
Adam Wilkinson: £32 million.
Q4 Mr Tyrie: Do you know what the
total cost of the relocation of the existing function would be?
Adam Wilkinson: I do not recall
that figure but I have seen it in this Committee's minutes before.
It is an extraordinarily low cost. If you compare it with the
cost of consultants on this building when it was built, which
was £25 million, it seems like extraordinary value. Again,
against the cost of any major new public building it is an extraordinarily
cheap way to treat the dignity of the law. If I was a lawyer I
would feel faintly insulted at the way which I was being treated,
shoved into an old building rather than given a splendid new building
which reflects the power and dignity of that great institution.
Q5 Chairman: Would you not think
as SAVE that it is in principle a good thing to use a historic
building so long as you can adapt it sensitively?
Adam Wilkinson: As I have said,
we obviously encourage the sensitive re-use of historic buildings.
The key point is that the building could remain in use as a crown
court. Its closure has resulted in seven less courts in operation
in London with its backlog of 500 cases and, of course, while
they are doing adaptations down at Isleworth that will represent
another three courts being closed. There is a massive net reduction
in courts for a short time while they are doing these works, perhaps
one or two years. One perfectly decent court is out of use or
rather several perfectly decent courts which could be used in
one courthouse are out of use. The arguments are made by the DCA
and its agents that the historic building was not up to modern
standards for historic courts. In our report Silence in Court
which we put together a few years ago, studying historic courts
across the country, practically none of those would meet the requirements
for a modern court building. It is a question of working with
what you have got. In Scotland the Scottish Court Service has
adapted every single one of its courts bar one to modern standards
in a sympathetic and historic manner because it feels it has a
moral duty to do so. It is the same with the crown court at Middlesex
Guildhall; the Government has a moral duty to look after that
building properly and to treat it sensitively and it really could
adapt it, if it had the time and energy to do it, to modern uses,
but I am afraid it is not interested.
Q6 Mrs James: Going back to 1989
when I understand the court last went through a remodelling, do
you feel that modernisation and the work that was done then was
done in a sympathetic manner and was done in a way that did not
damage the fabric of the building?.
Dr Ferry: Absolutely, there was
some intervention in creating new court spaces, but the three
main courts, of course including the council chamber which is
the one with the really highest quality of the furniture, although
they all have a very good quality furniture, they were all left
intact and restored. The evidence we have seen from the agents
suggests that there is at least another five or ten years before
any restoration would have to take place for this building to
continue as a crown court. It is not an immediate necessity to
restore the building, it does work as it is and we feel that it
is pre-emptive to close the court down now when it does have this
continued life in it with the furniture that is there.
Adam Wilkinson: I think it is
worth going back to what Lord Mackay of Clashfern said to us recently.
We invited him along to an evening at the Guildhall, as we did
other members of the Committee here, and Lord Mackay turned us
down, because he could not make it, but said that he very much
regretted what was happening now having reopened it in 1989. I
can forward that email to the Committee if you would like to see
it, but someone of that power who was there opening that building,
expressing great regret, is a horrible indictment of what is going
on at the moment.
Q7 Chairman: It is commemorated in
stained glass in the building?
Adam Wilkinson: It is.
Q8 Chairman: No wonder he does not
want change. Is that being conserved by the way?
Adam Wilkinson: I hope it will,
but other bits of this are not. We are going to lose all the Middlesex
insignia from the building, which will be taken off. As you walk
in, the shields will be taken off from above the doors, there
will be no indication that this building once proudly served the
county of Middlesex.
Q9 Chairman: It does have a slightly
Soviet air about it, does it not, removing insignia.
Adam Wilkinson: Ozymandias.
Q10 Mrs James: I have worked for
the National Trust and I am very interested in this aspect. If
this was another public building, let us say one of our great
houses, what would the public's response be?
Dr Ferry: I imagine they would
be outraged. I do not think any private owner would get away with
this extent of intervention in an historic interior like this,
especially when English Heritage have stated that the interiors
in the Middlesex Guildhall are unsurpassed in courtrooms of the
period. I just do not think they would be allowed to do it.
Adam Wilkinson: I absolutely agree.
It would not happen to a private individual nor to a church nor
to another institution which was not necessarily having pressure
applied on it by Government.
Q11 Chairman: It has happened to
Adam Wilkinson: We know of one
or two, yes.
Q12 Bob Neill: I get the sense that
what you are saying is that the Government has really not simply
grasped the exceptional nature of the building in this case.
Adam Wilkinson: We absolutely
feel that is the case, yes.
Q13 Bob Neill: I was very troubled,
frankly, to see a comment by one of the existing Law Lords in
the House of Lords Hansard who seemed, I think, to be thinking
that the whole thing was beneath them and seemed to refer to "unexceptional
origins", and almost sneering at the building. Do you feel
that perhaps has too greatly influenced the DCA? To suggest that
the whole is lacking in distinction, and these are the words,
I am afraid to say, of the noble Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead
in a debate in the House of Lords, maybe many people would say
is not particularly well-informed.
