Does the past have a future?
How do we ensure a future for our past in a time of austerity? This question was explored by English Heritage Commissioner Jane Kennedy, at the College of Estate Management’s annual Alumni CPD Lecture and Networking Event.
This event on February 14 at the Carpenters’ Hall, London, was attended by around 80 guests, including College alumni and students. As well as giving guests a chance to network and to find out more about CEM’s courses, it also offered two fascinating talks and presentations on conservation and our built heritage.
Jane Kennedy began by describing her work as an architect involved with the conservation of Ely Cathedral. “Looking after Ely is a great privilege and it’s a unique responsibility,” she said. “But how can we put a value on something that’s beyond price. How can we protect it and make it work for us in the future?
“In these very difficult times, everything is vulnerable, and everything at the same time is up for grabs – not least our heritage,” she said.
Outlining the development of our national collection of historic sites and monuments, she said there has always been a need to know and value our own history – understanding how we became who we are.
“In complex societies telling that story becomes more, not less, important,” she said. “It explains and honours our culture, and has been, and is increasingly, a source of wealth.”
Built heritage contributes £4.3 billion annually in tourism income to GDP, rising to £11.9 billion taking into account the multiplier effect on suppliers. UK tourism overall contributes £115bn to GDP, is our fifth largest industry and our third biggest export earner.
However, the importance of our national heritage to the UK’s economy isn’t given high priority politically, despite its potential in these austere times.
While we are world leaders in heritage protection, we invest less in our built heritage than many other countries, she said. English Heritage itself has taken a 34% budget cut under the present government.
Ms Kennedy outlined three steps to securing a future for our past: by telling a bigger and more powerful story about our heritage and its assets; by ensuring we have the best possible heritage protection system; and by using heritage to drive regeneration.
Challenges ahead include making the history in our heritage sites more understandable, accessible and affordable, developing education and learning links with our national heritage, maintaining robust heritage protection, and making scarce resources go further.
“We care about heritage not because we live in the past, but because we love the present and we care about the best future,” she said.
Putting old buildings to the test
The second speaker, Douglas Kent, Technical and Research Director with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), gave his presentation – Energy Efficiency: Putting Old Buildings to the Test.
He outlined his organisation’s research into energy efficiency in old buildings. “I believe that research isn’t incompatible with conservation,” he said. “Understanding old buildings is a prerequisite to the success of conservation. At the end of the day, I don’t think William Morris (SPAB’s founder) will be turning in his grave.”
SPAB’s energy efficiency research has involved traditional buildings (pre-1919) constructed in a range of materials, including limestone, brick, granite and cob. The research has three main strands: U-values (measure of heat loss), building performance survey and hygrothermal modelling (movement of heat and moisture through buildings).
One of the reasons for launching the research is to avoid some of the pitfalls of ‘greening up’ the built environment, for example homeowners with the best intentions, covering exterior walls with cladding, or removing original doors or windows and replacing them with double glazing.
There are also concerns about the Government’s new Green Deal initiative – the biggest home improvement scheme since World War II. This went live at the end of January 2013, despite a shortage of traditional building specialists.
SPAB’s research into U-values found that in traditional buildings, calculations underestimate these values in 77% of cases. That means that the majority of walls in traditional buildings are more energy efficient than SAP ratings and commercial U-value software indicate. The Department of Energy & Climate Change’s own research is replicating the results.
The implications are that BR 443 (Conventions for U-value calculations) and SAP 2009 (The Government’s Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy Rating of Dwellings) need revision as U-values are the basis of building energy assessments, legislation and policy.
The Department of Energy & Climate Change needs to address this before full deployment of the Green Deal, said Mr Kent. He concluded that we need continuing high-quality research to reduce carbon emissions in our traditional buildings – around a quarter of our building stock.
For further information visit www.spab.org.uk/advice/energy-efficiency/