The study and appreciation of the life, works and times of Arnold Bennett

Personally Speaking

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Ambition’s the key to reviving derelict sites

The following article first appeared in the Sentinel

(Stoke on Trent) Monday March 4, 2019

BBC Radio 4’s adaptation over five weekends  of Arnold Bennet’s novels, ‘China Towns ‘ is still further evidence of the rich seam of Burlsem’s cultural heritage being in the  national spotlight. Again!! Its just  a pity the actors haven’t quite got a true Stoke on Trent  voice. 

But what the drama  has got is a measure of the ambition that drove the local economy in the last part of the nineteenth century – a period of change exquisitely portrayed in the novels of Arnold Bennett’s literary masterpieces set in the “five” towns.  

That same level of ambition is urgently needed today.
What advice would be given to anyone like Edwin wanting to be an architect when they grow up?  Or what pressing issues would be debated in today’s version of ‘The Young Men’s Debating Society’ – back then ‘a newly formed branch of the multifarious activity of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel’   
Next week I have been invited to chair a workshop at the prestigious FutureBuild 2019 Conference at the  Excel Centre in London. Any aspiring architect or for that matter housebuilder, developer, chartered surveyor, manufacturer, town planner or concerned citizen of the world would be well advised to  take a detailed look at that conference agenda and exhibition arena. Both demonstrate the enormous opportunities for future new homes  and retrofit packages for existing homes.
And representatives from the Royal Institute of British Architects might well be  suitable experts to speak at a modern-day version of the Burslem Debating Society – maybe to an invited audience of the Staffordshire Chamber or the Local Enterprise Partnership  ( the LEP is charged with delivering economic prosperity locally). 
Any such debate should refer to the Climate Change Committee Report  – ‘UK Housing- Fit For the Future- published on February 21.  This warns that emission reductions from the UK’s 29 million homes have stalled while energy use in homes, accounting for 14% of total UK emissions have increased between 2016 and 2017. 
It is also confirms that efforts to adapt the UK’s housing stock are lagging far behind what is needed to keep us safe and comfortable, and to meet our legally binding targets.
Knowing all this, I can’t help wonder what Arnold Bennett would have made of the recent welcome award of £10 million government funding to kick start housing development of former industrial sites in Burslem to breathe new life into the town? The first  to get underway is the former  Nile Street Royal Doulton site. Disappointingly the developer St Modwen has pointedly refused to consider anything beyond  existing minimal  building design standards including on energy efficiency.
That is a far cry from the trailblazer example undertaken by Nottingham City Council given on page 43 of the Climate Change Committee Report. Working in partnership with Melius Homes  there is a commitment in Nottingham to adopting the ‘Energiesprong’ standard for new build or whole house refurbishment. This is exactly the level of ambition we need for house building and employment here in Stoke on Trent. 
Whether we build new homes or upgrade existing ones the old adddage of ‘if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing properly’ should apply. Far better and cheaper for new homes to get the design right at the outset than retrofitting later.  Far better too to for retrofit to meet the highest possible standards of substantial fabric improvements, ground source heat pumps, shared borehole and solar panels.  
So I shall be watching this space to see whether last week’s poorly attended parliamentary debate on climate change – the first for over two and a half years – results in a more favourable comprehensive spending review to fund much needed whole life costs investment into existing and new housing stock. 
Joan Walley – Chair of the Aldergate Branch of
The Institution of Environmental Sciences

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