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Bath in 'dumbing down' row

The South West's architecture community has joined together to condemn the dumbing down of the council's heritage team in Bath, an important World Heritage Site.

Conservationists, former council staff, local architects and academics have combined forces to slam the local authority's recent decision to replace departing expert employees with novices.

Bath council has been hit by an exodus of retiring staff, a situation that has been exacerbated by deaths and people deciding to work elsewhere over recent months.

But instead of recruiting experienced professionals to bolster its expertise, the council has taken the approach of bringing on board junior, unqualified planners as replacements.

'Bath is an area of real concern,' said ex-RIBA president George Ferguson,

who has won awards for his conservation work.

'What we need are confident, well-educated conservation officers of English-Heritage-standard. Bath has had some remarkable people in the past - a person from management is no compensation for their loss.'

The whistle was blown on the local authority's plan by an anonymous ex-council conservation architect who contacted the AJ. He said: 'I've spoken to about 15 experts about the loss of expertise from the council and all of them have expressed concern. I hope it's something that can be prevented.'

Michael Forsyth, director of studies of the postgraduate course in the conservation of historic buildings at the University of Bath, has damned the council's lack of staff resources. He told the AJ: 'I feel very strongly that a World Heritage Site like Bath should have a team of conservation architects rather than planners.

'Planners are seldom qualified to judge whether applications for listed building consent are acceptable or not. There's now only one qualified conservation architect on the team and that is very poor for a World Heritage city.'

He continued: 'If planners are unable to make a judgement their tendency is to recommend refusal - conservation should be the management of change, and not allowing buildings to stagnate.'

And Peter Clegg, senior partner with Bath-based Feilden Clegg Bradley, who has worked closely with the council on a number of developments, including the regeneration of Bath riverside, agreed. 'There's a genuine problem getting qualified conservation architects to join local authorities and not the private sector,' he said.

However, Tony Crouch, heritage and environment manager with Bath & North East Somerset Council, defended the council's decision to recruit junior members of staff to its team.

He claimed that the conservation section of Bath council had become a 'graveyard', littered with statesman-like seasoned professionals, giving little chance for future generations to rise up through the ranks.

by Rob Sharp

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