At what point does our rose tinted view of the past become an obstacle to our future progress?
I love nostalgia as much as the next person, and indulge in this national pastime for a good chunk of my time, probably way more than necessary,
But the news this week that fashion giant Burberry has dropped its plans to turn Temple Mill in Holbeck into a factory got me thinking about the disproportionate value we sometimes place on our old buildings. Sacrilege, you say? Hear me out on this one.
Surely not everything ever built can be an irreplaceable treasure just because it gathers some moss - just as not every new building is high art that will be the treasures of the future?
It’s all a matter of perspective I guess, but I do sometimes feel we are losing our objectivity, perhaps at the cost of genuinely trailblazing and unique opportunities.
I’ve lost count of the number of ‘redevelopment’ plans I’ve reported on in recent years which involve some historic mill building or other being lovingly restored to its former glory. Even if its former glory was just of being a workhouse that is the stuff of nightmares.
Temple Mill may be considered an architectural gem by many, but it doesn’t set me alight. Not that I am averse to the charms of historic structures. One of my favourite places in the world, for example,is the beautiful Kirkstall Abbey.
Reading up on the recent history of Temple Mill, I noted that almost a decade ago, a stone pillar in the mill’s facade collapsed. It’s literally been falling to pieces.
I could quite happily see this particular building knocked own and replaced with a beautiful, imaginative and iconic new design which could really put the city’s South Bank vision on the map. I know that it won’t happen, because this one of the few Grade 1 listed structures in the city.
And the listing system itself is far from perfect. I distinctly recall English Heritage being criticised fairly recently for listing a number of buildings which critics had slammed as ugly eyesores. The Heritage Minister at the time, Ed Vaizey, said it was about saving all buildings of architectural significance, not just stately homes and antiquities.
But seriously, it has to stop somewhere doesn’t it? Or we will perpetually just be wasting money on endlessly gluing together crumbling wrecks.
I can totally see sense in Burberry’s decision.
With an overall price tag of £50m on its Yorshire projects, it decided that putting a big chunk of that into restoring the building was not the best use of that cash.
The firm has made it clear it is still pumping resources into Leeds, just not into this building.
Council leader Judith Blake said the firm’s decision was “disappointing”. Words like “magnificent” were used for the building and hopes are high that it will still be rescued.
But if it comes down to a choice, I’m afraid I’d rather have the new jobs and investment than a pimped-up industrial-age relic,
After previous disappointments such as the trolleybus, and the continuing dragging of heels over the devolution debate, maybe it’s time our city stopped living in the past, if it is ever to forge a genuinely forward-thinking path to success.
But I can’t help but fear that the fate of Temple Mill might become symbolic of our overall approach.
Preserving and protecting our heritage is, of course, important, but let’s not overvalue it to the point that we push the opportunity for genuine progress out of the (crumbling) door.
It’s time to take off the rose tinted glasses and give them a clean, or better still, give them an upgrade to help see the city’s future a bit clearer.