Outrage as St Albans ranked bottom five for ‘culture’

Roman centurion Gaius Allius, Portfolio holder for heritage, sports and leisure Cllr Annie Brewster, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and MP for St Albans Anne Main in front of St Albans Abbey

Roman centurion Gaius Allius, Portfolio holder for heritage, sports and leisure Cllr Annie Brewster, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and MP for St Albans Anne Main in front of St Albans Abbey

Archant

Community leaders are “indignant” about a new heritage report which has ranked St Albans in the bottom five districts for historical and cultural assets in England.

Roman centurion Gaius Allius, Portfolio holder for heritage, sports and leisure Cllr Annie Brewster, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and MP for St Albans Anne Main with french row and St Albans Abbey in the backgroundRoman centurion Gaius Allius, Portfolio holder for heritage, sports and leisure Cllr Annie Brewster, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and MP for St Albans Anne Main with french row and St Albans Abbey in the background

St Albans was placed 321 out of 325 districts for ‘assets’ in the Heritage Index, a report compiled by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (RSA).

The section of the report was created by tallying up different areas’ cultural assets, including nature reserves, blue plaques and designated local foods, and dividing them by its size.

St Albans district came 296th - 29 from the bottom - for its ‘total score’, which aimed to highlight which areas make best use of their heritage assets.

Vanessa Gregory, chairman of grassroots design group Look! St Albans, said: “I was really indignant about it. If you’re living in St Albans you know it doesn’t deserve to be in the bottom 10, it’s unbelievable.

“How did we get the film festival, the fashion show, the literary festival, the organ festival? How many things, how many groups, how many people are out there creating?

“When you have a look at the criteria it’s ridiculous, all you have to do is come to St Albans to see that it has an abundance of culture. Twenty or 30 years ago this might be more believable but not now, we have so much to offer.”

The RSA’s website outlines the aim of the report, which is the first of its kind: “The Heritage Index is designed to stimulate debate about what is valued from the past and how that influences the identity of current residents in a place.”

A spokesperson for the RSA said that St Albans is an unusual case, and the likely cause of its low ranking is due to the concentration of cultural assets in the city centre, compared to other districts where they are spread out over a smaller radius.

Looking at the 103 data sets used to compile the report, there is an emphasis on how the local authority lists its assets.

Cllr Annie Brewster, portfolio holder for sports, leisure, and heritage for St Albans district council, said: “Welwyn Hatfield, who rank above us, are attributed with 176 parks and gardens whilst it states St Albans district only have three, which is clearly inaccurate.”

Cllr Brewster has been in touch with the RSA to correct this but commented that the other statistics appear to be correct.

One criteria is the amount of Heritage Lottery and Arts Council Grants that have been invested in the area over the past five years.

The new Town Hall museum and the Cathedral projects have now received some funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the district council hope to secure additional funding in the future, totalling more than £6 m.

Cllr Brewster added: “Seeing a silver lining to this seemingly appalling ranking, this Index could, in fact, help us to attract greater funding to support our fabulous heritage assets and the activities we plan to derive from them.”

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