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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 20 June 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motions, Oaths, Topical Question Time, Policing 2026, Crofting Commission, Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill, Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time, Scottish Civic Trust (50th Anniversary)


Contents


Scottish Civic Trust (50th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05856, in the name of Linda Fabiani, on the Scottish Civic Trust—50 years of protecting Scotland’s built heritage. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Scottish Civic Trust on its 50th anniversary; notes that the trust began in 1967 to respond to the destruction of buildings and townscapes around Scotland; acknowledges that it helped to save New Lanark from dereliction and assisted in developing a network of local civic trusts around Scotland; welcomes initiatives that it has established, including Doors Open Day and the My Place Awards; recognises that the trust has an ongoing commitment to save buildings and townscapes, keeping communities at the heart of its movement, and thanks all volunteers, past and present, for their sterling work.

17:19  

Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

I am really pleased to bring the debate to the chamber to congratulate the Scottish Civic Trust on its 50th anniversary of protecting Scotland’s built heritage. As I get a bit older, 50 years does not seem that long, but I suppose that it is almost two lifetimes for some of our members.

The Scottish Civic Trust is an organisation with a proud history. It was established in 1967 in response to the destruction of innumerable historic buildings and areas of townscape, some of which had evolved over centuries. A lot of people realised that our history and heritage were in danger of being lost for ever, so a lot of volunteers came together and decided that they had to do something about that. The trust was a focus for debate, but it was also a focus for action, and that is what is really important about it.

I had a wee look at the timeline of what the trust has achieved. I have lost that, although I had it sitting here. Aha—I have found it now, which is useful. The timeline of what it has done over 50 years is fascinating. The first director was a chap called Maurice Lindsay, who is—sadly—no longer with us. He and the first trustees had a vision of civic pride and the ability to see something that we all talk about now: how places and placemaking are key to the wellbeing of individuals and communities. He and those who worked with him saw that.

What the trust has been instrumental in over the years is important. People do not realise the truly great, big things that it has done. Away back in 1970, it organised a conference on the conservation of Georgian Edinburgh, which was important. It took place in the assembly rooms in Edinburgh.

The trust was instrumental in ensuring that New Lanark was preserved for posterity and for all of us to enjoy. When people talk about New Lanark, they talk about the legacy of David Dale and Robert Owen and about the wonderful social initiatives that were taken at that time and were exported around the world. We should be very proud of it, but we must ask ourselves whether, if people had not had the vision to save the built heritage of New Lanark, we would be as aware as we are of the social history that surrounds the area. I suspect that we would not. People now visit New Lanark, where a thriving community lives and works, and they learn without realising that they are learning about what New Lanark stands for.

The Scottish Civic Trust also started doors open days—people do not realise that, either. It started the photoarch competition, which launched in 2007—I remember the first one well. The competition’s aim was for schoolchildren to recognise the worth of their environment. The trust also launched the my place awards. There is a lot of stuff in the timeline. I suspect that I surprise people by talking about those things; people do not realise that the trust was behind them.

That ties in with something that I said at an excellent event that we had in the Scottish Parliament to celebrate the trust’s 50th anniversary, which I hosted as the chair of the cross-party group on architecture and the built environment. We heard a lot about the work that was done by John Gerrard, who spoke at that reception. He started as a technical officer in 1968 and retired from the organisation in 2000. What a fantastic man he is and what knowledge he has.

At the event, I said that the thing about the trust that inspires and pleases me and makes me really appreciate it is the way in which it just quietly gets on with the work. It cares so much about what it does that it just quietly gets on with the work and does not look for any reward.

What does the trust do? Its mission is to

“create places that are attractive, stimulating and enjoyable.”

Its vision is that

“Scotland’s important and distinctive buildings and places are understood, cared for and celebrated.”

The trust is not just about ancient buildings and listed buildings; it also looks to the future. I represent the new town of East Kilbride, which has a couple of listed buildings that I know the trust is interested in. Many years down the line, the trust may be trying to ensure that those buildings are preserved. The trust is about the past, the present and the future.

The Scottish Civic Trust provides leadership for a network of local civic trust and amenity societies. There are about 120 of them across Scotland, and I am sure that there is one near to every member of the Scottish Parliament. I am also pretty sure that a lot of folk do not know that they exist and are quietly getting on with the work. Those trusts do not blow their own trumpets enough.

However, when I had a look at the Scottish Civic Trust’s draft report that will come out this year—it is only a draft so I cannot share it with members—I was pleased to see that it is starting to blow its trumpet a wee bit. It recognises the worth of what it does and wants people to know about it.

