Q&A: Chris Costelloe

This year the Victorian Society faced up to English Heritage on the Smithfield redevelopment, and won. Where does the society director Chris Costelloe stand on the imminent changes at EH?

How do you react to the splitting of English Heritage into a charitable trust and statutory consultee?

I’d say the split into different parts shouldn’t change the role of the new individual organisations, but I do have questions over whether the £88.5m funding pot over the next eight years is enough to get the existing EH estate in order. That said, I can’t see any incumbent government allowing Dover Castle to slide into the Channel. 

And what about Historic England?

That’s an interesting one. I think it can’t help but have a lower profile, so it’s going to have to stand up for itself. I’m hoping the fact that it’s going to be a smaller organisation means that it’s going to be about increased specialisation rather than marginalisation. EH had a strong voice in the past and we wish at times that it would have a stronger one. It did well to campaign for the listing of the London’s Broadgate Centre, even though it didn’t get it. 

Do you think your engagement with HE will change?

It’s generally been good – we did find ourselves disagreeing over Smithfield. Even though it was saved in the end, I never heard a reasoned argument from EH that would justify the loss of the market hall. Our priority is to ensure that any future proposal is suitable for what is the biggest market complex in the country and still maintains its original grain. When Thameslink and Crossrail interchange at Farringdon, the area will be a key London centre, and the perfect site I think, for a functioning public market.

And what do you want them to support you on?

Politically, we are looking for VAT relief on the refurbishment of historic buildings, which would put them on a level playing field with the construction of new buildings and get rid of the perverse incentive it currently creates to knock them down.

What has the Victorian Society been concentrating on recently?

Our latest campaign was the 10 most endangered buildings in the UK. We’re really worried about the Cardiff Coal Exchange – one of the city’s most historic buildings, and where there’s a question mark over the city council’s commitment to ensuring its future. Also London’s Abney Park Cemetery Chapel, historically the world’s first non-denominational chapel, is fenced off and in a parlous state.


ALL CHANGE AT EH

The government has announced that properties run by English Heritage will remain in public hands but will be managed by a charitable trust, using the same name. It will provide £80m of capital investment and £8.5m to implement the new structure) to restore or maintain over 400 English Heritage sites. Powers in planning and heritage protection will be carried out by a new public body, Historic England, with the remit of providing expert and impartial advice on the wider historical environment. 

Funding for the works is due to be disbursed over the next eight years, after which it is anticipated that English Heritage, while remaining in public ownership, will become self-financing. Heritage minister Ed Vaizey called it a benefit for the taxpayer ‘as the need for direct government funding for the heritage collection reduces.