Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Joy of Listing - Revisited

(c) Ruth Sharville, http://www.geograph.org,uk/ , licensed under a creative commons licence.


My very first post was about the evil machinations of Plymouth City Council and their determination not to admit that the post-WWII city centre they have inherited is actually one of the most remarkable pieces of urban design in the country. It therefore gave me no little leap of the heart to discover this week that another of its key buildings - originally the south west of England headquarters of the National Provincial Bank (above), of 1956-8, has been listed Grade II, thereby denying the "City Fathers" another site on which to erect some commercial tat of the sort they've been favouring recently, such as the notorious "Drake's Arse" shopping centre (below).



To quote from the list description:

The Royal Bank of Scotland, St Andrew's Cross, Plymouth, is designated for the following principal reasons:
* It is an inventive re-working of the traditional architecture of the bank which remains substantially intact, creating a compelling synthesis of traditional and modern architecture.
* It integrates high-quality decorative art works.
* It is one of the most important buildings of post-war Plymouth.
* It is a prominent and distinctive landmark.

This entirely welcome development comes hot on the heels of the listing of three Plymouth post-war churches, two by the exotically-named Louis de Soissons ("Louis-Emmanuel Jean Guy de Savoie-Carignan, Baron de Soissons" to his friends), and one the last work of Giles Gilbert Scott ("Giles" to his).
On the other hand, the City Council's press release "celebrating " the listing is a masterpiece of frustrated ambition, to anyone who has watched recent proposals with a fearful dread:
One of Plymouth city centre’s most impressive and imposing post-War buildings has been granted listed building status by the Government.
On the recommendation of English Heritage and with the support of Plymouth City Council, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has listed the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) building at St Andrews Cross at Grade II.
Although the building was not completed until 1958, the site adjacent to the Bretonside bus station had been identified for a flagship bank building as early as 1943, when Sir Patrick Abercrombie and J Paton Watson drew up a plan for Plymouth’s reconstruction following the widespread damage to the city centre during the bombing raids of 1941.
Abercrombie and Watson saw much of their Beaux-Arts plan come to fruition in the post-War rebuilding of Plymouth – the legacy of which (the planned city centre around the major axes of Armada Way and Royal Parade) is still with us today and will continue to influence planning decisions made both now and into the future.
The building stood at a visually prominent position within the plan at the east end of Royal Parade and was chosen to be not just a branch bank but the regional headquarters of what was then the National Provincial Bank. The architects (under the direction of BC Sherren) were therefore given a very generous budget allowing the extensive use of Portland stone for the exterior cladding and Travertine marble for the interior finishes.
Professor Jeremy Gould, Chair of Architecture at the University of Plymouth, has described it as the best ‘new’ building in Plymouth. Its listing represents a counterpoint to that in 2003 of the Pannier Market on the other side of the city centre – a very different building in terms of design and purpose but just as significant in the renaissance of Plymouth after the War.
The listing comes hot on the heels of the publication of the City Council’s Area Action Plan (AAP) for the city centre, now out for public consultation. This plan, which sets out the vision for the future of the city centre, recognises the important contribution made by high quality buildings along Royal Parade to the city’s character. The RBS building is specifically mentioned as an example of the grandeur and vision of the original Abercrombie and Paton plan.
On a wider scale the APP says: "It is crucial that key elements of the city’s heritage are respected and integrated into any changes made to the city centre." The listing of the RBS building gives it a statutory protection and acknowledges it as a nationally important landmark structure and therefore one of the key heritage elements of the City Centre AAP.
The Council's newly appointed Assistant Director of Economic Development, David Draffan, said: "The city centre is often criticised for having no buildings of significant quality. However, we have in the Royal Bank of Scotland a prestigious building of the finest quality which has now been recognised by English Heritage and I welcome this decision. The recently published City Centre Area Action Plan takes a realistic and sensible approach to protecting buildings of the highest quality but also ensures that future development in the city centre is encouraged to meet wider regeneration objectives.”
Councillor Ted Fry, Cabinet Member for Planning, Strategic Housing and Economic Development added: "Plymouth is a city of progress and development, yet one which is mindful of high quality buildings. The Royal Bank of Scotland building, in its commanding position at the end of Royal Parade, is an excellent example, as are the Dingles and Debenhams buildings along Royal Parade. This recognition by English Heritage is to be applauded.”

