IHBC 2020 Yearbook

5 FOREWORD I am delighted to introduce this 2020 edition of the IHBC Yearbook and its highly relevant theme, ‘OLD TOWNS: NEW FUTURES’, which focusses on the economy of historic urban environments and managing change. The publication of the latest yearbook coincides with the establishment of the new AllParty Parliamentary Group on Conservation, People and Places. This new group, which I am very pleased to have been invited to chair, will champion the conservation of the historic environment as a means to deliver successful places that are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. This yearbook appears, of course, at a crossroads moment for the UK as we chart a course out of the coronavirus crisis. That reality is reflected in the IHBC’s Annual School which will look at ‘Reflections and Speculations from a Global Pandemic’ when it takes place ‘virtually’ this year on 19th June. The worst public health crisis in a century has left deep scars on many of those who have lost loved ones. The enforced lockdown on activity has, however sharpened our sensitivity to the quality of the places where we live. For many of us, the narrowing of daily horizons to the places where we can exercise will have deepened appreciation of our local neighbourhoods. And with social distancing likely to be fact of life for some time to come, the shifts in living and working patterns during recent months could prove long lasting. Many staff, especially those in white collar occupations, have discovered that working remotely is easier than imagined, which may encourage companies to cut down the amount of city centre office space that they use. The result could be that many will spend more time working in their own neighbourhoods, and residents of smaller towns will find they are commuting into nearby cities less frequently. As a constituency MP, the challenges and opportunities facing towns are close to my heart. While much of my constituency covers west Oxford, it also includes the neighbouring town of Abingdon. Oxford’s heritage is, of course, world renowned, but Abingdon has strong claims to be England’s oldest continued settlement with remains dating back to prehistoric times and a 7th century abbey. Like many other towns in the UK, though, it suffers from very modern problems. These include inadequate public transport and an unbalanced local economy, which has threatened to turn this historic market town into a dormitory settlement for the overspill of Oxford’s growth. In many smaller settlements the growing political divide between cities and towns reflects a sense that they have been left behind in recent years. Already, before the current crisis, the economic and social problems of our towns had risen up the national agenda. These factors combine, therefore, to make the theme of the IHBC’s 2020 yearbook all the more pertinent, especially as regards its focus on economic issues. The themed articles include a look at current trends on heritage economics by the renowned American authority, Donovan Rypkema. More widely, Ian Baxter writes on tourism and the historic environment, an area that looks likely to increasingly come under the spotlight as we holiday closer to home in a postpandemic environment. High quality historic environments can help attract shoppers and visitors, improving the viability of town and city centres. But this, in turn, brings its own set of problems for neighbourhoods as visitor-focussed developments can conflict with the requirements of the existing residents, pushing them out. The focus of Judith Alfrey’s article is on the industrial towns of the Valleys in South Wales, which share many of the challenges faced by communities in the north of England and midlands. While many of these towns suffer acute socioeconomic problems, they also have a rich legacy of historic buildings that can be capitalised on when undertaking regeneration projects. While the ongoing public health crisis justifiably monopolises our attention, we should not ignore the longer-term challenges that society faces around climate change. Historic places can support sustainable – as well as healthier and more active – lifestyles, because they were designed at a time when a low-carbon economy was based on the needs of pedestrians. Furthermore, the conservation and refurbishment of historic buildings is an intrinsically sustainable form of development that avoids the use and waste of scarce resources associated with demolition and redevelopment. I commend to you the excellent articles in this edition of the yearbook, the themes of which will be expanded on at this year’s IHBC annual school. Layla Moran MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, Chair (elect), All Party Parliamentary Group on Conservation, People and Places