Making History on preserving heritage
Empty spa buildings by co-ophistorianTuesday's installment of the BBC Radio 4 programme Making History [iPlayer] had an interesting segment on the role of English Heritage gradings. Focussing on the Lincolnshire village of Woodhall Spa, whose almost uniquely, for the UK, European-style eponymous spa had a formative role in the establishment of the settlement, a case is made that English Heritage's priorities for "the preservation of buildings in England is too focussed on architecture, and not the wider heritage of the place that the building is in." [Programme summary.] Presumably the sister organisations Cadw, in Wales, and Historic Scotland have similar criteria for protecting the built environment, and these arguments are probably being played out throughout the Great Britain. The spa in question fell into disuse in 1983, when the well collapsed threatening the structural integrity of the NHS facility it had become. As much of the original bathing complex had been destroyed in subsequent redevelopments, English Heritage has twice rejected applications to give the building a graded listing, which would prevent it from potential demolition by buyers and indeed behove them to restore it to its 'original' condition.
It seems that this is an emotive issue for the inhabitants, in large part due to the spa being the village's raison d'être. But Tony Calladine, an English Heritage Protection Team Leader, is probably right in his refutation of the applicability of the listing system to cases such as this. Woodhall Spa's spa no longer represents a nationally significant building, its structure having been sufficiently altered and destroyed over time. It would be an abuse of the listing system to start applying grades to every emotive building in the country. Such an approach would stifle the future development and particularly (re)gentrification in both urban and rural areas.
Possibly a better approach would be to shore up and expand the Conservation Area regime, under which the spa site falls, to allow local councils a greater say in the preservation of heritage sites of local significance. This however would probably require more funding, a prospect currently unlikely, and as ever, such things always come down to money.