New custodian needed for historic moot hall?

Date: Tuesday 9th October 2018

Sir, Appleby Town Council is consulting over three options for the future of the moot hall, all of which involve building a modern extension. However, in my view none of them is consistent with the principles of good conservation and none would achieve the objectives of the Heritage Action Zone.

The moot hall is one of the most significant historic buildings in Appleby, but I understand it is in a poor condition with problems including penetrating damp. Necessary repairs are estimated to cost about £500,000 and are required because of the failure of the town council over a period of many years to carry out necessary maintenance.

It is generally considered that historic buildings should be preserved as they are and should not be altered, extended, partially demolished or restored to a previous appearance. This has long been the practice of heritage organisations. The proposed approach does not seem to be consistent with these principles.

The effect of the proposed works on the setting of the moot hall should also be considered.

It is in historic Boroughgate in the heart of the town’s conservation area and adjacent to the market place, St. Lawrence’s Church and other historic buildings. The proposed extensions would look too imposing and out of place in that location.

The objective of the Appleby Heritage Action Zone is “restoring and reviving Appleby as a tourist attraction to benefit the local economy and the people who live and work there”. Repairing the moot hall is clearly consistent with that objective.

However, the proposals are a missed opportunity in that they do not seek to make full use of the hall’s potential to boost tourism through showcasing the town’s rich heritage. Activities that do not contribute directly to this, such as the town council offices and the Blue Poppy shop, should be relocated to alternative suitable premises in the town. This would also reduce the need for an extension to the building.

Opportunities for members of the public to access the historic parts of the building should be optimised, and a lift should be installed to provide access to all public areas for disabled people.

The hall is a historic building that it is important to preserve. It is therefore important that necessary repairs are carried out. I also think that alterations to the historic structure and appearance should be avoided. I am not, therefore, in favour of options that involve extensions to the building.

The town council does not appear to have been a good custodian of the moot hall in that it has failed to carry out required maintenance over several years.

Consideration should therefore be given to transferring ownership of the hall to an organisation with more expertise in the preservation of historic buildings, such as English Heritage or the National Trust. Yours etc,