Fen town heritage at risk

wisbech_185708:25 Tuesday 20th October 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Vacant and deteriorating buildings are blighting conservation areas we’ve heard earlier today, the assessment of Historic England who put four Fenland town centre areas on their ‘heritage at risk’ register. They are in Chatteris, Whittlesey, Bowthorpe in Wisbech and March town centre. A conservation area is one that’s recognised as having special architectural or historic interest. John Ette is the Heritage at Risk Principal Advisor for Historic England in the East, and earlier he said this to me.
JOHN ETTE: We’ve been working very closely with the council and their conservation officer staff, and it’s very much sites which have got a declining trend in terms of their overall condition. It can be the loss of architectural details as well as the other features that we’ve discussed this morning. And problems with the public realm or vacancy or quite frankly neglected and empty buildings which can be a problem attracting heritage crime in particular too. And those are quite a challenge, and a challenge across the region, not just in Fenland.
CHRIS MANN: Well Johnny D. has been in March town centre for us this morning.
JOHNNY D: So sir, today we understand that the Historic England have actually put March, where we are right now, on the heritage at risk register. Does that surprise you at all?
PUBLIC ONE: It does a little, but it does seem to be a little run down in places, and probably could do with some TLC I guess. But I don’t know where the finance will come from.
JOHNNY D.: Well if we look round us here, a lot of the shops seem well kept. They’ve got flats above the shops, all painted nicely and not too bad. I see a building there covered in scaffolding which I highlighted earlier. And up the road there’s a shop, I think you mentioned, propped up a little bit with some damage it’s had structurally.
PUBLIC ONE: Yes. I think that needs to be looked at, that particular building, because I wouldn’t like to be living above it. But I think there’s cause for optimism perhaps. The people I speak to from work love the area they live in. So I think they’d like to see something done, and for it to be taken out of the ‘at risk’ register.
PUBLIC TWO: I think it’s a good idea. Plenty of buildings in town are old, and if they’re falling down, why not keep March nice? Do you know what I mean? It’s a lovely place. I’ve been here four years. Come up from London. I’d never ever move back. And it’s got a bit of history hasn’t it? There’s loads of old buildings around to have a look at. They just done one up round the corner here, trying to keep it in context. It took them ages to get an arch. So yes, I think it’s good.
CHRIS MANN: Johnny D. talking to people in March. let’s bring in councillor David Oliver. Morning David.
DAVID OLIVER: Good morning.
CHRIS MANN: Portfolio holder for Community Safety and Heritage …
CHRIS MANN: … at Fenland District Council. So your reaction? Four conservation areas put at risk by Historic England, is that deserved?
DAVID OLIVER: I think if you look at those particular areas, March Chatteris and Whittlesey, we do have general degradation in the street scene, high streets and that, particularly around the alterations to shops and signage. So this is actually having a community impact on that particular area. So we’re hoping that working with our conservation officers, working with those that are involved with those premises, that we can actually help them bring them back to former glory by offering some renaissance grants and things like that.
CHRIS MANN: It will make a difference?
DAVID OLIVER: Make a difference. Yes.
CHRIS MANN: And will that attract new businesses? Heritage England talk about tourists coming because of it. Is that really the case?
DAVID OLIVER: Part of Fenland’s economy is tourism. And obviously people want to see areas which look nice, rather than going down a street and seeing a lot of boarded up buildings and things like that, which we don’t have, but if we don’t get on top of it we could end up having.
CHRIS MANN: David, thank you. Councillor David Oliver there from Fenland District Council.