Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

A report by the former speaker of the Scottish Parliament, George Reid, has recommended that the National Trust for Scotland consolidate on its core properties that are of 'historical significance'. Faced with dwindling visitor numbers and with sites frequently running at losses, Reid has called for a dramatic prioritization of the charity's assets, with smaller, unprofitable properties handed over to other bodies. This rather avoids the question of how historical significance is defined, and indeed is it right that buildings that are deemed to be more significant should be preserved?

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

An economically viable solution is vital in hard times

Cultural and national conservation in the UK is administered through a variety of organizations: some governmental, like English Heritage, some corporations created by statute such as British Waterways, and others charitable, like the National Trust. Regardless of their status, however, it is imperative that they can operate in an economically sustainable manner. George Reid's 'Fit for Purpose' report on the National Trust for Scotland was borne out of the catastrophic financial situation the Trust found itself in, which culminated in the sale of their Edinburgh headquarters and the cutting of 45 jobs.

The National Trust for Scotland's experience should serve as a lesson for all conservation organizations in the UK. Even though such organizations should not necessarily be focused on profits, they must be governed with prudence and efficiency if they are to surive. The current recession has the benefit of bringing to light the glaring inefficiencies and mismanagements which can beset organizations with social remits or non-profit elements, and for these organizations to continue providing benefits in the future, they must learn to sharpen up their administration now.

The point of preservation is to prevent valuable things from becoming permanently lost. While cuts in expenditure for many public services can be redressed at a later date, cuts in the conservation of threatened sites cannot be recovered once they have disappeared. SItes deemed worthy of prservation have been done so because they are in some way rare or even unique. It would be grossly negligent to let them go extinct because of funding cuts.

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

Preservation always involves a trade-off with development

Every decision to preserve a building or a site of public historical interest necessarily prevents the possibility for future developments. The resources required to redevelop an existing site are frequently greater than the resources required to produce a new development, and it is crucial whenever a site is chosen for preservation that the benefits of preserving it outweigh the potential benefits of allowing new construction to appear in its place, or for resources to be put into alternative projects.

An over-zealous approach to preservation, be it through architectural listing or restrictions on certain types of development can in fact stifle growth and prevent the development of areas which may seriously benefit from new investment and growth. It is a fitting irony that in 2006 the Department of Media, Culture and Sport exempted Fortress House, the then home of English Heritage, from listing: a location which has since been redevloped into modern offices[[http://www.macegroup.com/projects/project-library/23-savile-row]]. Similarly, the recent Grade II listing of the Milton Keynes shopping centre, thecentre:mk, has drawn complaints from its owners who have argued that future developments and improvements will now be severely restricted [[http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/jul/16/milton-keynes-shopping-centre-grade-listed]].

Preservation and development are not mutually exclusive. Projects which attempt to conserve the unique history or culture of a site can also be spurs to future investment. Attractions such as the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley combine the preservation of historic buildings with tourism, which can bring further resources into an area and actually encourage investment.

Moreover, if planned effectively, the preservation of buildings which are aesthetically pleasing or which bring a cultural value to an area can have a positive multiplier effect on neighbouring developments, as the demand for property around such sites increases, and new investors seek knock-on benefits from its appeal.

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

Preservation organizations are obliged to act in the public interest

Both charities and government agencies which seek to preserve historic sites do so with the understanding that their work contributes towards a greater social good. While what constitutes 'historical interest' will always involve contentious judgements, preservation organizations should always attempt to consider the benefits (and costs) to society when attempting to restore and maintain old sites.

George Reid's report demands a thorough inventory and assessment of the National Trust for Scotland's many assets[[http://www.nts.org.uk/About/The-Review/]] before any decisions are made, and this approach is essential before valuable charitable or state resources are invested in preserving any developments. 'Historical Interest' may be an unhelpfully vague term, but at the least it should refer to sites which the public as a whole would feel beneficial in preserving. An in-depth and public evaluation of candidates for preservation is always necessary before any work should take place.

