I’ve been rather critical of Lancaster (formerly the Historic City of Lancaster – surely there’s not enough left to merit the title on the little brown signs nowadays) and the way it has mishandled its own heritage. But there are still a few small slivers of hope that somebody in the Town Hall knows how to celebrate it…

It’s only four months since I was last surprised – and to be honest it’s the same thing that caught my eye – but last week Lord Ashton’s most prominent architectural statement was lit up blue. Aside from this memorial to his late wife, the Lino King had gifted the said Town Hall to the people back in 1909 in the days when philanthropy was the done thing, though you can’t help but think he’d be spinning in his own grave at the thought of the decision makers that sit within its neo-classical Edwardian walls these days…

For here lies the planning department that thought planting a block of flats visually akin to an orange alien space ship on top of the listed Kingsway bus depot was a good idea. And then there’s the appalling facadism at the other end of town where a hall of residence seemingly styled on a stack of cardboard boxes was shoehorned into what the developer deigned should remain of an old shopping arcade. Add to that the carte-blanche erasing of almost everything Lancaster grew and thrived on and you end up with a city book-ended by botched developments with very little in between. All that hadn’t been destroyed in the misguided name of sixties modernism (we can forgive that, priorities were different back then) or after the great market hall fire of 1984 is currently being finished off.

Big old warehouses and mills – many of which had been destroyed in the seventies are also out of favour. Where other heritage cities would have been keen to repurpose them and incorporate them – see Newcastle and Liverpool for prime examples – Lancaster pulls them down. Or in the case of St George’s Works on the quayside, pulls half of it down and leaves the rest sitting uncomfortably in a twilight zone with little prospect for viable development. The adjacent gas work buildings – the frontage of which might well have been re-used on a new building to redress the balance of the Penny Street halls debacle – were also demolished. The original plans for this part of the city showed far more respect for its heritage and demonstrated how different it could all have been with a little drive and imagination – a potential cultural quarter where new buildings are surrounded by mills, stone arches and the frame of the old gasometer. Imagine a thriving quayside with arts, craft pubs, a hotel perhaps… It’s likely now that it will become another identikit housing estate that offers nothing to bring in visitors.

Nevertheless somebody is obviously trying, and Lord Ashton’s hilltop folly is lit up blue – properly this time since even the permanent orange lights round the base has been recoloured. In the moonlight it looks quite mythical, serene under a starry sky. I could have sat down and enjoyed the peace and solitude if it hadn’t been for the teenagers breaking bottles and shouting to each other from the nearby bandstand…

 

Another week later and it’s blue and yellow – still looking good but the surprise factor is wearing thin, quickly running the risk of becoming passé. One idea is just not enough.

Meanwhile the castle sits dimly lit across town, crying out for a decent lighting job. Now there’s a sight we’d all like to see.