Lincoln Civic Trust AGM Speech

 

Thank you Mr Chairman for inviting me to your Annual General Meeting today and it is a real pleasure to have been asked to speak on a subject that is very close to my heart.

 

I have too been saddened by the news earlier this week regarding former Conservative City Councillor Richard and Mary Lucas and I wish to pass on my condolences to their family. Certainly much of what I will say this evening is a tribute to the work that he undertook as your former President.

 

There is no doubt that Lincoln is the cultural heart of our Country

 

About 450 years BC, the Greek Statesman, Pericles said, just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you. So nearly fifteen years ago, I sat down with my wife Cordelia to decide what constituencies I would like to apply to become a Member of Parliament for, and what the criteria should be. With 650 to potentially to choose from, this was no easy feat.

 

 Pretty near the top of the wish list was to stand for a recognised constituency that had played a pivotal role in the history and life of this great Country, that celebrated and promoted this history and also a constituency that had a real civic ethic - where those that lived there took a full part in protecting and promoting its heritage.

 

It would come as no surprise that at the top of the list was Lincoln. Which was why I was delighted, and maybe surprised myself, to have been selected to stand for Parliament here in 2005, going on to win in 2010 and winning again last year.

 

Lincoln really is a City that stands apart from everywhere else and it was only when I had to give my Maiden speech in the House of Commons, that the full significance of where I was representing really became apparent. Traditionally, when a Member of Parliament gives their Maiden speech, they spend five minutes talking about the seat they represent, it is one of those traditions that has lasted centuries.

 

And indeed it was apparent in Parliament that Lincoln is not just another name in the list of 650 constituencies. It is a City that plays and will continue to play a pivotal role in our nation’s history, heritage and democratic tradition. In fact, in the year I was elected, Lincoln became the oldest constituency in continuous existence in the United Kingdom having been established in 1265.

 

When I spoke in Parliament, I explained that Edward III presided over a Parliament in our Cathedral, in fact Parliament met in Lincoln three times 1301, 1316 and 1328 and I went on to remind everyone that the Cathedral is one of the glories of English architecture, particularly remarked on by Pevsner, dominating the City and a large swathe of the County. It is still as impressive today as when it stood as the tallest building in the world for 238 years—the only building in the UK ever to have held that title.

 

I even offered that if my Government ever feel the need, I am sure that Lincoln will be willing again to host a meeting of Parliament or of the Cabinet at a date of their choosing. Given the fact that Parliament may well soon need to move out of the Palace of Westminster for six years while it is urgently being repaired, this is an idea I will be pushing for – but I fear only a meeting of the Cabinet in the City again may become a reality.

 

And with so much that Lincoln has given to this Country and the heritage that we have here, it is hard to promote everything but the significance of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta should never be underestimated.

 

While the Magna Carta celebrations were a reminder of the City’s past, they also acted as a reminder that the same values, customs and principles that serve us so well today – especially free elections, the Rule of Law and Habeas Corpus. This historic charter has not just laid the foundation stones of our City; it is the foundation stone of our Country and much of the World.

 

And our Magna Carta Year was a reminder of the history of the democracy we live in - and perhaps a happy coincidence that it was also a General Election year – more exciting for some of us than others maybe... And it is why Lincoln was marked by a visit from the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Rt. Hon. William Hague in April last year to launch the English Manifesto of my Party - which has now thankfully been placed into Law.

 

As I am sure you all know Lincoln Castle is now the only place in the world where an original 1215 Magna Carta and the smaller charter, the 1217 Charter of the Forest can be seen side by side, on permanent loan from Lincoln Cathedral. The Barons came to signify the 800th celebration of the Magna Carta across Lincoln and I am sure the knights on their horses are going to do the same next year as we celebrate the Charter of the Forest in much the same way.  These examples are telling because while history shows us that it is ideas that shape the world, without the physical representation and physical protection of those ideas, they would be far harder to protect and preserve, far harder to be accessible and far harder to be passed from one generation to the other.

 

And this is why preserving and protecting our cultural heritage in Lincoln is so important. Would the World be able to view the Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest 800 years after they were written without both Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral?

 

This also demonstrates why the work of Lincoln Civic Trust is so vital because while apart from foreign invaders who have always wanted to destroy key buildings such as our Castle and Cathedral, I do not need to tell you that Lincoln is not just about those historical landmarks it is about so much more.

 

The fact that we still have the nationally iconic Jews House, St Benedict’s Church and St Mary’s Guildhall is testament to the work of the Civic Trust and its forbears. These and all those other historic buildings and civic amenities come together to make Lincoln the special City it is today just as it has been so special for previous centuries, and a City that is very much the heart of this Country. No wonder we see tourist numbers increase year on year.