One of the things that the trust plans to launch this year is an annual civic day, which will be a national celebration of civic pride. That is an excellent thing to do. There are a lot of initiatives around, such as the keep Scotland beautiful campaign. When I am working in Parliament, I am fortunate to spend a couple of nights a week in Edinburgh, and I have to mention the mess that was our street last night. It was absolutely filthy and disgusting and we find that too often these days.

Civic pride is important. People generally care about their environment, even if they do not realise it. Whether it be the natural or the built environment, the places that people have to be in contribute much to their wellbeing. People having a sense of pride in their surroundings is excellent.

Placemaking and flourishing communities go hand in hand, as the Scottish Civic Trust has recognised for 50 years. I would like everyone here to recognise the work that the trust quietly gets on with to the benefit of us all, to support it, to look at the national celebration of civic pride that is coming up on the annual civic day, to support doors open day, to look at the trust’s place in our planning legislation and to support it for the next 50 years.

17:27  

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I begin by joining Linda Fabiani in congratulating the Scottish Civic Trust on its 50th anniversary. It is a remarkable landmark for any organisation to reach and one that should rightly be celebrated. I am glad that we have the chance to talk about it in Parliament today.

Protecting our environment and architecture is important for all our communities whether they be old or new, natural or built. Scots should be very proud of what we have built in this country; defending and seeking to enhance it is a fine and noble cause.

One of the main strengths of the Scottish Civic Trust is its local community-based, volunteer-led groups, which exist right across the country. In the West Scotland region, we are lucky enough to have more than 15 groups stretching from groups in Rosneath and Helensburgh in the north of the region to Kilwinning in the south, and, in the west, from groups on Arran to the eastern part of my region in Clydebank and Renfrew.

Each of those groups plays a vital part in protecting the environment of their communities. It is a vital task because, as the Scottish Civic Trust, correctly states on its website,

“One of Scotland’s most important resources is its environment”.

The groups can help to play a part in influencing the way in which our environment is managed to ensure that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.

According to the Scottish Civic Trust, almost 90 per cent of its groups engage directly with local councils on individual planning applications and overall local planning and development plan policy. Scottish Civic Trust local groups also work to involve and inform the wider public by organising lectures and social events, and run awards schemes. Their activities also include working to get improvements to the local area and working with schools and local businesses.

The Scottish Civic Trust also co-ordinates the work of numerous national projects such as the civic pride campaign, my place awards, the my place photography competition and the Scottish heritage angel awards.

Another example of that sort of work is the doors open day, one of which is planned for this year by the Helensburgh Heritage Trust, which is working to hold an event that would see some of the town’s most iconic buildings open their doors to the public. That follows the successful doors open day that was held in West Dunbartonshire last year, which saw the doors of various prominent and well-known buildings being open to the public including St Mungo’s Scottish Episcopal church in Alexandria, Strathleven House in Dumbarton and the gardens at the Robin House children’s hospice in Balloch.

The frequency of such events shows that the Scottish public is aware of its heritage and is active in promoting it frequently. If the number of events in my region is replicated across Scotland, which I understand is the case, the Scottish Civic Trust has undoubtedly fulfilled its duty to promote Scotland’s environment and architecture.

Once again, I congratulate the Scottish Civic Trust on its 50th anniversary and wish it the very best for the next 50 years.

17:30  

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I, too, congratulate Linda Fabiani on securing the debate. It provides a good opportunity to focus on Scotland’s built environment and on how civil society can work with central and local government to achieve the right balance of conservation and development in our crowded urban spaces.

It is no coincidence that the society was founded 50 years ago because, in a sense, that marked the end of the period of post-war redevelopment, which was often done at a pace and in ways that perhaps left heritage quite low down the order of priorities. Having experienced that process and having reached a point at which there was clearly a broader recognition of the importance of conservation as well as development, the Civic Trust has contributed over those 50 years to a rethink and a reprioritisation, in particular in relation to protecting some of our most valuable heritage.

Linda Fabiani mentioned Georgian Edinburgh and New Lanark, but of course there are many other examples around the country where the Civic Trust and those bodies which it helped to bring into being have made that kind of development or change possible. The guiding principle of local empowerment that underlies the Civic Trust is, I think, the right one, recognising that local communities have a special interest in how their local area is conserved or developed or both.

There will not always be consensus on what projects should go forward—as I suspect most members know from their local experience—or how they should relate to each other and to existing buildings. It is a question of what the balance should be between conservation and development. However, the starting point has to be that local people have the right and the opportunity to express their views and to take an active role. It is that approach that we celebrate this evening.

