Friday, November 27, 2020

Cultural cleansing and the denial of history

 I don’t usually clutter up this site with cases that I am dealing with.  However, the future of the best preserved physical remains in the UK  from the Cold War could and should be of general interest.  The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) ( is currently deciding whether the Council can issue the planning permission (ref. 18/00825/HYBRID) that it has resolved to grant for the masterplan for the redevelopment of the former Cold War airbase at Upper Heyford in north Oxfordshire, or whether this is a matter of more than local importance that justifies the ‘calling-in’ of the application for ministerial determination (after a public inquiry).

There is more than enough material to write a PhD on how the treatment of physical remains from the Cold War by the authorities has been a reflection of the refusal or reluctance to learn about the defining ‘event’ of the last hundred years.  The Panel considering an application to have Upper Heyford included on the tentative list for inclusion as World Heritage Site regretted the absence from the WHS of Cold War sites, and recommended the carrying out of research to identify the potential of a transnational designation of sites that should best commemorate this conflict(s).  Meanwhile heritage delayed is history denied.

The Secretary of State is very reluctant to interfere in local decision-making (unless there is a sense that the delivery of houses is being delayed unnecessarily).  There are a number of reasons particular to Upper Heyford that makes it politically sensitive; the local MP has their office on the site, the Chairman of English Heritage is/was also chairman of the company owning and developing the site, the council is staunchly conservative and has no desire to acknowledge the heritage potential of the site if this implies increasing numbers of visitors (that are being encouraged to visit Crocodile World in a neighbouring district). In considering the heritage potential of the air base, it is unclear whether the MHCLG (or the Culture Minister) have any interest in providing an opportunity for the public to learn and increase their understanding about the Cold War and, incidentally, current relations with Russia.

However, there are a number of aspects of the application that would normally excite the interest of the Secretary of State:

1.     The heritage assessments have been submitted without any scoping – to reveal the potential of the site in terms of materials or audiences.

2.     The National Planning Policy Framework expects the ‘necessary expertise’ to be deployed in assessing the impact on sites of significant historic importance (the heritage plan for Upper Heyford has been prepared by the owner/housebuilder displaying ‘the Englishman’s perverse desire to trivialize’ (Martin Amis)).

3.     The recommendation for refusal by Historic England has been overturned by the planning officers and committee.

4.     No reference has been made to the international heritage conventions of Paris, Granada or Valletta.

If it were not for the perverse desire of the Government to permit houses whatever the other impacts, we should be looking forward to a public inquiry and an exploration of cultural cleansing and the denial of history.


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