 

So I believe all of us have a duty to be Looking after our City’s future

 

I am doing all I can to continue to place Lincoln at the heart of this County and Country by ensuring Lincoln is better connected to our Country’s major road and rail networks. We need more direct train links to and from Lincoln and today’s news this morning shows we will see an increase by 2019 albeit I fear not as many trains as I would have liked – but with a link taking only 100 minutes between our great City and Kings Cross Station in the village of London, I am pleased we are heading in the right direction in the 21st Century. We also need more road bypasses so that unneeded traffic does not gridlock the City and I will continue to put pressure on the City and County Councils to create a comprehensive Park & Ride scheme that serves no just commuters or visitors to the City, welcome though they are – it must also assist residents in travelling around the City and its environs that they grew up and live in. Other cities have such a scheme so why not Lincoln? The new footbridges over the railway lines will also stop the City being cut in two by level crossings.

 

I have also been a keen supporter of the increase in hotel accommodation and the fact that Double Tree Hilton Group had the confidence to build such a superb hotel at Brayford Pool is testament to the direction upwards of the City, along with the other new hotels we have seen appear over recent years.

 

And with the continual pace of growth and development in the City fuelled by the University, our manufacturing base, our growing creative industries and the great overall environment here, Lincoln continues to be an engine of success and prosperity in the East Midlands and also across the UK.

 

During the General Election campaign, last year I was invited by the Creative Hope graphic design studio, right in the heart of the City on Silver Street, to discuss the work of a Member of Parliament.  Those who set up the Agency had come here from London and their work was amazing, employing local people from the College and University, winning contracts from around the Country and County and producing designs that were breathtaking. They are a key example of the modern creativity this City has to offer and they revel in the inspiration the old and stunning building they occupy offers them all.

 

The need to preserve our heritage comes under pressure from new developments, including where we find something new from our past such as the Roman Burial Ground found recently and then at the other extreme the Councils have preserved 11 sites Uphill to ensure we have the right limestone to help repair the Castle and Cathedral for a few more centuries.

 

While our preserving of our history is vital, no City can stand still and still be relevant.  And it is why when I see and visit the great cultural activities in the City - the concerts, the plays, the arts and even the great comedy, I realise this is a City that has one eye on the past and one on the future. It is a City that proudly combines the old and the new, its past and its future and both conservation and creation.

 

 Occasionally though the City Planners do get it wrong, historically the Eastgate Hotel was a boil, perhaps even an abscess, on the face of Lincoln, the vista around the Cathedral, and everyone welcomed the re-facing and renovations that this modern building has undergone to soften the impact on the built environment it inhabits.

 

 Elsewhere the arrival of the University has seen great steps forward for the City, especially around developments on tainted areas of the City, but some historical views have not been protected; some aspects of new development by the University itself are incongruous and out of place, the architects’ building is to my mind uninspiring, incongruous and looks ike a ship in a desert, and some of the various accommodation blocks quite Stalinist, and some of the associated developments have been huge and cityscape changing. The planners, and City Councillors were and are responsible for these mishaps, that we all now have to live with.

 

 The planners also missed the opportunity to help the business economy and to take a more rounded and long-term view by seeing the problems created by dragging students home along the north side of the Brayford on their way back from enjoying the night-time economy of Lincoln.  Despite triple glazing it cannot be right that some of our best and most modern hotels find their guests asking not for rooms with views of the Brayford (a natural assumption) because of the noise well into the early hours of the next morning that disturbs their sleep and tranquil visit and hotel stay on our genteel, traditional Cathedral City, instead they opt for a room at the back of the hotel overlooking  the car park…

 

Further some of our heritage has disappeared for ever – one of the reasons I publicly countered the University plans for the pea warehouse by the Brayford Pool that the City Councillors couldn’t wait to pass was that although it wasn’t the best architectural building to preserve, it was a surviving link to the industrial past of our City and the Brayford Pool’s history as a port and trading post for the County – it cannot be replaced and it is a sad loss.

 

 

And whilst criticising some of the University’s ivory towers, I am well aware it is the University of Lincoln which provides so much of this modern life our City now enjoys, and considering it was not a University until 2002, it is an amazing achievement that it is now one of the top 50 Universities in the UK. In fact, when I was applying to go to College in the late 1980’s, Lincoln was not even on the list. Having such a University here combining with our long standing seat of learning, and now second niversity, Bishop Grossteste, is a vital part of the City’s Culture and future and something we should never want to lose.

 

The importance of Lincoln Civic Trust cannot be underestimated

 

These pieces of the Lincoln jigsaw I have so far outlined are all very well on their own, but it takes someone, or an entity, to pull the pieces together to create the whole picture and to tell the whole Lincoln Story.  And this is why the work of the Lincoln Civic Trust, since its inauguration in 1953, has been so vital in the past to the City and will continue to be as vital to the City’s future.

