New rate changes aimed at encouraging the reuse of empty industrial buildings are leading to a growing number of historic factories simply being demolished.
In a perverse turnaround of rules introduced to make property owners pay rates on disused warehouses and factories - buildings previously exempt from tax under existing rules - developers are choosing to flatten their building stock rather than pay 'colossal bills'.
From April 2008, owners of industrial buildings will have a six-month rate-free period, but must then pay rates at 100 per cent.
This 'tear down rather than pay up' trend has been picked up by Manchester demolition experts J Freeley.
The company's managing director John Freeley said: 'We're finding an increasing number of owners of disused industrial buildings are turning to demolition because they realise that rates are not levied on cleared landsites.
'A typical disused factory building with a rateable value of £200,000 could attract annual rates of £88,200 when the new rules come into being next year.
'Demolition of that building and site clearance would cost a fraction of that,' he added.
The news has appalled Adam Wilkinson of Save Britain's Heritage, who said: 'It could be carnage - there are a great many historic industrial buildings in towns such as Burnley, Bradford or Stoke which are unlisted and not in conservation areas, so could suffer from this measure.
'The fundamental architectural character of these places could be horribly weakened.'
However, Wilkinson added: 'One hopes that it might just inspire owners to get on and convert buildings to new uses but, sadly, short-term financial convenience tends to take precedence over long-term gains, both to owners and society as a whole, made through imaginative reuse.'by Richard Waite