A recent article in the Coventry Observer has highlighted the disgraceful situation whereby a surreptitious undemocratic decision has been made to paint the undercroft of the medieval guildhall white, ignoring objections from Historic England and outrage from residents.
At least, that is how it is reported. But is this the case? Rescue has been asked to look into this, and has found a situation less clear cut. The Listed Building Consent application for the works sets out a plausible case. The letter from Historic England highlights concerns about the work and recommends using reversible paint, but mentions no overall objections to the plan. There are no consultation responses – positive or negative – from residents. The Officer Report outlines that the issues raised by Historic England have been addressed and agreed with both them and the authority’s own Conservation Officer. Perhaps this isn’t as controversial as the headline implies.
Make no mistake: Rescue – along with a number of other heritage and archaeological bodies in the UK – believes that the current planning regime actively works against the effective conservation, preservation and management of our historic environment, and we firmly believe that forthcoming changes to planning legislation and guidance will only make this situation worse. We are committed to highlighting where this system acts to degrade and diminish our historic environment. However, it is also the case that historic sites do require the process of change management to take place: preservation in situ, need not mean preservation in aspic, and this is not a course of action which brings underused heritage sites and features back into sensible and sustainable operation. It’s important to look out for opportunities where innovation and proactive measures can ensure better management and preservation, and these should be encouraged. In principle one might not approve of painting the Coventry medieval guildhall’s undercroft, but if it is reversible, and if it allows more people to visit and appreciate the site, and if it leads to better conservation and management in the future, is a temporary coat of paint too high a price to pay? These decisions need to be carefully weighed after appropriate consideration and discussion with specialist-qualified experts: and in this case, this seems to have taken place.