 

Your role in aiding the preservation of our City cannot be underestimated, developing our public amenities and promoting our arts is a role that cannot be under-played or overlooked.  Your work in co-operating with the Councils and of course applying pressure when needed is something both the City and County should be thankful for. This City is the historic, artistic and cultural flame in the heart of the County and you are the Keeper of that Flame.

 

I firmly believe that The Government’s Recognition of Culture is clearly evident

 

The significance of our national and local heritage is something that can never be ignored and this Government is certainly alive to its value. So much so that just two months ago, it published a Culture White Paper, the first for over 50 years and given this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death the timing is perfect.  

 

It sets out the Government’s vision, strategy and proposals for the cultural sectors such as the arts, museums and galleries, libraries, archives and heritage and recognises there are three key themes where the value of heritage and culture combine.

 

Firstly it has intrinsic value and the Government defines this as enriching the value of culture in and of itself.

 

Indeed, evidence suggests that culture has an intrinsic value through the positive impact on personal wellbeing. This research shows that engaging with culture through visiting, attending and participation significantly increases overall life satisfaction.

 

Secondly, it adds social value such as improving educational attainment and helping people to be healthier. There is considerable evidence of the beneficial effects of the arts on both physical and mental health.

 

This includes improvements on clinical outcomes, decreasing the amount of time spent in hospital and improving mental health more widely.

 

Evidence also shows that engaging in culture can increase the likelihood of a young person going on to further and higher education

 

Lastly, it has clear economic value with a significant contribution to economic growth and job-creation.

 

In 2014, the economic contribution of museums, galleries, libraries and the arts was £5.4 billion – 60% higher than in 2010. Heritage Tourism dwarfs this though and contributes £26 billion per year.

 

Overall the number of people employed in the cultural and creative sectors has been increasing since 2011 and now stands at 321,000. A thriving economy in general is good news for heritage, culture and the arts because people have more disposable income which means they are more likely to spend money and time wanting to go enjoy these activities – it is a self-fulfilling cycle.

 

The Paper also establishes a review to examine how Church buildings and Cathedrals in England can become more financially sustainable and Lincoln has certainly led the way with the newly announced £16 million renovation project which is expected to draw an extra 125,000 visitors a year to Lincoln Cathedral by 2020. This is in addition to the £22 million project just finished at the Castle, and various grants and awards I have helped Lincoln buildings secure from the Heritage Lottery people and Government .

 

Obviously the Government is very active in the field, funding organisations like English Heritage, protecting buildings of special architectural or historic interest and protecting nationally important sites but this White Paper is really important to pulling all of these threads together.

 

Of particular interest are sections on the Government’s commitments to support Historic England in establishing new Heritage Action Zones like the one created in Boston. 

 

It also wants to encourage local authorities and property owners to make more empty spaces and buildings available for cultural activities on a temporary basis and encourage them to consider cultural elements, such as artists’ studios, when planning new developments. I think that this could add real value to our City.

 

I would recommend members of the Civic Trust read the paper, it’s on the Government’s website called The Culture White Paper and see how the themes and detail can further enhance Lincoln, it is even perhaps worth summarising it and briefing the Council and others on it.

 

Certainly, I can see no reason why Lincoln should not bid to be the next City of Culture in 2021. Next year’s City of Culture is Hull so there is no reason why Lincoln should not be chosen – I am not sure the City has ever made a Bid. It should do.  I was aware late in the day that a few years ago we made a bid for World Heritage Site Status – and made the long list of 38 but progressed no further.  I made enquiries and took a delegation to meet those in Liverpool who had led a similar bid and had been successful and their advice was very useful and the examples of work they had done very comprehensive.  I would hope in the future a similar but better resourced and ultimately more successful bid was brought together, I think we have all the constituent parts that would see such a successful and City enhancing development on the international stage.

 

So Ladies and Gentleman, I view myself as a traditional Conservative and it is why I am on the side of everyone in the City who wants to not only conserve the brilliant culture and heritage we have in the City, but want to celebrate it and also promote it to people all around the world. Contrary to that I am not against modernisation, but measured and appropriate modernisation I can support and welcome wholeheartedly.  As I have said before this City is very much alive combining the old and the new, the past and the future and the need for both conservation and creation is evident wherever we look.  My role is to enhance the City I have the honour and privilege to represent and to have enjoyed living in.  I do not say there is anything wrong with our City, it is a beautiful and restful, traditional and friendly City, my role is to help it improve and develop in the right way as I see it.  Unfortunately I do not see some of the usual suspects having the same ideals, whether they be representatives of companies, organisations or groups or Council representatives, they naturally have vested interests that sometimes take far too much precedence.

 

However, without the work of the Lincoln Civic Trust protecting, preserving and promoting our culture and heritage, this great City would be a much poorer place. So thank you to each and everyone of you for everything you do, for listening to what I have to say and thankyou for inviting me to speak at your Annual General Meeting and I look forward to a lively question and answer session with you – but do remember some pubs still close at 11 o’clock…