Context 169 - September 2021

22 C O N T E X T 1 6 9 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 out and the auction would go ahead. Almost the next day Sir Michael Peat was on the line saying that the Prince of Wales had instructed him to save Dumfries House. This the prince did with triumphant success, raising another £20 million to complete the deal. Success emboldened us to take on the most difficult challenge of all: mighty Wentworth Woodhouse, suffering from coal-mining subsid- ence. We were able to recruit a powerful line-up of trustees for a new preservation trust, including the Duke of Devonshire, and led by Julie Kenny, a charismatic local businesswoman. Meanwhile SAVE had been active in cities. In London we led the opposition to the proposed demolition of the General Market at Smithfield. It was built, like the more famous meat market, to the designs of the ebullient City architect Sir Horace Jones. We won the first public inquiry but were quickly faced by a new proposal to gut the iron-and-glass market halls. English Heritage supported this scheme, but with the Victorian Society we won the second public inquiry. We fought a lightning campaign to save the ‘little houses’ in the Strand, which attracted a surge of public support. John Burrell we devised a proposal for pedestrianising the south side of the Aldwych so that the lovely baroque church of St Mary le Strand would no longer sit on a traffic island. This looks set to happen in 2023. In Winchester, SAVE gave massive support to opponents of a scheme for a hideous, outsize, multi-storey carpark clothed in single-aspect flats, just across the High Street from the cathedral and Victorian town hall. Another cur- rent battle is in Norwich, where our director Henrietta Billings has worked with locals object- ing to an oversize development with a 20-storey tower and a cluster of 8-, 10- and 12-storey blocks. Here again the secretary of state sup- ported us and rejected the proposal. A mainstay of our work continues to be the rescue of buildings on death row. SAVE also throws huge energy into major policy issues. With Mentmore Towers in 1977 we lost the battle but won the war when our drive to have the National Land Fund reformed under independent trustees resulted in the creation of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Our greatest current concern is the cynical game played by certain lawyers and consultants on the issue of ‘harm’ to historical buildings. It has been increasingly asserted that only demolition itself can be substantial harm. Everything else, how- ever damaging, is ‘less than substantial harm’ and can be accepted if balanced by so-called public benefits. These are often private benefits or basic architectural necessities that any build- ing of substance or quality should provide. SAVE works with national and locals groups as a rapid-reaction force which can throw sig- nificant resources into confrontations. We are a small team but work with a wide range of con- tacts, including architects, engineers, surveyors, lawyers, town planners and historians, all ready to work for the cause, often at no cost.We do not always win, but the losses are a salutary reminder that fine buildings and attractive streets and neighbourhoods are under constant threat, not just from lack of funds but from overbearing proposals to build in beautiful places. Currently we have a major battle over the pro- posed demolition of Grade II* listed Richmond House in Whitehall, built to be a worthy neigh- bour of the Treasury and the Foreign Office across the road. Mission creep has led the restoration and renewal programme into an absurdly extravagant solution to meet a purely temporary need for interim Commons chamber. A conservation-led approached could save hun- dreds of millions and have a far lower carbon footprint. Marcus Binney is executive president of SAVE. Robert Adam’s Dumfries House, home to a collection of early Chippendale furniture (Photo: Dumfries House)