IHBC Yearbook 2010

24 Y e a r b o o k 2 0 1 0 Leighton House A Local Authority at Work David McDonald and Daniel Robbins Local authorities in the UK must manage the most diverse portfolio of listed buildings imaginable. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is a good example. Its buildings range from the Grade I Jacobean ruins of Holland House on the one hand, to the major Victorian structures of Albert and Chelsea bridges which span the Thames on the other. The housing stock ranges from Victorian terraces to Goldfinger’s iconic 1970s block of flats, Trellick Tower. We can add to this a variety of other civic buildings including a town hall, libraries, schools, museums and swimming baths, not to mention a walled ornamental garden by CFA Voysey and numerous structures including statues, horse troughs and even the occasional Victorian bollard. For the Royal Borough’s conservation and design team this provides some exciting buildings to deal with, but can equally set up a number of real challenges. First, there is the number of different council departments responsible for these buildings. While some may be the responsibility of the property services department, there are a number of other departments responsible, from the highways engineers who maintain bridges to the family and children’s services department, which is responsible for schools. While the approach to maintenance, repair and improvement should be the same in each case, it is almost inevitable that there will be differences in management style, which may often depend on the degree of interest of the officers responsible. Perhaps understandably, if an individual’s portfolio contains only one or two listed buildings, then they are likely to be viewed as a bit of an inconvenience rather than an exciting challenge. At the same time it is difficult for the officers responsible to develop an area of expertise. Second, there is a need to gain consent from the regional Government Office, which is a rather slow process because of the convoluted procedures involved. While this ‘check and balance’ may be necessary for reasons of probity, it does inevitably lead to delays and the understandable frustration of those wishing to undertake works. English Heritage has produced some very useful guidance on the subject titled Managing Local Authority Heritage Assets: Some Guiding Principles for Decision-makers (2003). However, while it may have a place on the local authority conservation officer’s bookshelf, other departments need to be constantly reminded of its existence. Despite the difficulties, there are always success stories. The recent refurbishment of Leighton House is a The Arab Hall (Photo: Justin Barton/Leighton House Museum)