Though it's good to see them quoting Jeremy Gould (whose "list everything and declare a Conservation Area" report the City paid for then studiously ignored), do please refer back to the links in my very first post to see how highly Dingles and Debenhams were rated a mere 9 months ago...

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Portacabins are crap

OK, I'll admit I've not been very active here of late, and I'll also admit that the title of this post is purely to arouse the wrath of an officious git, and hopefully lead to some entertaining correspondence.

http://www.portakabin.co.uk/news/newstwo/

Many years after his officiousness was first revealed.

Normal service will, I hope, be resumed relatively shortly.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

It seems it's just as bad in Wales, after all.

OK, that’s EH wrecked, now time to look at the previously pretty blameless CADW:




Mon Mam Cymru – Anglesey, Mother of Wales they used to say, on account of the fertile corn-growing lands. And with cereal crops go mills to grind them. On an island like Anglesey, watermills were a rarity and windmills were the norm. But, to have both in one building – wind and water powered - was extraordinary, and yet a combined wind- and water-mill existed on the island, until children playing with matches burnt down Melin y Bont at Bryn Du in the early 1970s.


Even then, having mostly iron machinery which survived the fire, it could have been saved, and a couple of years ago, CADW dug deep in their pockets and agreed to finance the preservation of what was left:
http://icnorthwales.icnetwork.co.uk/news/regionalnews/tm_objectid=14499204&method=full&siteid=50142&headline=historic-mill-gains--pound-40-000-grant-to-get-sails-turning-again-name_page.html
http://www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/default.asp?id=21&NewsId=76
“Melin Y Bont, Bryn Du, Isle of Anglesey £40,000 to restore the historic fabric of the building including the internal water wheel. Melin Y Bont is the only corn mill on Anglesey to utilise both wind and water power, a unique combination which meant that the sails turned in the opposite direction to the other windmills on the island. Its windmill tower is substantially intact and it is one of only 18 surviving on Anglesey and one of only two to retain some of its original machinery.”

But something slipped, 'twixt cup and lip. Despite the £40,000 grant, the last of the working parts seem to have been removed, and now it’s another bijou holiday cottage.




Will CADW be asking for their money back?


More to the point, did they clearly explain to the owners what was expected in return for the cash? I understand Careless CADW's inspector is “surprised” by what has happened. Where was he when the work was underway?


Even more galling, this travesty has been given an award by the local Building Inspectors, those well-known paragons of taste, virtue and conservationist sympathies:
http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2008/02/20/builder-wins-award-for-work-on-mill-55578-20497127/

All modern fittings such as plastic extractor fans had to be concealed.” So that’s alright then.
Grrrrrrrr.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Dead in the water?


I've moaned before about those, set by chance as custodians of our historic environment, who have no vision. But what happens when the vision is desperately wrong, and at odds with a century or more of best practice?

I was going to hold off from this, but:

Tit of the Week (and probably Tit of the Year) is Dame Simone Thurley, known (behind his back at English Heretics) as Gloriana. Anyone who doesn't understand this opprobrium has presumably not watched the previously media-savvy Thurley wrecking his organisation's reputation by inviting in the same TV crew who gave the National Trust a good kicking a couple of years ago. Exactly what he expected to gain by this four part BBC 2 series is unclear, but those of us "at the coal face" are less than enchanted by last week's episode where "the squint test" was introduced (if you squint at a Grade II* listed building after it's been gutted, it looks the same, so plastic windows, concrete tiles, the sophistication of the original design with varied but controlled infill, etc, no longer matter, according to EH), while this week's performance hints at familial corruption (we never imagined he even had a wife, though she made Lady Macbeth look like the kitten cuddling type - which in itself speaks volumes) which would make the Dear Leader Gordon blush.
No doubt Simone would say something about the recipe for omelettes requiring broken eggs. But note that English Heritage's impoverished relative, CADW, in Wales, for all its own failings dictated by circumstance, has at least managed a few notable conservation successes (not least in presenting its own properties), without them being tied to the "personality" of its own Chief Executive. Can anyone name him? I thought not.

