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Ancient buildings under threat from cuts, warns SPAB

Hundreds of historic buildings from Victorian libraries to windmills could be at risk as councils sell them off to cope with budget cuts, heritage experts have warned

Other publicly owned buildings which are not sold could also end up being abandoned and boarded up to reduce running costs, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) said.

According to the organisation, historic buildings put up for auction by councils include the grade II-listed Conisbrough Priory, near Doncaster, Rotherham swimming baths and the 19th-century Lluesty Hospital, North Wales.

Other public bodies are also selling heritage buildings, with the former St Giles Hospital being sold by NHS Southwark and the courts service putting up two Georgian terraces in Greenwich for sale, the society said.

Even central Government is trying to reduce its own estate, with sales totalling £115 million in the past nine months - including historic buildings such as the former Land Registry headquarters in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.

And while the Government is keen for local groups to take on ‘heritage assets’ when they come on the market - which could be an improvement in areas where local bodies are not looking after properties well - in many places community groups which could take on large or awkward buildings do not exist.

SPAB secretary Philip Venning said: ‘The situation could well become something of a gamble for hundreds of historic buildings.

‘While there may be some positive outcomes, SPAB is deeply concerned that great swathes of the nation’s built heritage will face an uncertain future under new ownership - or will simply be mothballed.’

Writing in the society’s magazine Cornerstone, he warned that while councils have always sold off surplus historic properties, ‘a steadily increasing number of such buildings is likely to hit the market as savage spending cuts mean their disposal becomes unavoidable’.

Ian Lush, chief executive of the Architectural Heritage Fund, said: ‘The transfer of assets is both a threat and an opportunity.

‘It is a threat because the number of historic buildings which are being declared redundant by public sector owners - and this is not just local authorities, but also includes the Ministry of Defence, fire services, health trusts and so on - exceeds the number of community groups and commercial developers able to take them on.’

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