I confess that I don’t often visit Carlisle, so whilst it’s technically my county town, I don’t go there every decade. In fact if I’ve been into the city half a dozen times that’s probably it. It’s just that we have to go up to Carlisle soon. Hence I was a bit nonplussed when my lady wife commented that the Victoria Viaduct in Carlisle was closed. I frankly hadn’t a clue where it was. So with the aid of a map she explained it to me (she knows the city far better than I do having lived in the north of the county for a while.)
What has happened is that a hotel, the Central Plaza, is collapsing and this has made the road unsafe. It’s causing a lot of problems for the good people of the city. So something should be done. Personally I’d have the council sue the owners.
Except that the last owner died intestate and the hotel, closed on 2004, now belongs to the crown. To be fair the council is managing it. But here again there are issues. The hotel is Grade II-listed so the council cannot do anything without the permission of Historic England. So far the council has spent one million pounds just stopping it fall down. They’ve been quoted £2.5 million to demolish it. But of course Historic England won’t let them, but equally ‘of course’ Historic England aren’t going to give them any money to do it up. The council has been trying to find a use for the building that isn’t theirs and they don’t want, but nobody else wants it either.
Currently they’re saying it’s going to take months to sort the matter and businesses working out of the same block are living the nightmare, as are people trying to get about Carlisle.
The problem is you have Historic England which exists to stop people doing things but is under no pressure to ensure that anything sensible can happen. Perhaps if we stopped paying the salaries of senior people in the organisation until a remedy was found, we’d suddenly find that there was a solution.
I raise this because it’s a nice example of the fact that this country is full of organisations which have power but no responsibility. In my home town there is the skeleton of a building. It’s stood there, stabilised to stop it falling down further, after it was gutted by fire in January 2017. Because of the costs involved, the owner might just walk away and effectively give it to the council. To quote, “”I think Historic England would like to see the building restored, rather than knocked down. That’s the battle.” Cllr Pemberton estimated such a project could cost in excess of £12million.
Why not build something brilliant and new so that in 150 years people will come and look at it because it’s such a beautiful building?
The problem is, government has, largely since the war, gathered to itself all sorts of powers to force people to do things. But they’re failing because owners are handing over the keys and are walking away because they cannot face the cost. Or the owner is the government anyway and government rarely takes government to court to force government to fulfil its responsibilities.
We’ve seen it with the way government has decided it cannot afford to pay for free TV licences for pensioners, so it’s foisted the entire cost onto the BBC.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. We’ve seen it in agriculture as well. One favourite of theirs is to suggest that farmers would do work for environmental schemes and they would be paid ‘income foregone.’
So in simple terms, if you converted an arable field which earned you £1000 a year, into a marsh, they’d pay you £1000 a year. The problem, given the low level of agricultural profitability, is that this meant that in some cases, where the farmer was currently making no money at all on the land, I’ve seen civil servants arguing that the farmer should do the work and not get paid for it. They seemed to think the idea that somebody was expected to pay for the conversion of land that would probably earn him money at some point in the future, into land that would never earn him anything, was entirely reasonable.
Hence I confess that I find myself feeling more sympathy for the councillors of Carlisle than people might expect.
There again what do I know about it. There again, perhaps this is the answer to government’s problems?
As a reviewer commented, “Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”