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We must work together to care for city's proud heritage; Last week Post columnist Joe Holyoak accused the council of hating our civic heritage. Today, the council's Heritage Champion Coun Philip Davis hits back - and pledges the 'bad old days'of knocking down architectural gems are over.

Byline: Philip Davis

BOW to no-one in my admiration for Joe Holyoak as an advocate for Birmingham's great buildings. But to suggest the city council does not care for our community's Victorian and 20th century legacy is simply untrue.

As someone with a passionate concern for the built environment Joe is absolutely right to draw attention to the threats we face in preserving places and buildings we value. It is equally important to understand the scale of the challenge. Preserving Moseley Road Baths - a great Edwardian building and a product of the late 'civic gospel' period - is a massive task for the city. And 'the city' is not just the council. It is the whole diverse community, residential and business, that makes up Birmingham in the 21st century. Moseley Road Baths is worth saving (and cherishing).

The council would like to do this, but resourcing the project - finding PS26 million (PS8 million just to fix the roof) - is the challenge.

The previous Lib-Dem/Conservative council may indeed have wanted to find the PS8 million to start the job. Unfortunately, as the current Labour council was elected, it inherited a PS1 billion hole in the council's capital programme as a result of the previous council's failure to settle equal pay liabilities.

Actions (or the lack of them) have consequences. As consequences go, the former council's legacy to the incoming administration was a big one.

This is not a party political point. The blame for the council's inability to fund repairs to Moseley Road and other sites lies, ultimately, with central government. Over the last 40 years governments of all three main parties have stripped away the financial autonomy of local government. Central government willed the equal pay laws that (rightly) tried to end discrimination, but refused to fund the consequences.

Hence the inability Birmingham now has to respond to the deserving claims of a heritage asset like Moseley Road Baths. We need to work together to take up the challenge of caring for the city's heritage. Past philistinism in the city led to the loss of significant Birmingham buildings, but those days are gone. The current council is aware of the need to value the past while presenting the best of the modern city to the world.

Signals have certainly been sent to developers and owners of historic sites that a higher standard of design and stewardship is now expected.

In the historic Jewellery Quarter, the planning committee and its officers have acted to uphold height limits on new buildings and to prompt action on semi-derelict sites.

More action is required, city-wide, but the will is there.

The new Birmingham Heritage Strategy also represents a refreshed approach. Built on partnership, it is a plan that will only work if various agencies, individuals and groups work to make it happen.

In a time of scarcity, this is the only viable approach. The council, while it must ensure it meets its statutory conservation responsibilities, cannot deliver care and support for Birmingham's built heritage alone.

Acting together we need not despair, despite the city's lack of resources. Part of the city heritage strategy is to raise local and national understanding of Birmingham's seminal contribution to global industrialisation as both a city of makers and a city of ideas.

Plans are underway, linked to Scots councils, to stage a major celebration of the life and work of James Watt, engineer and inventor of high pressure steam engines.

This will underline the continuing innovative contribution of the city in the 21st century and remind the nation of Birmingham's greatness, yesterday and today.

None of this magically finds the tens of PSmillions that could be spent on deserving heritage projects.

At the same time, valuable sources of support - notably the Heritage Lottery Fund - are playing a major role in backing Birmingham's great buildings, historic quarters and communities.

In partnership with national funders like HLF and local communities, we can make progress, despite under-funded local government.

I invite all who value the city's built and community heritage to join in this noble enterprise.

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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 12, 2014
Words:678
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