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At risk: Recession blights historic architecture

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The recession is making it harder to protect the UK’s most at-risk historic buildings, English Heritage has warned

English Heritage this week unveiled its new heritage-at-risk register, revealing a ‘significant’ slow-down in the number of grade I and II* listed buildings being saved.

Simon Thurley, chief executive, said: ‘Local authority cuts, both in terms of funding and conservation staff, could result in catastrophic losses.’

He warned: ‘The fact that historic buildings at risk are getting harder to save is very worrying. Neglect is a slow, insidious process whose costly damage takes time to become clearly visible.’

The difference between repair costs and the end value of the 1,218 buildings and monuments on the register is now close £465 million, 10 per cent higher than just one year ago.

At a glance:

  • 1 in 32 grade I and II* listed buildings are at risk
  • 1 in 14 conservation areas surveyed are at risk
  • 1 in 6 scheduled monuments are at risk
  • 1 in 16 registered parks and gardens at risk
  • 1 in 7 registered battlefields are at risk
  • 1 in 6 protected wreck sites are at risk

Read English Heritage’s case studies below or search the register online.


Heritage at Risk 2010 register, case studies


Angel Croft Hotel, Litchfield

At risk: Angel Croft Hotel, Lichfield

At risk: Angel Croft Hotel, Lichfield

Angel Croft Hotel occupies a prime location opposite the Cathedral on Bird Street in Lichfield and is listed Grade II*.  It is a fine red brick Georgian town house built in 1750 with high quality detailing in the form of a deep plaster cornice and an impressive classical door-case. The building has an attractive set of eighteenth century wrought iron railings outside which are also listed.  Both the hotel and railings are in a poor state of repair and have been on the Buildings at Risk register for more than ten years.  This elegant property was built to impress and, despite its current condition, it continues to do so. 

The hotel changed ownership two years ago and has been vacant ever since. The new owners were keen to invest in the building, and refurbish it as an extension to their existing hotel business in the town, but the economic downturn occurred just as these plans were going forward.  With a crisis in business confidence, and consequent difficulties in raising funds, the project has faltered. Thieves have broken into the building and torn out all the copper water pipes - causing a major leak which has caused serious damage to ceilings and interior fittings and fixtures.  The building is now in a very poor state of repair generally and is classed at being at extreme risk.

Following the failure of their plans the owners have put the property up for sale once more, in the meantime it lies vacant without a use and so remains at very great risk of further deterioration, decay and vandalism.   



At risk: Hadlow Tower, Tonbridge, Kent

At risk: Hadlow Tower, Tonbridge, Kent

Hadlow Tower is the grade I listed folly associated with an otherwise demolished early nineteenth century country house in Kent and has been on the Buildings at Risk Register since its inception in 1999. Plans for the tower to be restored and brought back into use as a holiday let by the Vivat Trust have been developed.

The Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage have committed funding but the project has been delayed by approximately two years due to difficulties in securing funding from other identified sources that coincided with the global economic downturn in 2008. The Trust is now looking at a reduced scope of works that can be achieved in the budget available.


Former National Westminster Bank, St Martins, Leicester

At risk: Former National Westminster Bank, Leicestershire

At risk: Former National Westminster Bank, Leicestershire

The former National Westminster Bank at 2 St Martins is a Grade II* listed building and one of Leicester’s most impressive and extravagant buildings.  The bank dates from 1902 and was designed by the Leicester architect S Perkins Pick.  Described by Pevsner as ‘an explosion in scale’ and ‘remarkably ambitious,’ its elaborate neo-Baroque architecture is impressive and imposing, demonstrating the confidence and scale of commercial operations in Leicester at the turn of the 20th Century.  Sadly, the bank became redundant in 1999 and was included in 2003 on the National Buildings at Risk Register.  The bank is currently vacant.

Listed building consent and planning permission was granted in 2007 for the conversion of the banking hall into a restaurant, with the remainder of the building into 2 self contained shops and residential flats.  In considering the viability of the proposed uses, English Heritage commissioned a specialist report to help determine whether the proposals were realistic and viable for the market, and compatible with its important fabric, interior and setting.  Although archaeological investigations were carried out, by the time the planning consents were in place, the main contractor for the works went out of business and market conditions deteriorated.  Today the building remains vacant, and whilst actively marketed for let, its future is uncertain.

This case study is not unique and there are a number of vacant historic buildings within Leicester which have been affected by the downturn in economic conditions over the last few years.  The challenge remains to maintain these buildings and stop their deterioration, whilst finding new sustainable uses, which secure their special interest and their future.


Baptist Church House, 2-6 Southampton Row, London Borough of Camden

At risk: Baptist Church House, Camden, London

At risk: Baptist Church House, Camden, London

A grade II* listed building consisting of a Baptist Chapel, offices and shop, built in 1901-1903 to the design of Arthur Keen, architect for the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland.  The building, an eclectic blend of “Wrenaissance”, Baroque, Arts and Crafts, and Flemish building styles, was left empty in 1989 when the Baptist Union of England moved their offices to Oxfordshire.

The interiors of the main rooms are stunning, and full of panelling and plasterwork. The octagonal chapel at the rear of the building is an unexpected gem with good plasterwork showing trees from the Bible. The quality and expense of the building reflect the status of the Baptist Union at the turn of the 20th century when it was at the height of its influence.

It has been on our Buildings at Risk register since 1995, but in 2007 it was purchased by a company who plan to convert it to a 5* boutique hotel with bars, restaurant, spa, gym and conference facilities.  Full planning permission and listed building consent were granted in February 2008 and the project was ready to go in 2009. A funding package had been assembled, but as a result of the financial crisis the banks were no longer able to loan sufficient funding to the project and progress has halted.

The owners are currently putting together an alternative funding package and are keeping the building secure and wind and weather tight in the meantime.  It current empty status merits its inclusion on the Register.


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