1

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 interest-
ing 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 edi-
tion 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 build-
ing) for getting recommendation 39, the
speeding up of list resurveys, under way.
Essex County Council’s Revolving Fund
has progressed reasonably. The biggest suc-
cesses 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 esta-
blished 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 conserva-
tion 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’ bet-
ween 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 establish-
ment 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 govern-
ment is depressing. Of particular relevance
to the ACO was recommendation 49(i) that
all local authorities should provide them-
selves with ‘a wide range of specialist advice
etc’, not a suggestion that has had
universal response. Similarly recommen-
dations 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 res-
ponded 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 bet-
ter 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 experien-
ced 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.
10
CONTEXT 26

1