Recession puts historic buildings at risk

The Heritage at Risk Register 2010 has revealed that the recession has had a significant impact on the rescue of historic buildings, according to English Heritage.

Between 1999 and 2007, the number of Grade I- and II*-listed buildings on the ‘at risk’ register fell by 17%, but since then, the rate of rescue has ground to a halt, with many of the 1,218 buildings and monuments on the register being left to fall into neglect or decay.

at riskAbbey Mills Pumping Station, Newnham, 1910-14

In 1999, one in six buildings on the ‘at risk’ register was fully economic to repair; now, it’s fallen to one in eight. The ‘conservation debt’ – the difference between the cost of repair and end value of the buildings – is now about £465 million, a 10% rise from 2009.

The new register also showed that 3% of Grade I- and II*-listed buildings are at risk, as are 7% of conservation areas, 16% of scheduled monuments, 6% of registered parks and gardens, 14% of registered battlefields and 16% of protected wreck sites.

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Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, commented: ‘The fact that historic buildings at risk are getting harder to save is very worrying. With decreased house prices, the difficultly of getting mortgages and the uncertainly of the jobs market, private buyers and small developers are less likely to invest in a building at risk. We might also see more buildings coming onto the Register as people spend less on maintenance and repair.

‘Fewer large developers and construction companies are embarking on big regeneration projects and some are having to halt work or even abandon a site altogether. And where public bodies and development agencies could previously support such schemes, they, too, are unable to invest.

at riskCellars of former Cranford House, Hillingdon, from about 1722, suffering from structural weakening

‘Local authority cuts, both in terms of funding and conservation staff, could result in catastrophic losses. Sixteen percent of historic buildings at risk are the libraries, schools, hospitals, police stations and other typically Victorian or Edwardian edifices owned by local councils and greatly cherished by local communities.

‘Neglect is a slow, insidious process whose costly damage takes time to become clearly visible. Cuts in both private and public spending are currently inevitable, but English Heritage is well-equipped to guard against the loss of Britain’s greatest treasures and to suggest effective and economical strategies to protect our national heritage.

‘We also hope that our Heritage at Risk programme will gives communities – local people, local authorities and the larger community of both official and voluntary heritage groups – accurate information about the condition of local neighbourhoods, and encourage them to become actively involved in restoring what is precious to them.’

at riskGarden grotto near St Giles House, Dorset, built in about 1851-53

To order the full Heritage at Risk register and learn more about getting involved with conservation in your local area, visit

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