The Daily Telegraph of 16/5/06 carried an article entitled “The world at Lyme Regis” by Sally Pook about the use of materials from other countries to replenish the town’s beaches. (Sorry no link.) Apparently under pressure to achieve best value, the local council is using sand from France and granite from China.
No doubt this is the application of market forces in pursuit of cost reductions. One could argue that this is of immediate benefit to those paying for the coastal protection works, be they local council tax payers or those who may have contributed to central government coffers (if indeed there has been funding from elsewhere). However, given the importance of tourism to the economy of Lyme Regis, I can’t help wondering if more long term benefits might have accrued from using local materials.
The sand from the other side of the English Channel may look the same as the local variety but, as a civil engineer, I would look very suspiciously at the crystalline structure of the Chinese granite. One might say that the average member of the public would soon forget that the seashore is not as English as it used to be but it must be said that this part of the Dorset coast attracts a large number of amateur geologists for their holidays. Anyway, the knowledge that English or even Welsh or Scottish materials were being especially used would have added to the character and Britishness of the town and thereby contributed to the character and attractiveness of the place. To put in monetarist terms, one would not expect foreign tourists to visit the Cotswolds to look at houses built of foreign stone. Of course, some parts of our English heritage are famous for imported stone but it is one thing to marvel at the Portland Stone in St Paul’s Cathedral or the Shap Granite in Manchester’s buildings or the Haslingden Flag in Trafalgar Square; it is another thing to wonder if the buildings of the town you are paying to visit are made from the land you are in.
This matter of native building materials goes beyond paying tourists. I would suggest that we should be able to feel a sense of belonging to beautiful towns and cities in our country based on the architecture and fabric of the buildings. These things are visible to all who have gained a knowledge of such things, providing that they can gain access to the buildings. A sense of belonging and cultural identity can also be gained from the associations of buildings with the arts and artists or even scientists and engineers. Such knowledge needs to be developed through education and, dare I say, advertising. Applied to the heritage of the Three Cups Hotel, this could add commercial value to Lyme Regis and increase the civic pride of the residents.
The people of Belfast are not slow to capitalise on their connection with the Titanic. How much more could be achieved through advertising the links between Lyme Regis, Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, not to mention Jane Austen or John Fowles!
As an engineer who has studied marketing, I want to propose that those involved in tourism in the South West of England should creatively look for ways to “direct the great sources of power in market forces for the use and preservation of the Three Cups Hotel”. Apologies to the memory of Thomas Tredgold and the ICE Charter.
P.S. I would not begrudge the Russians the use of Amber or Lapis Lazuli in the palaces and cathedrals of Saint Petersburg. There is no pretence that these materials have come from anywhere other than the fringes of the Russian Empire and as such they add to the splendour of those places. What matters is the honesty and history of the buildings.
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