Simon Thurley is an architectural historian of modest ability, who in normal life might be expected to make a living at a minor university (like the one I attended, except that my tutors had open eyes and minds, and encouraged the same in their students - even me). But his slight media talents (as a young Dan Cruickshank-in-waiting) have propelled him beyond his abilities. And now he has allowed that deficiency to be broadcast to the world.
If anyone fancies a (hollow) laugh:
Thou art weighed in the balance, and found wanting.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A Slice of Unmitigated Nostalgia

Nothing much to do with architecture, but too good not to add. I'm a complete sucker for this sort of socialist realist (ie utterly fictional) film-making (Nightmail, anyone?), so here's "English Harvest" of 1938 in glorious Dufaycolour, courtesy of the British Film Institute and currently doing the rounds as part of a tour entitled "Britain at Bay"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcyzAIkMwrg&feature=sdig&et=1240649909.72

http://www.independentcinemaoffice.org.uk/mediatheque_britainatbay.html

Monday, 27 April 2009

Local Authority impotence


(Thanks to Mark Savage for the pic, from http://www.geograph.org.uk/)
Today's prats are West Lancashire District Council, and their victim is Greaves Hall at Banks near Southport, a Grade II listed house which, under the local authority's nose, has been allowed to deteriorate to the point at which they have become minded to compulsorily purchase it, for demolition http://webdocs.westlancsdc.gov.uk/coins/ViewSelectedDocument.asp?DocumentID=3093, though they did grant consent for its conversion to flats a few years ago (following many, surprisingly well-maintained, years as a hospital http://www.slideintime.com/html/greaves_hall.html )
Here's the list description:
SD32SE NORTH MEOLS GUINEA HALL LANE (East side), Banks 1759-/2/10001 Greaves Hall - II Country house, now disused hospital. Dated 1900. Timber framing with rendered nogging, brick plinth, plain tile roofs. Brick gable, ridge and side wall stacks, with octagonal coped flues, many of them multiple. Tudor Revival style, with multiple gables and patterned timber framing imitating the local vernacular. Windows are mainly casements with wooden mullions and cross mullions, and leaded glazing. 2 storeys plus attics; 16 windows. T-plan. Single range of exaggerated length, punctated by projecting gables, with parallel range at left end, and a substantial rear wing. Entrance front has in the centre 3 gables, stepped back from left to right. Left gable has full~width cross-mullioned windows on each floor. Other gables have smaller windows to each floor and to attics. To right, 5 windows, then a projecting double gable with cross mullioned windows. In the return angle, a gabled porch with double doors. To left of centre, 4 windows, then a projecting gable, then a single window. Right return has to left a large external stack. To right, a projecting rounded gable with a cross mullioned window on each floor. Rear elevation has to left a small central gable flanked by larger end gables, that to left with an external stack. To right, parallel range with regular fenestration and 3 dormers. Central rear wing, 2 storeys plus attics, has a jettied end gable with a full-height canted bay window, with brick ground floor and segment headed door. At the left corner, an octagonal brick stair tower with slit lights and crenellated parapet. Left return has 2 full-height canted bay windows under jettied gables, and 2 dormers. Right return has 2 external stacks and box dormers. Interior: entrance hall has four-centred arched ashlar doorcase with glazed double doors. Half~panelled hallway has elaborate open well wooden staircase and matching landings, with bulbous balusters and square newels. Plaster cross ribbed ceiling. Stair window has stained glass with coat of arms dated 1900. Ground floor spinal corridor has an elliptical arched opening with screen, doors and fanlight all with diamond glazing bars. Ante room with Renaissance Revival style wooden chimneypiece, with columns and segmental pediment. Panelled recess at opposite end. Rear wing contains a half-panelled hall, 2 storeys, with strapwork ceiling and span beams on heavy curved brackets. At the far end, a wooden gallery on square posts with mid C20 balustrade. Doorway under gallery, and four-centred arched window recess above. Remaining rooms have cornices, and some attic rooms have original fireplaces.
And here's the developers plan - which is an exercise in ignoring the "elephant in the room" as far as the listed building goes, beyond following the local council's lead in condemning it as having "no prospect of retention or conversion" - you'll note that the site plans show the building, but don't propose anything at all for its footprint: http://www.keyworkerhomesltd.co.uk/pdf/Greaves%20Hall%20Banks.pdf
The remainder of the site is being developed with new housing, but without an agreement over the repair (which ten years ago, wasn't needed) of the listed house. Congratulations to all concerned. You must be really pleased to be in the vanguard of "progress".

