Bulldozing in the name of modernity

Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

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Some of the most profound and far reaching (and damaging) changes in society are often the result not of “devil takes the hindmost” greedy capitalists and free marketers or the extreme Left Trotskyist rabble rousers but of a more insidious and pernicious British power bloc: “Well meaning” middle class liberals, who self-identify as better educated, open minded, ‘progressive’, erudite and above all, just morally and intellectually superior.

Most of them voted Remain in the EU referendum and are very annoyed (livid!) at the temerity of a majority of the British electorate in ignoring their own considered opinions. That ship has nevertheless sailed.

Now the liberal mindset and the certainties which brook no contradiction have, in my humble opinion, had a calamitous impact on many aspects of British life – destruction of the grammar schools, dumbing down teaching standards, undermining marriage and the family, promoting welfare dependency, disparaging patriotism and our armed forces, restricting free speech in our universities, “liberalising” licensing laws, the list is pretty long and how long have you got?

Close to home, we see the effects every day of this ”we know best” culture, in the architecture of our own city: The dozens of wonderful unique Victorian and Edwardian era – and older buildings – in Peterborough, bulldozed in the name of “modernity” in the 1970s and 1980s. Just a few weeks ago, The PT featured a piece on the quaint old 1850s Corn Exchange demolished to make way for a hideous brutalist 1960s monstrosity which became the Norwich Union building and was thankfully pulled down eight years ago and is now the site of the lovely St John’s Square and our beautiful 15th century parish church adjacent to the historic 17th century Guildhall, the former seat of Peterborough’s civic governance. It’s far from a phenomenon however from which we’ve moved on: Only seven years ago, I fought, along with local residents, a battle royal to prevent Accent Nene housing association and Peterborough City Council from demolishing the charming and notable mid Victorian Gayhurst villa known as Thurston House at the bottom of Lincoln Road, to build ugly flats. After a bitter and long drawn out fight, it was saved and is now the centrepiece of an award winning residential development. Progress….but not as originally envisaged!

The parochial church council at St Botolph’s church in Longthorpe seems not to have learned any lessons from Peterborough’s architectural history. They’ve just won permission from the Church of England to effectively gut the interior of their 13th century Grade 1 listed church – stripping out the altar, choir stalls, Victorian flooring, communion rails, readers’ chairs and desks and all the wooden pews, in favour of more “community space” and comfortable seating. One wonders why they don’t get the job lot from Showcase Cinemas so the parishioners can kick back and guzzle Seven Up in comfy recliners whilst they listen to the sermons? After all, it’s only our ecclesiastical heritage. What’s that against more room for the WI?

The damaging extent of this monstrous proposal has prompted outrage from Historic England (“substantial harm”) and the Victorian Society (“shocking plans”), the latter which has sought to take legal action and appealed to a higher church court of appeal to stop the destruction and ruination of this church which dates from 1274. I have raised the matter too in the House of Commons.

It isn’t too late to think again and I would urge parishioners and local residents to make their 
views known and the Peterborough Diocese to see sense, whilst there is still time.

The Church of England still means a great deal to many people in our country. If it can’t protect its own precious and irreplaceable physical heritage then what message does that send about its future and its capacity to both retain loyal parishioners and new advocates and members to the pews, like those in Longthorpe, shortly to be dumped in a skip?