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THE MONTAGU REPORT
TEN YEARS ON
Peter Richards, one of the contributors to the Montagu Report, re-assesses its recommendations.

It was quite a salutary exercise to re-read the Montagu Report. My first surprise was that I could still find it! In the ten years since Roy Chandler and I gave the Essex evidence, some things have changed for the better, much has remained the same and much has worsened.
The changes which are very obvious to me are headed by the increased pressure (at least up until the market started to drop last year) created by the residential conversion market. In the countryside this has been exemplified by the barn res-conversion syndrome’. Although this was an identified problem in the Report, with hindsight it was insufficiently emphasised. It is interesting to note that in our evidence we estimated that we had some 500 historic barns in the county. Since the resurvey we now know that we have over 1000 listed; of those, between 200—300 have been given res-conversion consent since the Report was published.
The recommendation for Registers of Buildings at Risk has been adopted and the three Essex editions have made some impact, although it has been limited. As yet producing the Register is still a ‘seat of the pants’ exercise, and, although with each edition it becomes more thorough, we see no immediate likelihood of a condition survey for all the county’s listed buildings.
Church redundancy in Essex has not risen significantly during the decade but
many which were problems in 1980 remain so. The biggest current threat to parish churches is extensions but that is not strictly within the remit of the Report.
We owe thanks to Michael Heseltine (and the demolishers of the Firestone building) for getting recommendation 39, the speeding up of list resurveys, under way.
Essex County Council’s Revolving Fund has progressed reasonably. The biggest successes continue to be the buildings we do not adopt but where our intervention stimulates the owners into action.
There are more Building Preservation Trusts in action and at least one other County Council, Derbyshire, has established an active Revolving Fund. One significant improvement achieved during the ten years (not recommended in the Report) has been the establishment of the ACO, and there seem to be more and (somewhat) better paid posts for conservation officers in local authorities. Some things have remained the same: VAT still has to be paid on building repairs; local authorities are still not exemplary owners of listed buildings; the ‘inevitable link’ between repair notices and compulsory purchase orders still remains.
“I don’t see any (craft) training at all” says Mervyn Miller in the Report. Despite employment training schemes, the skill levels in traditional trades are woefully inadequate. ‘When faced with traditional repair methods and materials, much of the education is carried out by the architect and the conservation officer. Lastly, in the ‘no change’ section I should record, with silent
thanks, that we still have a team of 14 in Essex.
In many conservation fields the decade has seen a deterioration. First and foremost, with increasing building cost the problems in getting adequate capital allocations are universal. Similarly 1962 Act and Town Scheme grant financing has not kept pace with increased repair cost and inflation.
The recommendation for the establishment of ‘rural town schemes’ has not been responded to by central government, although some local authorities have made attempts by (some would say) distorting the Conservation Area designation legislation.
There still seems little likelihood of repairs being VAT zero-rated, and, with the introduction of the uniform business rate, the opportunity to rate unoccupied listed commercial buildings and so help to resolve the “under-used upper storey” syndrome has been missed.
On matters concerning listed buildings which are owned by public bodies, my own experience of both local and central government is depressing. Of particular relevance to the ACO was recommendation 49(i) that all local authorities should provide themselves with ‘a wide range of specialist advice
etc’, not a suggestion that has had universal response. Similarly recommendations 51 and 52, directed to statutory bodies and suggesting that unwanted public sector buildings should be offered for sale and that Government should give clear guidelines to its own departments etc on their responsiblities in relation to listed buildings, do not appear to have been responded to in any significant way.
We have made some progress, but overall in ten years we have not cracked the problem of redundant listed buildings. Our solutions for re-use have all too often resulted in excessively damaging the buildings we are trying to save by bending the rules in every possible way. How many of the new uses in churches, factories, barns, warehouses, mills, schools and so on can we say, hand on 8/87, have really ‘saved’ the building? Would we use our resources better by concentrating on keeping a limited number of these building types in perfect repair and original use or no use, and letting the rest be demolished rather than being defaced and deformed? That probably isn’t the answer either. The need is for more resources, fmancial and physical, and, under the latter head, there must be continued pressure to ensure that every local planning authority in the country has skilled specialist advice available from trained and experienced conservation officers.

Peter Richards is with Essex County Council.
ESSEX:
A RE-ASSESSMENT
Roydon station, Essex after a decade of dereliction eventually successfuily converted to a wine bar.
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