Adam Wilkinson: That is perhaps
a question of his tastes; maybe he is not into Victorian Gothic
or Gothic revival, but if you look at it as a building in its
own right, it is a very fine building indeed. Maybe it is better
than the Lords need, maybe they want something more distinct.
They are very welcome to have something more distinct in my book
Q14 Bob Neill: To get back to the
point the Chairman raised, I am interested in this. I think for
most of us who know the building the real nub of it is courts
one, two and three, the Council Chamber and the two purpose built
courts which have not required any great adaptation. Is it conceivable,
do you think, that if we are where we are, some sensible means
could be made to enable those courts to be adapted for the use
proposed as a Supreme Court without the wholesale removal of the
furniture and the panelling and so on which, as you say, is site
Adam Wilkinson: I believe if they
wanted to grasp the nettle and do it they could. Unfortunately,
there seems to be a very strong desire to start with a clean sheet
but in an old building with modernist furniture, perhaps like
the furniture we have here, which is beautiful but inappropriate
to that building, although there have been some mutterings about
cutting off the bench ends and sticking them on new furniture.
Dr Ferry: That would only apply
to a very small amount of the furniture, a small amount would
be reused and the rest of it would be essentially put into packing
crates and stored offsite.
Q15 Bob Neill: I heard one suggestion
that it was going to be sent to Snaresbrook Crown Court as a possibility.
Dr Ferry: I think that might have
been going around.
Adam Wilkinson: Lucky for Snaresbrook
Crown Court, but we have seen nothing solid to say that is actually
going to happen.
Q16 Mr Tyrie: What about sending
the Supreme Court to Snaresbrook!
Dr Ferry: That is an alternative.
Adam Wilkinson: Why not! It is
a very good point, it is a Supreme Court for the UK, it could
travel around to the rest of the UK not just London. There are
plenty of court houses around the country which are in need of
uses; perhaps it could move around, perhaps it could be itinerant.
I think the decision was taken quite early on that it is going
to be in London, it is going to be close to the House of Lords.
Q17 Mr Tyrie: Do you think it is
in the national interest that it should be close to the House
of Lords, that it needs to be across Parliament Square?
Adam Wilkinson: I see no particular
reason why it should be.
Dr Ferry: But that seems to be
what is coming across from the DCA, that they want to be at the
centre of power and it just so happens that this building is on
the site that they would ideally like. A lot of compromises have
been put forward to try and make this building fit a purpose that
it obviously was not designed for and because of the listing it
is just inappropriate for it now.
Q18 Mr Tyrie: I asked that question
because presumably you think it is in the public interest, if
not the national interest, that fewer changes are made to this
building if it is located there?
Dr Ferry: Yes.
Adam Wilkinson: Absolutely, and
there are alternatives as well. The wonderful Metropole Hotel
with its annex is sitting empty owned by the Crown Estate down
the road. You have a wing of Somerset House about to be vacated
by the tax people, who we all adore so much. There are plenty
of other places where a Supreme Court could be placed. There are
probably some sites where a new building could be put as well.
I think they ask for 3,000 square metres and that is almost 30,000
square foot, that is not an overly enormous building, that could
be easily put somewhere in Central London where it is convenient
for the Lord Justices to get to.
Q19 Chairman: Would you say that
at any stage the Department has shown to you a willingness to
talk through modifications that could have been made to the proposals
in the way that developers quite often end up doing?
Dr Ferry: We have been consulted
at various stages of the process but our input has not resulted
in changes really. The conservation plan that has been produced
to go alongside this application does recognise the importance
of the furniture but at the same time they are still proposing
that it should come out. There is the idea of creating this museum
display in the basement as if taking out the three thrones and
setting aside historic artefacts can mitigate the loss of the
entire context in which they now exist. They were used on a daily
basis until recently and the idea of placing them in a museum
is not sufficient.
Adam Wilkinson: We feel the consultation,
that which there was, was more a case of saying, "This is
what we are offering, do you like it or not? If you don't like
it, bad luck". That is pretty much built into the Act which
would create the Supreme Court as well. The Lord Chancellor was
asked to consult the Law Lords on his choice but his choice only
involved one building, so in this case so they had no option but
to say yes. The Law Lords made it very clear to us in correspondence,
particularly through Lord Hoffmann, that this is not their doing,
we must not mistake it as being their doing, this is being foisted
upon them. I think if we had made any difference in the consultation
it was wiped out by the desire for a grand gesture. When you walk
into the building what is proposed: is instead of being a beautiful
stuccoed wall, they will rip this wall out and put in a large
glass plate which will give you a view of the Lord Justices in
the library doing their work. The library, of course, involves
ripping the floor out of one of the main courts and making a triple
height space where they can put some smart new bookshelves. This
is the architecture of gestures, not of conservation.