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  • Lawrence Bailey

Why heritage isn’t what it used to be

A distinction I once read about the difference between ‘conservation’ and ‘preservation’ is that the first safeguards the future, while the second involves putting dead things in jars. It's a glib definition, I grant you, but you get the idea.

I’m not sure I entirely sign up to the philosophy though. There are many live things worth preserving. I get quite agitated for example when I see a tree felled for no good reason. I’m less precious about buildings however. Yes, there are some iconic structures that I’d prefer to see untouched but it makes no sense for so many others to have protected status.

There are over 560 listed buildings in Swansea alone. A good number are churches, chapels and castles but some are house frontages and sections of wall.

Many fall subject to dereliction and disrepair, mostly because redevelopment is not a permitted option and like-for-like restoration is too expensive.

Swansea East AM Mike Hedges has long proposed measures to ‘de-list’ buildings so that they can be sensitively re-developed for new purposes while retaining key external features.

As he points out, the alternative is for our built heritage to fall further into decline. I’m sure he would appreciate whatever public support he can get in pursuing this sensible step.

Last weekend, during a visit to London I had the good fortune to visit the Hippodrome Casino. This venue, which once hosted the world-famous “Talk of the Town” nightclub, has seen several incarnations over the years, despite being a listed building.

I couldn’t help but think how the same imaginative approach could be used to bring the Palace Theatre back from the brink.

I entirely accept that upper High Street is unlikely to generate the same number of patrons as you’d get in Leicester Square but the mixed-use principle is sound one.

New roles were found for the old Guildhall (now Dylan Thomas Centre) and the Port Authority Offices, which became Morgans Hotel.

The façade of the former Carlton cinema in Oxford Street now graces a Waterstones bookshop.

Surely we can learn from those endeavours to give the past a future.

Technology is a killer

I don’t know about you, but as part of a generation entertained by Terminator movies, I’ve assumed that killer robots are strictly sci-fi stuff. It seems I’m wrong.

More than a hundred business leaders in artificial intelligence and robotics companies from across 26 countries – including Tesla boss Elon Musk – have recently signed an open letter urging the UN to take action against work to develop advanced warfare technology

The fear is that current research into automated tanks, drones and weaponry could be the basis of a future arms race.

The account I read listed robotic sentry guns, unmanned combat aerial vehicles, self-driving Russian tanks and an autonomous US warship launched last year.

Of course, this was while I was sat shivering on a draughty train home from London to Swansea, with no power, a busted sliding door and decidedly dodgy toilets at either end of the coach.

Who needs robots to create human misery?

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