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Decline of Civilisation


An architectural photographer's disappointing experience of the boys in blue combines the elegant work of one of the best firms of architects working in the period 1945-70 with further evidence of the paranoid new barbarism into which we are sleepwalking. All who spend any time enjoying, and recording, the built environment would do well to read Edward Denison's piece here:




Particularly poignant as McMorran and Whitby's work was, in part, the subject of my RIBA Part II thesis nearly 20 years ago, going unchallenged as I - a scruffy student - photographed Hammersmith and Wood Street (above) Police Stations, and the Old Bailey. But that was before the current madness of those who believe they are in charge descended.


Do order the book, though, it promises to be a treat.

Sad news from Liverpool

MV Wincham, a modest, 1948-built coastal trading vessel, is to be scrapped, despite receiving £47,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for restoration eight years ago.

Needless to say, this underlines concerns about the Lottery Fund's long-term usefulness - what is the point of funding a restoration if the work is to be undone (and worse) less than a decade later?

The HLF's largesse is often reported uncritically, but the effects of so much money sloshing about (at least until the pointless 2012 sports day came along) have been decidely mixed. I've always taken the view (based on much experience of spending these funds) that too much money is at least as great a threat to our heritage as not enough money.

It also begs the question, so far unasked, of why the only alternative to continuing with the restoration of the Wincham is to destroy it. As boats of less robust construction have lain unattended and deteriorating for decades before being rescued, a middle ground of mothballing has surely not been ignored? If this were a building that had failed to attract short-term support, we would not be calling in the wrecker's ball.

Monday, 20 April 2009

I haven’t actually been away, but I have been terribly busy with all manner of other things – and this post is just a thank you to the Society of Antiquaries (no less) for noticing...

http://www.sal.org.uk/salon/#section13

“Of course, if English Heritage staff want to know more about life at the coal face of conservation area work, they could do worse than read the ‘Confessions of a Conservation Officer’ blog. This blogger’s trenchant reflections on the life of a Conservation Officer at a small English local council have been flowing through at weekly intervals since the beginning of 2009 and have gathered a loyal readership for their poignancy. But the blog has dried up recently — perhaps because doing the day job and writing a blog is proving too much; but if the anonymous blogger happens to be reading this, please do keep up the good work!

Also anonymous are the occasional contributions sent to Current Archaeology magazine by Amicus Curiae, in which our ‘Friend of the Court’ seeks to explain the terms and concepts that govern modern archaeology. In the May 2009 issue of the magazine, s/he finds black humour in the definition of conservation as ‘the process of managing change’ (William Morris, you should be with us now) as stated in the IfA’s ‘Standard and Guidance for Stewardship of the Historic Environment’, and in the five key rules that curatorial archaeologists live by, of which Rule No 5 states: ‘all archaeological activity must be governed by a paper chase’. Amicus may be anonymous but s/he quite clearly writes from bitter experience.”

Monday, 9 February 2009

Back to the land of dreams...

The saga of the "Chiltern water mill" has taken on a life of its own, and readers are recommended to check Nemesis' blog (in the right hand toolbar) as a gateway to the pros and cons.

I have had other fish to fry today (the rest of today's blog will seem rather dull compared to the cut n thrust of recent exchanges), with the news that the government is planning to scrap the various exemptions to the "energy efficiency" Part L of the Building Regulations, which currently apply to certain classes of historic building.

