St John the Divine - the saving a of a landmark
A fierce debate is currently raging on the letters page of the Daily Post about the rights and wrongs of how a landmark Victorian church spire was saved.
The spire in question is that of St John the Divine in Fairfield.
Previous stories can be found here
No doubt the church feels it has not been given enough credit for acting to prevent the loss of this landmark.
While those who campaigned for the retention of the spire believe their contribution has not been recognised.
The outcome, regardless of how it was reached, is almost a win win for all involved.
The Church of England has saved a popular spire.
The campaigners can be pleased that what they wanted has happened.
Merseyside gets to keep a great landmark, and the land surrounding the spire should hopefully be developed.
The congregation of St John the Divine however have lost money through having to sell the land on the cheap as part of the deal for the spire to be saved.
Below are two of the letters involved in the debate.
Here is a letter from Archdeacon Ricky Panter:
RE: YOUR story about the St John the Divine Fairfield "Spire saved by campaigners" (Daily Post, Thursday, December 11).
Having been closely involved with the whole process of dealing with a serious health and safety issue in what is actually a non-listed building, I know exactly how much help the campaigners gave in saving the spire - none at all.
They didn't save it - the local church and a private purchaser did, as our statement made plain.
I personally liaised with Will Palin, of SAVE Britain's Heritage, who has been constructive and supportive, understanding how difficult this situation was to resolve, and has written today congratulating the church and diocese on brokering the deal.
Unlike SAVE, Jonathan Brown has never spoken to me to obtain the facts about the situation, yet he feels able to suggest that the diocese was shamed into taking this action.
In doing so, he ignores the huge amount of ongoing work that the diocese and local congregations undertake on a daily basis to preserve many of the city's finest buildings. And this work rarely gets any public mention.
The so-called "campaign" to save the spire of St John's actually changed nothing and did nothing.
All the processes we went through were normal and necessary.
The one thing the campaigners might have offered, financial assistance, was notable in its absence.
Few of us appreciate being told how to spend our money, yet campaigners were asking the local congregation to fall on their swords to protect a landmark. That is not the church's prime business, yet they still dug into their own pockets to make the deal possible.
It's fine to have lofty ideals about maintaining landmarks, but, unless there is a recognition of the financial costs involved, and a cool assessment of the comparative quality of the building - and English Heritage and the listing authority are the final word on that - it is little more than hot air.
St John's spire is a notable feature on the approach to Liverpool down Edge Lane Drive.
I was as keen as anyone to see it saved, and have personally engaged with as many people as I could in order to find a solution. To be pilloried when we achieve another small victory for a local community is very unfair.
Here is a letter from Jonathan Brown of Merseyside Civic Society:
Re. the campaign to save the spire of St. John the Divine in Fairfield (December 11th, letters December 19th).
Archdeacon Ricky Panter's irritation at having to accept a lower sale sum for the church site to retain the 160 year old spire is perhaps understandable.
This does not require ungracious comments against local residents who blocked Diocesan plans to demolish the building, nor denigration of their collective contribution to a successful campaign to save the spire from the bulldozers.
His letter of December 19th claims the campaign "changed nothing and did nothing". The truth is that ordinary Liverpudlians gave freely of their time in various ways to achieve a famous victory for people power.
When the threat to the landmark was first discovered, residents rallied publicity, involved local councillors, set up an excellent campaign website (www.fairfieldspire.co.uk) and got in touch with national historic buildings specialists at SAVE Britain's Heritage to commission an expert survey of the spire.
This activity had two crucial impacts. The first was to make Bishop James Jones acutely aware of the public interest in the spire's fate. Amongst other voices, key members of the Echo's 'Stop the Rot' Committee, which he chairs, made clear that position could be untenable were the 1851 structure to be lost 'on his watch'. The Council's Historic Environment Champion Cllr. Berni Turner was particularly effective in this regard, and deserves credit for speaking out.
The second was that our early engagement with SAVE Britain's Heritage allowed their professional stone mason Brian Morton to show the building is in reality in far better condition than suggested by the Diocese. As the subsequent happy outcome proves, it remains a financially viable prospect for refurbishment, in contrast to earlier claims.
Readers can form their own view whether this combination of public pressure and objective evidence persuaded a rethink of the spire's immediate loss, and stimulated a more earnest engagement with specialist developers.
I do accept that what Ricky Panter terms the "business" of the church is saving souls rather than buildings, and that "lofty ideals" do not fix the roof.
However, only an irredeemable cynic would deny the value of beautiful architecture, listed or not, to the soul of inner city neighbourhoods like Kensington and Fairfield. The spiritual benefit of fine buildings like St. John the Divine is felt well beyond the congregation across the wider community, and surely outweighs the relatively small price of upkeep for another generation.
It is not forgotten by observers that the Church of England is an established part of the state, and as such has a duty to uphold the common good, not merely maximise returns on its ÃÂ£5 billion investment portfolio.