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Dark Satanic mills, misunderstandings and airport taxes

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John Penrose

John David Penrose is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare

Ever since William Blake first made that crack about England’s ‘dark Satanic mills’ we as a nation have been in two minds about what’s known as our ‘industrial heritage’.

On the one hand, the scale, presence and associations (in some cases, with working conditions that, even at the time, were sometimes really dreadful by any standards) of former industrial buildings make them a pretty unattractive prospect, and all the more so when they fall into disrepair. On the other, they can occasionally display a majesty and splendour in terms of architecture and engineering that becomes a source of wonder rather than disdain.

Help and advice from English Heritage

So over the years many have been demolished once their useful life was over, while others have been restored and reborn as hugely-successful visitor attractions. Places like Tate Modern in Southwark and the Baltic in Gateshead are stunning conversions but, at the same time, there’s never any doubt what the original building was intended for. And some have been ‘listed’ as examples of architectural and historical importance but, even among that number, far too many have fallen into disrepair for all that.
So English Heritage has been looking at this and their report, published this week, is the focus for this year’s Heritage at Risk register. The results are sobering, with listed industrial buildings more at risk than other types, and the depressing fact that only four out of ten of them have any realistic chance of being put to sustainable and economic new use. Clearly there’s no likelihood of huge public investment to address this in the foreseeable future so, as English Heritage say: ‘their future will be dependant largely on voluntary effort, private philanthropy and increasingly scarce public funding. Although not easy, there are countless examples that have been saved by committed local groups as conserved sites in the landscape often with public access or as visitor attractions.’ Helpfully, the report has much to say on help and advice available from English Heritage for developers, owners and charitable building preservation trusts.

Industrial revolution – public in ‘When was that?’ shocker

The report also has some results from a poll of public attitudes to industrial heritage. Interesting stuff. It turns out, for example, that 43 per cent of the population ‘do not know when the industrial revolution took place’. At first glance, this seems a bit shaming, I suppose. But then again, if you flip the figures so that it reads ‘57 per cent have no trouble naming when industrial revolution took place’ it doesn’t seem so bad. But the whole ‘half full\half empty’ issue here is made yet more difficult by the fact that there doesn’t, in fact, appear to be a correct answer to the question in the first place. Five minutes on Google reveals that it began in 1712, 1733, 1760 or ‘the 1800s’, depending on which source you go to.
image of a UK plug

Confusion and a misunderstanding

So a certain amount of confusion is to be expected, and it’s sensible to keep an open mind on this sort of thing, I believe. It’s surely a given that people come in all shapes and sizes and have different strengths and skills. The proportion of pensioners compared to twenty-somethings that can download music and podcasts onto an mp3 player is probably pretty small, for example, but I suspect the figure goes up dramatically when the skill being measured is the ability to rewire a plug or change a fuse.
What else? Well, I’ve been upbraided* by both The Tourism Society and an organisation called The Fair Tax on Flying Alliance for some remarks I’m supposed to have made at a tourism seminar in Kent. Irritatingly, it had been reported that I’d said something to the effect that Air Passenger Duty (APD) is no more than an ‘annoyance’ and made ‘no critical difference’ to people’s decisions to come here for business or holidays. This, I agree, sounds pretty dismissive and if I’d been in the audience listening to a Minister for Tourism coming out with something like that, then I too would have reached for the Basildon Bond.
Image of planes at Gatwick Airport

Come fly with me, Part 1

So, for the record, let me make it clear what I believe on this issue and, for that matter, what I thought I had said, but clearly didn’t quite manage to get across. Air Passenger Duty is an annoyance for visitors but it is just one of a number of factors we need to address to make this country a destination of choice for business and holiday visitors. The price of the air ticket itself, the hotel room you stay in when you get here and the general living expenses for the visitor while he or she is here will generally be more pressing factors, I suspect. Now no one – and certainly not I – can disagree that the impact on your bank account of all of these things, including APD, will always be a big factor when it comes to weighing up the pros and cons of one destination over another, but the whole visitor experience – the time taken to get through the airport, the welcome we receive and the ease and quality of transportation beyond the airport are really important too.

Come fly with me, Part 2 (spending no more than five minutes checking in)

And speaking of making things better for visitors arriving by plane, I’m pleased to be able to give a big and positive blog shout-out to Gatwick Airport who have just announced a new facility at their South terminal which will cut passenger waiting times to just five minutes. It’s part of a £1.2 billion modernisation programme and will help get 5,000 people per hour through to the departure lounge. So more time to pick up that all-important supersized triangular chocolate bar without which no overseas trip would be complete (other brands of chocolate are available, terms and conditions apply).
*Great word. Dates from around 1175-1225 AD (or CE, standing for ‘Common Era’, if you prefer – which I don’t), where it started life as the Old English word upbrēdanto, meaning ‘adduce as a fault’. Pretty sure you won’t find it anywhere else on the DCMS website, by the way.
Plug image by Tony Hall on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Gatwick Airport by Chris Jones on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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