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True Cities of Culture do not destroy history.


Sir, - I read the article in Friday's Post on Birmingham's bid to be City of Culture with scepticism. For over 20 years I have been involved in building conservation in this city and to claim such a title at present is quite wrong if the art of architecture is considered part of culture.

In February, city planners approved a new building in New Street in the heart of the Victorian city. The design is uninspired and aggressive. It will ruin the character of the best surviving historic part of the street. It means the demolition of early 19th-century domestic buildings, rare survivals in the city centre, in Temple Street and Needless Alley. The Temple Street buildings step delightfully down the hill. In Needless Alley there is a charming house with an oriel window. Also demolished will be a building in New Street that is currently covered in ugly render but is by one of the finest Victorian architects of the city, WH Ward, designer of the Great Western Arcade and the old Parish Offices in Newhall Street.

Last week, city planners approved a huge scheme in Navigation Street and John Bright Street which will mean the demolition of the fine Victorian building on the corner. It is crucial to the character of John Bright Street, the only surviving Victorian street in this area of the city, and one that was part of Joseph Chamberlain's municipal improvements.

These decisions followed planning officers' recommendations. Except perhaps in the Jewellery Quarter, planning officers have virtually ceased to protect the city's historic buildings. In ten years the only new conservation areas have been the one in Digbeth and Deritend made as part of the regeneration initiative there, and some boundary extensions in the Jewellery Quarter. John Bright Street itself was proposed for conservation area status by the city in 1994 but never declared. I have recently read a planning report that refers to high development pressure on the historic Gun Quarter round Princip Street. It was proposed for conservation area status in 1992 but never declared. We have no conservation strategy worth the name and are nearly back to the destructive attitudes of the sixties and seventies.

If these demolitions go ahead, and the one in John Bright Street is imminent, the attention of the judges who award City of Culture status must be drawn to this state of affairs. We would not be considered for the title if the Art Gallery went round ripping up Victorian paintings. We should not be considered when our planners are encouraging the equivalent destruction of significant historic architecture and townscape.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 11, 2002
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