I highlight from my own area the Aberdeen Civic Society, which is a member of the Scottish Civic Trust and the Aberdeen City Heritage Trust, which brings together a number of public and third sector organisations with similar objectives in mind. The work that those bodies do is very much around getting the balance right and ensuring that while we seek to regenerate our cities, we do it in a sensitive and respectful way.

Another fundamental principle of the Civic Trust that has already been mentioned is the importance of raising awareness, pride and a sense of ownership of our best historic and public buildings.

The annual doors open day, which is co-ordinated and initiated by the trust, is a good example of the mutual benefits that can arise for those who are responsible for such buildings and the wider community. I know from experience just how much it is possible for families to learn about their city from doors open day.

Buildings that might be walked past without a second glance turn out to contain much more than meets the eye—in Aberdeen, for example, there is St Nicholas the mither kirk, which has been a centre of worship and city life for well-nigh 1,000 years, and Trinity Hall. Anyone who has visited Trinity Hall in Aberdeen will see a typical 1970s building but perhaps not be aware until they go in the door that behind those walls lies hundreds of years of accumulated heritage from the incorporated trades of the city. There are benefits to those who visit, but there also benefits to those who operate such buildings because of that increased awareness and that increased audience for what they do.

It is worth saying that it is not just about the built environment and old and ancient buildings, important though those are; Aberdeen Civic Society has recently provided awards for the restoration of Duthie park, a public park in the centre of Aberdeen which has been restored to a fantastic standard, and for the building of a Maggie’s centre in Aberdeen—a modern, purpose-built building which is right on the edge of the hospital campus at Foresterhill.

The work of the Civic Trust and the organisations that are part of it nationally is very much to be commended. I am sure that it will continue to grow and develop over the next 50 years in the way that it has done over the last 50.

17:34  

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

Heritage—a word that either inspires and excites people or leaves them cold. For me, it is the former.

I thank Linda Fabiani for bringing the debate to Parliament. Linda and I come from the same part of Scotland—South Lanarkshire. It is, like many other parts of the country, an area rich in history, but it is a history that is too easy to lose.

The motion mentions New Lanark. The cotton-mill village, where workers were paid decent wages, as well as being provided with housing, healthcare and schooling, is a success story of how we can preserve the past. That is not always the case.

The Scottish Civic Trust was established as a response to the destruction of historic buildings. One of its original stated aims was to achieve “the elimination of ugliness”. I am not sure that that can ever be fully achieved, but we can try. People like buildings and areas with character, but they can be lost in a heartbeat.

The Civic Trust is an umbrella body for local civic societies and local environment groups. There are about 120 of them. Although some of those groups comment on planning matters, there is no mandatory requirement for them to be contacted, and the trust has no statutory powers. It used to maintain the buildings-at-risk register for Scotland, which is now maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.

Today’s debate is about celebrating the trust’s work, including its hugely successful doors open days and the Scottish heritage angel awards. That is entirely right, because both those schemes shine a light on what is best about heritage and the work to preserve it. I was also enthused to hear about the annual civic day.

I want to make a serious point about what I see as a gap in our approach to heritage. The buildings-at-risk register covers listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas. That is fine, but many other historic buildings deserve protection and are not getting it. That was brought home to me recently, when my local pub, the Stewartfield Farm, which dates from the 1800s, was closed, with permission given to demolish it—while an application to build new houses is being considered. There is nothing wrong with the building—there was not until the roof tiles were removed—and nobody nearby wants to see it go. It is part of the heritage of our home town, East Kilbride, but the council will not do anything to save it. It is not listed and it is not in a conservation area. It could be one of many that got away.

My point is this: someone, somewhere, perhaps the Scottish Civic Trust, should be able at least to put a temporary halt to such wanton vandalism of our history. If that means beefing up what they can do, so be it. Perhaps there is an opportunity here when the forthcoming planning bill comes before the Parliament.

Scottish Civic Trust director John Pelan told my office that MSPs should be campaigning about buildings in their own areas and bringing them to the attention of the Scottish Civic Trust and the buildings-at-risk register. I have done so, and I urge others to do the same.

17:38  

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs (Fiona Hyslop)

In closing the debate, I thank Linda Fabiani for securing it and for her heartfelt tribute to this most important organisation at the heart of civic life in Scotland.

The motion rightly highlights New Lanark and the Scottish Civic Trust’s role in helping to save the site in the 1970s. From a tale of dilapidation and ruin, New Lanark is now one of Scotland’s six world heritage sites. It was inscribed as a world heritage site in 2001, and it is seen as a historic environment success story.

