HL Deb 05 December 1991 vol 533 cc328-30

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee asked Her Majesty's Government:

How the state of Teddington Hall, a Grade II listed building, and of other historic buildings revealed in the National Audit Office report Upkeep of Historic Buildings on the Civil Estate (No. 37), relates to the claims in paragraphs 9.11 and 9.12 of This Common Inheritance (Cm. 1200) on the example set by the Government in aiming for the highest standards of conservation.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, the Government welcome the report, which demonstrates that the majority of such buildings are properly cared for and a high standard of repair is achieved. The report criticises the poor condition of only two buildings; Teddington Hall and 7–9 Babmaes Street. We have already taken steps to protect these buildings. I can assure your Lordships that the Government recognise their obligations towards our heritage and are committed to achieving the highest standards in caring for its historic buildings.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that putting a tarpaulin roof over the building is not a means of protecting, preserving and conserving it? Does she further agree that in paragraph 9.11 of This Common Inheritance the Government are stated to have: the opportunity to demonstrate by example"? The report of the National Audit Office describes Teddington Hall as being in a deplorable state with serious structural defects and extensive dry rot. The stairs are too dangerous to be used and fireplaces have been stolen. The cost of renovation is estimated to be in excess of £1 million. Does the Minister agree that if the Government—

Noble Lords


Baroness Hamwee

Does the Minister agree that if the Government do not take their responsibilities seriously other owners will not be setting an example and, not surprisingly, will not look after their buildings? Does he agree that with regard to Teddington Hall the Government are setting a bad example?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. No one can be proud of the history of Teddington Hall; neither this Government nor any previous government. However, it is important to get the situation into perspective. Only two out of 583 historic buildings on the Civil Estate were found by the National Audit Office to be in poor condition. I hope that the noble Baroness will welcome the fact that, as a result of our commitment stated in the paragraphs to which she referred, we are putting in place an action plan which will ensure that all departments care for historic buildings in a systematic way.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the chequered history of Teddington Hall? Unfortunately that applies to many other buildings in this country. The hall was acquired by the Government as long ago as 1946 and was listed in 1981. In 1982 the PSA recommended that it should be sold or that alternative use should be found for it. In 1983 the cost of carrying out the fundamental repairs was estimated to be £130,000. Today the estimated cost is in excess of £1 million. Can we be sure that the recommendations will be taken up in these times of financial restraint? The amount of money spent on buildings such as this lags behind need and meanwhile costs rise. We are not happy about the situation.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I take the points made by the noble Baroness. However, she skipped over the period of time when her party was in government. I said at the outset that I am not ducking the fact that this is an extremely sad saga and that the hall has been the subject of neglect by all governments since its acquisition in 1946. We have now put in place a systematic method for all departments to look after historic buildings. However, it is important to keep the matter in perspective; only two out of 583 buildings were the subject of criticism in the report. That is a good record.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what is happening about Heveningham Hall in Suffolk? It appears also to be on the danger list, although I understand that the Arab gentleman who now owns it is supposed to be carrying out repairs.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the property is far from being on the danger list, but it is not the subject of this Question.

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