However, given the proposed replacement clauses set out below, I can't quite see how the end result differs from the current situation, begging the question of why English Heretics think it's necessary to seem to be supporting a change in the rules, and having a vast and time-consuming survey on the subject, when the net effect will (quite rightly, in my view) be no change at all:

PROPOSAL TO REMOVE EXEMPTIONS FOR HISTORIC BUILDINGS FROM PART L OF THE BUILDING REGULATIONS

The Issue
Government is considering removing the exemption under Part L that currently exists for:
• listed buildings
• buildings in conservation areas
• scheduled ancient monuments
• churches (unconditionally)

The criterion against which exemption is judged is whether compliance would unacceptably alter their character or appearance.Any proposal to remove the exemption will have to be approved by the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and ministers before going to public consultation.

English Heritage did not request [that comes as a surpirse to many of us] the exemptions but clearly their removal will have implications which must be considered. We are working with CLG to assess these.

Background

Part L of the Building Regulations deals with the conservation of fuel and power and tightening targets is one of the main vehicles for reducing carbon emissions. The UK changes are mandated under the European Directive (Energy Performance in Buildings Directive). Part L was revised in 2002 and 2006 and work is well advanced on changes to be made in 2010.

Back in 2000 English Heritage objected to energy efficiency proposals which could harm historic buildings: notably requirements to;
significantly reduce natural ventilation of buildings, provide gratuitous insulation and only allow double glazing.

Working closely with ODPM (now CLG) resulted in special consideration being given to historic buildings with the aim being: “to improve energy efficiency where and to the extent that it is practically possible, [but] not prejudice the character of the historic building, or increase the risk of long term deterioration to the building fabric or fittings”.

• Work specifically allowed to historic buildings– replacing lost elements (eg facsimiles of historic windows)– rebuilding lost buildings (eg a gap site in an important terrace)– making provisions to allow buildings to “breathe”

Those paragraphs are included within the Approved Documents for Part L . English Heritage has consistently supported the line that exemptions for historic buildings (allowed under the Directive) were not needed [there's that surprise again, those of us who were there at the time have a rather different recollection], provided that historic buildings were given special consideration. Our view has been that:

• historic buildings can accommodate significant benign changes (eg energy efficient lighting, boilers, pipework, loft insulation etc)
• we did not want to create a two tier approach where listed buildings are left alone and all other traditional buildings (pre 1919) are ‘fair game’
• unimproved historic buildings might end up being blighted during economic downturns in some parts of the countryUnfortunately when the 2006 changes were made, the definition of historic buildings was removed – inadvertently I am assured. Amendments are proposed including the reinstatement of a revised definition to read:

…listed buildings and those in conservation areas have an exemption from the energy efficiency requirements where compliance would unacceptably alter their character or appearance. There are three further categories of buildings where special consideration is encouraged:

a) buildings which are of architectural and historical interest and which are referred to as a material consideration in a local authority’s development plan; or

b) buildings which are of architectural and historical interest within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, registered historic parks and gardens, registered battlefields, the curtilages of scheduled ancient monuments, and world heritage sites; or

c) buildings of traditional construction with permeable fabric that both absorbs and readily allows the evaporation of moisture

This may be introduced when a few other minor changes are made although no date has been given.

2010 changes2010 changes to Part L are well advanced and CLG hope to go to public consultation in April 2009. They are aiming for a tightening in targets to achieve 25% improvement in energy savings over 2006. The proposal is to remove the exemptions and the following provisions have been suggested by CLG:

Historic and traditional buildings

3.6 When establishing reasonable provision for the conservation of fuel and power, special considerations apply to the following classes of building:
a) listed buildings;
b) buildings in conservation areas;
c) scheduled ancient monuments
d) buildings which are of architectural and historical interest and which are referred to as a material consideration in a local authority’s development plan;
e) buildings which are of architectural and historical interest within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, registered historic parks and gardens, registered battlefields, the curtilages of scheduled ancient monuments, and world heritage sites;
f) buildings of traditional construction with permeable fabric that both absorbs and readily allows the evaporation of moisture.

