Bell Tolls for the Acre; EUROPEAN INTERVENTION While English Heritage Is Busy Conserving the Nation's Historical Assets, Eurocrats in Brussels Have Determined to Do Away with One of Britain's Ancient Land Measures - the Acre. Julian Shellard, Birmingham-Based Chairman of Regional Business at CB Richard Ellis, Ponders on Where to Draw the Line between Preservation and Progress
Byline: Julian Shellard
Acres are set to go the way of the dodo when a directive aimed at unifying the system of land measure across Europe comes into force in 2010.
Britain has used the acre to measure land for 700 years. The word is allegedly derived from the Old English for "open Leld" and was considered the amount of land tillable by a man behind an ox in one day.
During Queen Victoria's reign the Weights and Measures Act 1878 deLned the acre as 4,840 square yards or 43,560 square feet.
The thing about the acre is that it is easy to envisage, and consequently has become a handy measurement of wealth. If you have a couple of acres for a back garden people think you've done alright. If you have 1,000 acres, you are probably a farmer creaming in subsidies from the EU, and if you boast 10,000 acres, you are rolling in it. Proffer the measurement in hectares - 2.47 times the size of an acre - and people are simply bemused.
This whole conversion business is enough to drive you to drink. Not too bad if you're a beer drinker. Due to an opt-out negotiated by Britain, pints of beer - along with milk - have been saved. Regrettably, wine drinkers like myself are reluctantly having to get used to a 125ml (or, more often, 250ml) measure of Chardonnay.
While the much-loved pint was saved by a tabloid campaign, it seems it's too late for the acre. It was unceremoniously outlawed via the backdoor at a meeting between Whitehall ofLcials - not an elected minister - and EU chiefs. From January 1, 2010, property agents and farmers will have to use the metric alternative, bringing us in line with our Continental neighbours.
While our politicians have failed to stick up for our centuries-old imperial land measurement, the same cannot be said of the nation's historical assets.
English Heritage has recently published what has been called "the Domesday Book of Heritage sites".
The Heritage at Risk Register documents some 500,000 historic buildings, monuments, battleLelds, shipwrecks and landscapes.
Out of 70,000 protected heritage sites, one in 12 is pronounced at high risk of neglect or decay (though if current market conditions persist for much longer I can think of one or two modern ofLce developments which would make the register).
The register's comprehensive nature is intended to engage people in the debate about the importance of conservation. Everyone lives near a site on the list and while heavilyprotected castles and country houses litter the register, so too do more everyday reminders of the past.
This approach has undoubtedly helped trigger restoration projects.
We have one such example on our own doorstep. In the mid 1990s, Birmingham's magniLcent Town Hall, with its limestone and marble walls and echoes of ancient Rome, was crumbling. It was closed to the public on safety grounds, but after English Heritage included it on the register, the council was galvanised into action. pounds 30 million-plus later, the Town Hall is a gloriously restored ediLce and a treasured cultural destination.
While this strategy to "name and shame" has reignited enthusiasm for decaying landmarks, it also has its detractors. …