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RESTORATION SHOULD BECOME A PRIVATE MATTER

LETTERS

So Chedham's Yard, Wellesbourne, wins this year's Restoration Village. At some point in the 1970s its owner, William Chedham, decided to stop trading as a wheelwright and blacksmith. He simply walked away, leaving all his equipment behind. And here lies the fascination: Chedham represents the chance to bring back to life a ghost workshop of a forgotten age of individual craftsmen.

Thanks to Griff Rhys Jones, the BBC, the voting public and various heritage initiatives, the yard will be restored to become a working museum with a blacksmith providing an educational role for schools. And this is where I have a problem.

On one level I am right behind Rhys Jones in his campaigning. He is right to highlight the perilous state of our heritage, especially when you consider that to restore all the properties featured in the series would cost less than one Euro-ghter jet (£35 million). I also support any attempt to highlight the un-joined-up thinking of our government in not reducing VAT on materials used for restoration projects to the same level that new construction projects enjoy.

But (and it's a big but), why must all the buildings profiled become training facilities, cultural centres, public amenities or craft museums, without so much of a whisper of debate? Allow me to be gloriously un-PC and question our need for another 'pretend' workshop to teach kids what it used to be like when Britain had a vibrant manufacturing industry. I fear that within a few years most of these buildings will be back on their knees, begging for funds.

Buildings need to pay their way, and nowhere in the Restoration series has there been any focus on how the private sector can play a role in saving these wrecks. Surely it is better that a building is restored to fulfil a commercial or residential purpose, if the alternative is to lose it forever?

If local government is unwilling to support these buildings, they must be put to commercial use as homes, offices, restaurants or hotels. These are more likely to be maintained by their owners and also help the local economy, providing new jobs and wealth, rather than simply reminding us of the jobs and culture we have lost.

An example of this is Dalquharran castle in Scotland.

Little is left of this magnificent Adam building, since the owners were forced to take the roof off in 1967 in order to help pay the rates. My practice is involved in restoring the castle to become a hotel. To the minds of purists, the only restoration Dalquharran should enjoy is its return to a country house, open to the public as a museum. But without commercial investment and usage it is likely that within a few years the castle remains will be lost forever.

So surely better the devil you know in commercial development than the complete loss of a fine building? We need only so many cultural training facilities - but the demand for homes and businesses is real. Maybe we should follow William Chedham and recognise when it's time to put the past behind us.

Richard Hywel Evans, RHE Architecture & Design, London

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