3.7 When undertaking work on or in connection with a building that falls within one of the classes listed in paragraph 3.6, the aim should be to improve energy efficiency where and to the extent that it is reasonable and practically possible. The work should not prejudice the character of the host building or increase the risk of long-term deterioration of the building fabric or fittings. The guidance given in the English Heritage publication Building Regulations and Historic Buildings, English Heritage, 2002 (revised 2004) should be taken into account in determining appropriate energy performance standards for such building works. Particular issues relating to work in historic buildings that warrant sympathetic treatment and where advice from others could therefore be beneficial include:
a) restoring the historic character of a building that has been subject to previous inappropriate alteration, e.g. replacement windows, doors and rooflights;
b) rebuilding a former historic building (e.g. following a fire or filling a gap site in a terrace);
c) making provisions enabling the fabric of historic buildings to ‘breathe’ to control moisture and potential long term decay problems.

3.8 In arriving at a balance between historic building conservation and reasonable provision for energy efficiency improvements, it would be appropriate to take into account the advice of the local authority’s conservation officer.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Mills, and Madness

Image from www.geograph.co.uk © Copyright Andrew Hill and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Well, I seem to have stirred up a bit of a hornets' nest with my post on "Grand Designs".
Certain aspects of the matter (by no means all) put me in mind of a case which achieved some notoriety a few years ago, that of Sproughton water mill in Suffolk, where the owner became so aggrieved that he was being forced to keep his listed building in repair, he set up a website to rant about it (not unlike conservation officers who set up blogs to get things off their chests, I suppose I'll have to admit). Despite the former owner's subsequent bankruptcy, the site is still available:
http://www.sproughtonwatermill.co.uk/
Now, there's a lot to read there, but the most important fact to bear in mind as you wade through it is that the work carried out by the local council was done as an emergency repair for the urgent preservation of the building, not as a permanent work of restoration, and as such, naturally fell short of the standards that would have been required in the latter case (indeed, the law generally only allows for the "necessary" work to be done, not any arty-farty stuff). It's also important to realise that the owner had consent to convert the mill to a new use, but did nothing to implement the scheme.
The key page is this:
http://www.sproughtonwatermill.co.uk/html/litigation_1.html
an opinion from perhaps the best-known planning barrister specialising in historic buildings in the UK. The opinion has been posted on the site because the mill's owner believes it vindicates his view. A careful reading, in fact, shows precisely the opposite.
I happen to know many of the key players in this particular farce, and I also know that (despite assurances to the contrary) that comments sent to the site which do not accord with the former owner's view are not published there.
I feel a certain amount of sympathy for those who embark on a lengthy project with little but ideals and enthusiasm, but little or none for those who wilfully misunderstand their own position and then complain when they get hurt. "Look before you Leap".
This case resulted in the departure of a very able conservation officer from the local authority, under frankly intolerable pressure from an ignoramus:
http://www.sproughtonwatermill.co.uk/html/richard_ward.html
But (unreported on the site) it ultimately led to the bankruptcy of the foolish owner, and the vindication of the local council's action:
http://www.babergh-south-suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/BCD8ED18-7E18-430E-8FBB-6DCFA3A029DD/0/smillvin.pdf
I just thought my reader(s?) might like to know that, as the end result was not nearly as widely reported as the events that led up to it.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

What's in a name?

Well, in my case, the difference between a Google search throwing up a lot of "confessions of a co-ed" results, and a search result with this blog in it - hence today's change of name. The former may (or may not - I haven't looked) be more fun.

Monday, 2 February 2009

For Ever, For Everyone?

“Over the next five years the National Trust aims to renovate more than 5,000 buildings to meet a set of minimum environmental standards that include installing maximum loft insulation, water saving devices, rainwater storage, double or secondary glazing, thermostatic heating controls and efficient lighting systems.”
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-global/w-news/w-latest_news/w-news-enviro-renovate.htm

It all sounds very lofty and ideal, but the reality is that, as a landlord with many tenanted properties large and small, the National Trust is being forced, usually by local government Environmental Health Officers whose understanding of esoteric issues such as breathability and traditional construction is minimal at best, to comply with a variety of “decent homes” standards which many private owners of historic buildings would find unacceptably harmful to the qualities that led them to buy in the first place.

