Salisbury Cathedral Close Preservation Society
The 2018/19 AGM, 15 May 2019
Sarum College, The Close – Starting Time: 18:30
The Chairman, Heather Olsen, started with a reminder of the main work of the Trustees during the year. One of the Society’s objects is the preservation, protection, development and improvement of the features of historic or public interest in the area of Salisbury near the Cathedral, in particular the Cathedral Close, the Liberty of the Close and the High Street. To achieve this we look at all planning applications in that area.
The Society is represented on the Cathedral’s “Landscape and Close Environment Committee” by one of our trustees, Dick Clements. The committee meets four times a year and is a forum to raise issues such as damage to features in The Close, repair works, signage (or lack of it), security, parking and litter problems. At the next meeting the committee will walk round The Close and this will give the Society the opportunity to point out issues of concern. If any members have any issues that should be raised, they are invited to let the Chairman know.
The Society is also represented on the “Close Partnership”, a group representing the various interests in the Close such as the museums, Sarum College, Arundells, the two Schools etc. Similar issues arise in their meetings, for instance the last two meetings have been an open discussion on The Close environment and participants were invited to submit papers with ideas considering the environment in its broadest sense before the January meeting this year. Our Society took a lot of trouble to put together a paper covering a number of areas of concern and we were disappointed that it was not circulated to all the members of the Partnership and was read only by the Canon Treasurer and the Chapter clerk which rather restricted debate. Broadly it addressed behavioural signage, general signage, litter, parking, security, “creeping commercialisation” and Ecochurch. The chairman will be happy to provide copies to anyone interested in seeing it.
The Society addressed two main planning issues during this past year:
(1) The Christmas Market:
The Chairman had barely been appointed when an application was submitted for a change of use of the Cathedral graveyard to a Christmas market for four weeks plus. The Cathedral had announced the previous year that there was going to be part of the annual Christmas market in The Close and work by Richard Owen had ascertained that planning permission would be required.
Although the trustees were sensitive to the fact that some members might be in favour of this application if it could help revitalise the city after the Skripal poisoning, they felt that the Society must object to the application since it would set an alarming precedent for the staging of blatantly commercial events in The Close. Whereas a day’s event, e.g. the Antiques Roadshow, could be acceptable or a couple of days such as the upmarket craft fair, a six week stint is very different with the accompanying litter, parking problems, traffic issues, security and pedestrian safety issues, lights at night and noise. A key feature of The Close is its tranquillity which would be ruined for up to six weeks by such a change of use.
We fought the application vigorously with a number of submissions. Most of the many submissions to the local authority about the market were against it. It didn’t help that all the planning cognoscenti felt that because it was a temporary change it was OK and could not be challenged. We were however, directed by Historic England to a paper by them addressing temporary structures such as markets and pointing to legitimate objections that can be made even for temporary, non-permanent changes of use. The Society used that in support of our objections, but to no avail.
In the end, the application was approved and the market did not go ahead only because the groundswell of opposition had meant that the planning process took so long that the Salisbury BID did not have enough time to organise the market. The Society hopes that the Dean & Chapter will have taken on board the level of opposition and will think very carefully before countenancing such a venture in future.
(2) The Traffic Kiosk
Last year we pressed for a new traffic hut. The old one is well past its sell-by date. We did have a success in that the Cathedral put in a planning application but it was rejected. In fact the Society did not object to the application because we felt that a new hut was essential and the design was better than what was in existence. The Cathedral appealed the decision (which the trustees thought was surprising) but the appeal was turned down. However, the Planning Inspector’s decision was very clear and gave the Dean & Chapter a very good steer as to what would be acceptable. The Society will be keeping a close eye on the issue and keep some pressure on for a new hut. There is no doubt that the hut has become an eyesore and is not fit for purpose.
On the planning horizon there is a lot in the pipeline for members of the Society to consider.
Number 20 The Close, by Sarum College, is now standing empty having been vacated by the Babylon School of English. It is looking very tired and in need of a lot of work. No doubt it will be the subject of a planning application in due course.
