Do we need a Heritage Tsar?

I didn’t cover every subject under the local authority ‘sun’ in yesterday’s interview with Cllr Kevin Guy – the leader of B&NES. But what we did talk about is worth considering by clicking on the YouTube link and listening to what he has to say.

One of the biggest bees under my bonnet is the fact that the city’s historical fabric – its architecture and urban/rural setting – is not guarded by what l would call a ‘Heritage Tsar” – someone who is aware of the sensitivity of Bath’s World Heritage status and how best to utilise and enhance that in terms of tourism.

The sun shines upon Bath this Thursday morning in mid-November.

I don’t want draconian measures to stop businesses from flourishing but – for instance – there are many ‘photo opportunity’ spots where tourists like to take pictures that show off our historical features to their best advantage.

Like it or not parts of the city are like a stage set. I remember when l was a Mayor’s Guide hearing a story about a tourist asking if the Royal Crescent was just propped up flat scenery!!

Take Bath Street – stretching from the side entrance to the Roman Baths all the way down to the Cross Bath. Its rare double-side colonnade is most certainly a picture worth taking.

But then – in this historically sensitive spot – we witness one side of the colonnade being painted and, more recently, garlands being hung above a pavement cafe.

I can see the sense in decorating your business to make it stand out but then – as a neutral observer – trying to take a picture of that architectural set-piece without additions is impossible.

B&NES should be more aware of the uniqueness of its central architectural jewels.

See how outside catering is now eating up the space in Abbey Churchyard – where also – in corralling its visitors – the Abbey and Roman Baths infiltrate into more free space.

Some might argue it brings the Abbey Church Yard to life and certainly all that open-air eating is popular in the bird world.

A picture – taken from the Stall Street colonnades – does not now give you a clear view of that Tudor-built Abbey beyond.

All over the city there are growing issues with street wheelie bins too. They are big and ugly and every colour under the sun.

No thought seems to be given to finding spaces for them that are less obtrusive.

I am also sure a designer could come up with a less impactful ‘look’ for these trash and recycling trollies.

A Heritage Tsar could maybe also offer incentives to businesses NOT to decorate their facades in plastic flowers and fake greenery which rapidly fades in the sun.

It’s good to see so many fighting back against this environmentally-polluting material.

A Heritage Tsar could maybe work to speed up the repair of historic fabric damaged in road accidents. How much longer is this mess outside the York Hotel going to continue?

He or she l am sure could have worked some magic to get the Laura Place Fountain up and running in a much speedier fashion by communicating with all parties.

Cleveland Bridge is one example of a man-made structure showing its age and its limitations. There are other bridges of a similar if not older construction and even cellar walls – like these opposite The Paragon – are starting to crumble. A Heritage Tsar could spot some of these issues in a regular walk around the city centre.

Arts and culture are very important to Bath. We have fine museums and art galleries. Music and arts festivals – but heritage is where we make our money.

It’s the special history and architecture reflected in our Roman remains, Tudor Abbey, Georgian crescents, the Victorian embellishments of railway and suspension bridge and the way the landscape draws together public and private buildings and spaces. Valued objects and qualities that need protecting.

It’s a thought and a personal one. What do others think?

1 Comment

  1. Rather than a tsar (possibly not the best role model in the present circumstances) how about a World Heritage Trust with independent funding and responsibilities, such as Edinburgh has?

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