The standards themselves are broad, and set out with the best of intentions, but achieving those standards is being left in the hands of people who simply do not understand the fundamental difference between what can be achieved in a modern, air-tight rabbit hutch by a volume housebuilder, and what can realistically be achieved without long-term damage in almost any property built before about 1920.

The first I knew of all this was when the NT's property manager phoned me querying the very specific nature of the remedial works being required by Environmental Health, to an unlisted 17th century cottage on one of their local estates. The property does indded have very serious damp problems, most of which are condensation-related as the bathroom and kitchen are internal and poorly ventilated, and the last tenant never opened the windows. Some choice extracts from the notice are reproduced below:

HOUSING ACT 2004
Sections 11 and 12
The Authority … serve this Improvement Notice under Section 11 and require you to take the remedial action specified. Details of the Category 1 hazards together with the remedial action required are contained in the Schedule attached.

A person, on whom an improvement notice is served, commits an offence if s/he fails to comply with it and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

Nature of the hazard :- Excess Cold; Damp and Mould Growth; Falling on Stairs; etc
(yes, they really did add “etc” as a hazard! Bit of a catch-all, that one)

The deficiency giving rise to the hazards:-
Absence of heating system; Defective windows; Rising damp to walls; Rising damp to floors; Insufficient insulation to walls and ceilings; Inadequate surface water drainage; Defective brickwork; Defective roof; Steep stairwell without banister; Absence of mechanical extraction to Kitchen


Nature of remedial action required to be taken:-

Insulate Loft Space
Increase insulation of loft space to 270mm using quilted insulation or apply equivalent to 1st floor ceiling to provide a 'U' value of not more than 0.16 and to comply with current Building Regulations.

Damp Proof/Insulate Walls
Treat all walls to the ground floor to prevent rising damp

Carefully remove for re-use, existing skirtings (where present), and door linings. Hack off all damp and defective plaster to a minimum of 1m above the proposed damp proof course, or 150mm above the level of the damp which ever is greater.

Key brickwork ready to receive new rendering. Inject a chemical horizontal/vertical damp proof course guaranteed by an insurance bond for a minimum 20 year period. This work must be carried out by a specialist contractor.

For internal walls:-
render exposed areas using a suitable sharp sand and cement mix, incorporating a waterproofing additive and salt inhibitor as instructed by the specialist contractor.

For external walls:- (Dry Line)
Hack off any loose, sodden or perished plaster to all the ground and 1st floor external walls. Provide tanalised softwood battens and fix vertically to full height using plastic wallplugs and brass screws. Battens to be suitably sized and spaced to allow for insulation slabs to be fitted to bring "U" value of walls up to current Building Regulations standard. Cover battens and insulation slabs with 9.5mm thick foil backed plasterboard, fixed with galvanised clout nails or corrosion resistant screws.

Scrim joints to plaster board and finish walls with a 3mm plaster setting coat, flush with existing plaster where applicable.

Lay New Damp Proof Floor
Remedy the ground floor dampness and for that purpose take up the existing surfaces of the rooms to the ground floor excavate to a sufficient depth and construct a new floor incorporating an efficient horizontal damp-proof membrane; the damp-proof membrane to be carried without a break vertically up the walls to a sufficient height above the DPC membrane, upon completion the interior surfaces of the walls to be re-plastered.


Repair Chimney Stack
Renew and re-point new brickwork to chimney in suitable cement.

Cut out defective brickwork from the chimney stack replace with new or sound second-hand bricks set in cement mortar, renew defective pointing, defective soakers, flashings, and fillets (soakers and flashings to be in code 5 lead, and fillets to be in suitable mortar mix incorporating a waterproofing additive.) Seal or cowl pot/s, leave roof sound and watertight on completion.