The Cathedral is pressing ahead with its vision in the revised 2016 Cathedral Masterplan of opening up the South side of the Cathedral to public access (subject of course to safeguarding the children at the Cathedral School), as well as re-evaluating the use of certain existing buildings. The Masterplan included looking in detail at the Works Department; a potential new purpose-built home for Magna Carta and possibly the Cathedral archives; and a song school. It also involved work to improve access to the Cathedral and reduction of conflicts between traffic movements and pedestrians. The Masterplan refers to the provision of new accommodation “for Cathedral staff at 20 The Close and on the land to the rear of the property”. The land is a precious bit of green space so if this idea was to be floated again, it might prove contentious to build on it. Something could well happen in the coming year, given that No. 20 is now empty.
Opening up the South side is therefore complex and will need Heritage Lottery funding, so the Dean & Chapter are pretty busy.
Last but not least, some time ago the Cathedral indicated that they would intend to install solar panels on the roof of the Cloisters. That may come back as a firm proposal at some stage. Again, another sensitive project.
Other activities during the past year
As many members will know, there was some very anti-social behaviour in The Close last year, particularly on Choristers’ Green. This may have flowed, at least, in part from the closure of Queen Elizabeth Gardens for some months. Benches were pulled into groups day after day and not put back, and a ridiculous amount of rubbish was just thrown on the ground and alcohol/drugs consumed. The Police were informed of this more than once. The Society pressed hard for the benches to be tethered. Dick Clements, one of the trustees came up with a means of tethering the benches which, we are pleased to say, was approved by the Dean & Chapter and the benches have now been tethered. The behaviour has seemed better, but we await the warm weather and school holidays before being sure!
The Society was successful last year in getting the unsightly banners removed at Arundells, the Museum and Mompesson House. Unfortunately, some have re-appeared at the Museum. We have asked for them to be taken down, but so far to no avail. At least, at the moment the number is down from 4 to 2.
The Society has tried to get support for some sort of consistency of advertising in The Close, as there do seem to be more and more A-boards appearing, in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The Society will continue to keep a watchful eye for advertising issues, an example of the “creeping commercialisation” the Society would seek to avoid, since there are currently no truly commercial activities in The Close, the visitor attractions being primarily charities which carry out discrete activities such as a shop on the premises to raise money to support their charitable aims.
We are pleased to say our lobbying to lower the sleeping policemen outside Arundells has borne fruit.
We had been pressing for No. 52, the old Friends of the Cathedral office, to be smartened up. The good news is that it has been refurbished, with a view to being let as a residential house.
The Society was pleased to be consulted by the Cathedral about “Christmas in The Close” last year. It was encouraging to have been able to work collaboratively with them on this, at rather short notice! The Society hopes to be involved in planning for events this Christmas.
The Chairman organised a meeting, together with Julian Hepplewhite representing the Close Residents’ Association, with the new Dean in March. He was accompanied by the Canon Treasurer. It was useful to explain how we operate and it did seem a positive meeting. The discussions were not too detailed nor too contentious as an introductory meeting. However, it was floated that the Society could perhaps repeat the exercise occasionally. Again, it would be useful as the Cathedral’s plans for the 2020 anniversary are firmed up.
The Society launched its booklet about the Houses of the Close at last year’s AGM and it has proved a success.
Worthy of mention is the Cathedral’s interest in Ecochurch and its wish to achieve the coveted gold award (they currently have a silver award). The Society and the Close Residents’ Association are working with them to get some surveys done of the trees, plants, birds and so on which are already in The Close. The two bodies have also talked to various charities such as Plantlife and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. From these surveys some ideas may well emerge for projects to encourage diversity of The Close habitat. Given the Society’s objects include the improvement of The Close, it may well be that some of the ideas that emerge from this work would be initiatives the Society would wish to support. There will be more on this over the next few months. If any members or their friends would like to help with the survey work, many hands make light work, they should speak to the Chairman and she can explain a bit more about it.
Finally there are two other points. First, the Society is actively looking for a patron as it would be good to raise its profile and perhaps give it a wider publicity than beyond the local area. The Chairman will report in due course on progress.
Second, the annual lecture will take place in November, date and topic to be confirmed, as the Society is in dialogue with potential speakers.
The Wardrobe The Close