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

'Historical Importance' is certainly preferable over importance to certain influential individuals

As with almost all debates surrounding development and preservation, different individuals and groups will hold important stakes in their outcomes. Lobbyists and local pressure groups will frequently campaign to preserve or to redevelop old sites, and the notion of 'historical importance' as a defining feature of preservation at least gives a legal and practical criterion for decisions on preservation. No doubt such decisions and debates will still be susceptible to pressure from those who seek to benefit, but if a candidate for preservation can be proved to be of cultural and historical value, investments can be safely made with the reassurance of public benefit as being placed first and foremost.

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

The danger of mothballing

A key influence on George Reid's report was the fact that, in order to save a £13 million pound budget hole, four National Trust for Scotland sites had to be left to fall into disrepair or 'mothballed'. If strict priorities on what justifies preservation are not made, there is a very signficant danger of many underfunded, low profile preserved properties receiving sub-standard maintainance and eventually being left derelict.

By enforcing clearer and perhaps less generous guidelines on buildings which are worthy of preservation, resources can be focussed more effectively on a smaller number of preserved properties, and can maintain a higher standard of preservation overall, even if it comes at the price of some less historically important sites.

Avoiding mothballing and disrepair does not necessarily require cutting back on what is considered worth preserving. Reid's report itself argues that lesser assets of the NTS should instead be handed over to other smaller organizations, charities and local authorities [[http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/news/National-Trust-for-Scotland-to.6465473.jp]]. A charity with an estate as large and as inefficiently run as the NTS does certainly need to prioritize the allocation of its resources, but many smaller properties worthy of preservation can be undoubtedly trusted to other, more specialized, interested parties.

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

Tastes change over time

The study of historiorgraphy teaches us that, over time and with sufficient debate and research, historical judgements can change dramatically. If we choose only to preserve what is seen as of 'historical importance' today, we run the risk of consigning sites whose significance has not yet been fully realised to extinction. It is more than likely that, in the eyes of planners, 'historical importance' will be linked to public interest and profitability, and less well-known, accessible or immediately eye-catching sites will be lost as cuts are made.

The danger of failing to preserve sites which are relatively unknown to the general public or which cannot be immediately made profitable will be especially acute during a recession and a period of cuts to government expenditure, as public organizations are placed under intense scrutiny and as autonomous profits become a key factor in historical sites' survival.

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

The danger of bowing to public opinion

When a category as arbitrary as 'historical importance' is chosen as the factor in preserving or not preserving buildings, final decisions will undoubtedly become influenced by public opinion on what constitutes a site of historical value. Clearly preservation organizations should operate with the public interests in mind, but inevitably, a building of historical importance for one community will be very different to that for another. It is easy to imagine popular media supporting the preservation of sites which are 'conventionally historical' at the expense of perhaps less well-acknowledged but nonetheless important buildings elsewhere. Frequently, examples of mid-twentieth century Brutalist architecture, because of their public perception as eyesores and stigmas associated with urban planning and social housing, are derided as candidates for preservation by a public and media with entrenched views on historical value.

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

Preservation can bring benefits beyond historical value

Preserving buildings can often bring local benefits to communities which extend beyond their value as 'heritage sites'. Frequently, certain buildings are seen as integral to the character of an area, and become places over which communities can bond through a shared asset. In particular, municipal sites such as swimming pools, town halls and parkland can hold benefits for an area which outside observers such as developers or preservation organiztions may not fully see.

As councils attempt to revitalize run-down urban areas through new investment and modern building, they run the risk of depriving these areas of their individuality and cultural history which may have developed over centuries. If building preservation is given such narrow criteria, the often hidden social value of maintaining sites in an area may be tragically lost.

Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved

Yes because... No because...

The generation of a middle-class 'heritage industry'

'Historical Importance', aside from raising questions of what such an importance entails, implies that historical heritage is the most important thing worth preserving for British society. The historical record is a notoriously biased thing, and it is inevitable that sites of 'historical importance' will frequently be synonymous with things that the predominately middle-class and influential sector of society that purport to take an active interest in preservation (and can afford memberships to organizations such as the National Trust).

If historical importance is the essential feature in preservation, it is likely that the interests of marginal groups such as those of immigrants, low-income communities and LBGT groups will be ignored in favour of traditional, high-profit, popular 'heritage sites'. Factors such as cultural and ethnic importance, which may have immense public significance, could well be put to one side as decisions are made on the relative value of building preservation.

Debates > Only buildings that are historically important should be preserved