Re-point Wall
Rake out all loose and perished brickwork pointing to all facades of the property, specifically to the right fa├žade of the property as you look on from the adjacent road, to a depth of 20mm. Brush out debris, wet and re-point in suitable mortar, with the joints finished to match existing in all respects.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

What really concerns me is how many people (who don't have the NT's experience) would meekly comply and therefore do more harm than good to their properties? Not long after this notice was served, I chanced across another notice from Env Health requiring PVCu windows to be installed in a listed building, with cement repointing and plastic gutters being specified too. The bullying manner and prescriptive “tick box” way in which some EHOs are approaching the task is bad enough when pushed at the NT, but where private landlords are concerned, threats of legal action if specific treatments – often injected damp proof courses, double glazing and dry-lining – are not carried out, lead to all manner of terribly damaging works being done, “on council orders” and therefore often without the necessary consents.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Joy of Listing

With around 350,000 Listed Buildings in England you'd think that most of what was worth protecting had been identified by now. Certainly that's the subtext of the Government's cynical treatment of the whole Historic Environment business over the last few years - a result of never going outside the M25. And of course, those of us who think that nowhere near enough is listed should remember that even if we pulled them down at a rate of one a day, it would take a thousand years to erase them all - part of Gordon's plan, no doubt, and it would create significant employment in the vitally important demolition sector, as, naturally, did the removal of the removal of the Liverpool Customs House (above) in the years after the Second World War - "relieving unemployment" really was given as the reason for demolition. That unemployment might also have been relieved by repairing it (it had been bomb-damaged but was structurally largely intact) escaped the notice of the City Fathers, which in itself says much of what you need to know about our elected representatives.

Another city that suffered badly in the War was Plymouth, where the same pattern of hasty clearance after the bombing gives the impression, in photos from 1945, of total destruction by the enemy, rather than the truth, which was total destruction by the City Engineer. At least in Plymouth the rebuilding followed a vision (albeit one rapidly watered down by economics and political expediency). It is the legacy of that vision which is now being disparaged and destroyed.

You may laugh, but Plymouth is Britain's only Art Deco city - the architectural language chosen when the rebuilding started in the late 1940s was an already rather charmingly old-fashioned Clarice Cliff mode, and the first stage of the rebuilding followed this diligently all the way along Royal Parade, the new grand avenue crossing from east to west, and up the first part of Armada Way, the great north-south vista from the railway station to the sea (that Plymouth Hoe interrupts the view and prevents a view of salt water was just a mnor inconvenience).

Having had such vision 60 years ago, the successors to that city council are now busy finding ways to smash it all up. Their "vision" can be found in video form here: http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/homepage/environmentandplanning/planning/planningpolicy/ldf/aaps/ldfcitycentreuniversityaap/citycentreuniversityissuesandpreferredoptions/ldfcitycentreflythrough.htm


A very loaded consultation has made it quite clear that the council see any further listings as a "constraint" (the City were livid at the listing of their own offices - which are admittedly difficult to like at first glance but are, on close inspection, excellent of their type and date http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/civiccentrereasons http://www.c20society.org.uk/docs/casework/2007_plymouth.html)

And declaring a conservation area has been ruled out too, despite two independent reports (one by English Heritage and CABE) strongly suggesting that much of the city centre should be designated.

But I digress, as always. The protection of Post-War buildings is, for reaons of fashion, going to be a controversial issue for a few more years - Laver's Law of clothing fashion applies just as much to architecture http://www.fashion-era.com/lavers_law.htm

In the meantime, I commend these websites:
http://www.nicebuildings.com/ which is a bit over-enthusiastic even for my tastes at time, but does show that the tide might be turning, and: http://www.nicebuildings.com/gh/home, which deals with Plymouth and is very good on how later alterations, rather than the original designs, are to blame for the tattiness which is all the City Council can see (though the photos don't quite do justice to the experience of being there).




Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Well, here we go

New to this whole blogging lark, so please bear with me (I know that'll be taken as an invitation to pick holes and fling abuse)
Expect, if I can make it work, laughter, tears, tantrums, hideous breaches of professional confidentiality, a fair degree of ranting, and perhaps some useful information about the life of a Conservation Officer at a small English local council, dealing with people who've bought a historic building, and want to know "what can I do with it?" (Standard first answer, "What have you done that for? go and buy a nice new house on a Barratt estate and never darken my in-tray again" - you wouldn't believe how much time and heartache that can save)