Buildings archive lost for Londoners

Buildings archive lost for Londoners

Prospect, the union for heritage specialists, has expressed concern at English Heritage’s decision to close the London search room of the National Monuments Record (NMR) and move the collection to Swindon.

Prospect is calling on EH Chief Executive Dr Simon Thurley to review the decision to move. It is asking him to consider alternative proposals from Prospect which not only deliver cost savings, but retain a London archive in London for use by Londoners.

The NMR’s London search room offers a free public service for anyone interested in finding out about the history of London. Its main asset is its unique photographic collection that documents London buildings and street life from the 1850s up to the present day.

The vast majority of its users live or work in London. It is used by the public for family and local history and by heritage professionals for managing London’s historic buildings. A similar proposal to move the collection out of London several years ago was called off after protests by users.

“English Heritage has clearly this time decided that the views of their customers do not matter. To make the position even more ridiculous the decision is supposed to be based on a need to make financial savings over the next three years,” said Carpenter.

In a memo to staff in March, EH Chief Executive Simon Thurley indicated that moving the London search room to Swindon would save £840,000 over three years.

But Prospect has obtained management figures which show that at the end of year three, the accumulated ‘saving’ is in fact a loss of some £113,000.

“Prospect has put forward alternative proposals that would over the same period produce savings, but Dr Thurley seems to be so wedded to the idea that he is prepared to waste public money and sack staff because he committed himself in print before checking that his sums made sense,” added Carpenter.

Prospect has put forward an alternative plan that would enable year on year savings in accommodation costs, of at least £120,000 per year, by relocating the search room into the English Heritage HQ building in Savile Row, but have been told that the space is not available because of expansion by EH in that location.

“There are no cost savings in allowing such expansion, whilst the cost in human terms is that five London based staff will lose their jobs.

EH will lose over £250,00 in the first year by transferring the collection to Swindon. It does not make sense in financial, human or political terms,” said Carpenter.

In a recent survey 87% of users thought that the NMR’s London records should be available to the public in London.

One user states: “I think it would be nice if you considered us OAP’s in all of this; how we enjoy research and how much of a trial it would be for us to get to Swindon.”

A heritage professional states: “Given the current issues affecting London’s architectural landscape it seems that a resource such as this is more relevant, and requires a greater presence, than ever before.”