Context 151 - September 2017

C O N T E X T 1 5 1 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 7 21 IHBC ANNUAL SCHOOL FRIDAY 23 JUNE Friday day school Style, quality and civic pride Keynote speaker: Catherine Dewar, Historic England Catherine Dewar, planning director in the north west for Historic England, began the day school by chal- lenging us as a sector to retain credibility, and our important role as influencers, by being realistic and balanced in the face of the political priority attached to infrastructure projects. Transport for the North will be set up later this year (although transport is only 32 per cent of the government’s overall infrastruc- ture programme), and much of the concept of the Northern Powerhouse centres on improving transport links. With the advent of city-region mayors we have the opportunity to make a huge difference by influenc- ing a small number of people. This is a city and region of many firsts: the first steam passenger railway in the world (the earliest pas- senger railway station forming part of our venue); the world’s first commercial canal (the Bridgewater); the country’s first motorway (Preston bypass, now part of the M6); the world’s first enclosed commercial dock (Albert Dock, Liverpool), and the world’s only (she thought) swing aqueduct (at Barton, in Trafford). But we needed to remind ourselves of the horror with which some of these were first greeted. We value them now because of the style and quality of their design, and the expression of civic pride with which they were often imbued. These are the things we must seek from modern proposals, despite the constraints of value engineering. It was heartening to hear that Network Rail is creating a design review panel, but alarming that only one of this year’s Stirling Prize nominees was an infrastructure project. Dewar gave some examples of how heritage ben- efits can arise from proposals that involve some harm. The glazing of Newcastle Central Station’s portico has retained and perhaps even enhanced its significance as a place of arrival and departure, by banishing unpleasant fumes and behaviour, and even the Ordsall Chord will bring some repairs and interpretation to historic bridges. While the latter is in my view a pretty thin silver lining, I agreed with Dewar that where such huge public benefit is being suggested we must be realistic about the importance assigned to heritage by decision- makers. In seeking this balance between heritage harm and benefits, Historic England’s review of conserva- tion principles is timely. The scale and complexity of the proposals demand a very high level of skills. We must step up to the mark. Crispin Edwards Catherine Dewar outlines some of Manchester’s achievements, including the first commercial canal, the Bridgewater, constructed to bring coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines into the city.