The Scottish Civic Trust has done much to contribute to the care, promotion and understanding of our rich built heritage since the organisation’s birth in 1967. As cabinet secretary with responsibility for the historic environment, I have had the pleasure of seeing for myself the sterling work that the trust undertakes on behalf of the people of Scotland. Through its core activities, the organisation does a huge amount to raise the profile of Scotland and its rich built environment, both at home and abroad. I will say a few words on those activities in due course.

First, I thank the Civic Trust for its contribution to the development and implementation of our place in time, Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment. In particular, I acknowledge the contribution of the trust’s director, John Pelan, to that process. The trust was one of a number of partners that worked in collaboration to develop a series of shared strategic priorities for Scotland’s historic environment.

I am pleased to report that the trust will continue to help to deliver our national shared objectives for the historic environment, not only through its activities but through its membership of the volunteering working group that has been set up under our place in time’s refreshed strategic framework. The group will consider how best to demonstrate and promote the value of volunteering to the historic environment and how to establish mechanisms to engage individuals, communities and organisations. I look forward to seeing the fruits of the group’s deliberations in due course.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government has supported the work of the Scottish Civic Trust through Historic Environment Scotland, which has provided voluntary sector funding to the trust for many years and is currently the organisation’s main funder, providing about 50 per cent of its income. Historic Environment Scotland is committed to a three-year funding award of more than £305,000 to the trust to deliver three specific projects, which have already been mentioned: doors open day, the my place photography competition and the civic pride campaign.

Doors open day, which is co-ordinated nationally by the Scottish Civic Trust, is Scotland’s largest free annual architectural event. It is part of our contribution to European heritage days, alongside Scottish archaeology month, which is co-ordinated by Archaeology Scotland and also funded through Historic Environment Scotland’s voluntary sector fund.

I am sure that many members will have taken the opportunity provided by doors open day to visit historic properties across Scotland that are not usually open to the public. It has been a hugely successful initiative, and the figures are impressive. The Scottish historic environment audit for 2016 reported that 25 local authorities participated in doors open day in 2015; more than 1,000 buildings were open to the public; and more than 210,000 visits were recorded. The event was supported by more than 5,000 volunteers. Those figures demonstrate the level of interest that the people of Scotland have in their local built environment. It is hugely encouraging to note how many people are willing to give their time freely to help ensure the success of doors open day, and the chamber has expressed its thanks to them.

The trust’s my place photography competition has also been remarkably successful. The competition is a built environment photography project for primary and secondary school-age children throughout Scotland. It encourages children to look at the heritage where they live through the medium of photography. More than 500 young people from 24 schools in 14 local authority areas have taken part in 2017—that is a great level of uptake and an excellent example. It has produced fantastic photography, and I usually have a fight with the local government minister over who gets to present the awards.

Encouragement is also at the core of the Scottish Civic Trust’s civic pride campaign. Funding helps the trust to carry out a range of functions to foster and develop a sense of civic pride in our towns and cities. At the heart of the campaign is the Scottish Civic Trust’s established network, which Maurice Corry and Lewis Macdonald referred to, of more than 100 affiliated local groups across Scotland. Those groups represent an important part of our civic society and involve thousands of volunteers from all walks of life across the country.

I spoke to Linlithgow Burgh Trust on Friday. It is made up of wise, passionate people who are determined to promote the town in which they work and in which I live. The town of Linlithgow is much older than East Kilbride and has different challenges. It is important remember that local civic trusts help us both to understand our heritage and to look to a sustainable future. They are involved in planning how their local town can develop for the future. We should not always think that civic trusts are about the past because they are certainly about the present and about the future, too. The volunteers who take part in all the affiliated groups celebrate and record their local heritage. The civic pride campaign aims to recognise and support the work of the local civic groups and amenity societies across Scotland, to help them to foster links. That should benefit not only individual groups but the network.

Of course, in commenting on those examples, we should not lose sight of the other activities in relation to which the Scottish Civic Trust plays a critical role, such as the Scottish heritage angel awards—members might wish to remind their constituents and others that nominations for those awards close on 11 August—and the my place awards, as well as the trust’s heritage consultancy service work.

When we consider all those activities in the round, I am sure that we can all agree that the trust provides a great service to the people of Scotland. Indeed, the trust is an exemplar for us all in relation to collaborative and partnership working; facilitating and encouraging volunteering across the country; and engaging with and inspiring new audiences who, in turn, often develop a deep-rooted enthusiasm for our built environment.

I congratulate the Scottish Civic Trust on its 50th anniversary and say a big thank you to the organisation and all its employees, supporters, friends and volunteers who have helped the trust to achieve so much since its foundation in 1967.

Meeting closed at 17:45.