Creative restoration of derelict historic buildings can help drive a region’s wider regeneration, says Stephen Anderson
The Victorian Society recently released its 2016 list of the nation’s top 10 endangered buildings. Nine out of the 10 are in the north of England.
In heritage circles, there is a concept known as the ‘conservation deficit’, which simply means that the cost of repairs to an historic building, because of its historic nature, is in excess of any economic value it might attain once repaired.
The South doesn’t experience the same levels of conservation deficit as most of the UK, due to its comparatively elevated property values. This might offer one explanation for the absence of properties in the South-East on the Victorian Society’s list – the value of property there means that investment in historic buildings can make more commercial sense.
Conversely, this could be why there is a significant challenge in areas of the North with derelict historic buildings. Funding is finite; commercial investment is not always as forthcoming; and the heritage status of these buildings can be perceived as a barrier.
Finding a feasible and economically sustainable use for a vulnerable building is, quite rightly, a time-consuming and complex process. The longer it takes to find a solution, the more time the asset has to deteriorate, widening the deficit and compounding the challenges associated with restoring it.
That said, despite the challenges, it isn’t ‘grim up North’ for these buildings.
One example is the Mount Street Hospital complex in Preston. The Grade II-listed building is included on this year’s Victorian Society list, and is a project in which my practice, Buttress Architects, is currently engaged. By partnering with a number of agencies and engaging with the owners, Preston City Council is working to find a sustainable future for the building that will see it contribute to the wider regeneration of the city centre and offer a high-quality historic environment.
Moving buildings off the at-risk list and into use is important in strengthening a region’s offering
Initiatives such as the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Townscape Heritage and Heritage Enterprise funding streams, Historic England’s Heritage Action Zones, and the work undertaken by the Architectural Heritage Fund all aim to resolve the challenges faced by these important parts of our heritage. Tapping into these resources can be crucial in helping stakeholders achieve creative uses for heritage assets.
The restoration of historic buildings can act as a driver for wider regeneration, so moving buildings off the at-risk list and into use is important in strengthening a region’s offering, creating places that people want to live and invest in.
Stephen Anderson is associate director at Manchester-based practice Buttress Architects
The Victorian Society’s 2016 Top Ten Endangered Buildings List
Red barns redcar
Red Barns, Redcar, North Yorkshire (Grade II* 1868, Phillip Webb) Red Barns is an architecturally important building, designed by leading Arts and Crafts architect, Philip Webb. It is also the former home of Gertrude Bell, CBE, a pioneering female Victorian explorer of the Middle East variously described as a political officer, administrator, spy and archaeologist. Philip Webb also designed Red House, William Morris’ home in South London, but the contrast between Red Barns and Red House could not be starker. While Red House is lovingly looked after by the National Trust its famous occupant celebrated – Red Barns lies in a terrible state with huge amounts of water damage to the interior. Bought by a developer after a pub at the building closed, foundations for housing have been dug in the grounds but work has not commenced. Nor have plans to convert the building into flats started. Urgent action is needed now to ensure Red Barns survives. Perhaps the developer could support the local campaign to turn the house into a museum to honour Bell’s memory.
Victoria mill grimsby joeodonnell
Victoria Mill, Grimsby, Lincolnshire (Grade II, 1889 and 1906, Sir William Gelder of Hull) This former flourmill, warehouse and office complex was partially converted to flats in the 1990s. Now the tower of this Grimsby landmark, which was not converted to housing, has suffered from structural difficulties. As a result, some people living in the flats were made homeless for weeks due to their homes being declared unsafe. After the owner failed to take action, the Council carried out work to allow residents to return home and prevent a collapse onto a main road. While the council battles to recoup the costs of this work the long-term future of the tower remains uncertain. The owner should either sell the silo tower or reapply for planning permission for conversion to residential – the existing permission having expired.
Old buterd railwaystation cardiff
Old Bute Road Railway Station, Cardiff (Grade II*, 1842, Brunel?) Arriving at Cardiff Bay by train today you would never guess that this dilapidated station was the home of the first steam-powered passenger train service in Wales and vital to the development of Cardiff into the important international port it became in the 19th century. Thought to be designed by Brunel, it is Grade II*-listed as an exceptionally early surviving example of purpose-built railway architecture in Wales. The station’s dereliction is all the more shocking given its location just a stone’s throw from the centre of Welsh political power at the Welsh Assembly and the regeneration of Tiger Bay. Surprisingly, a modern shelter was built at the station, which still serves commuters, right next to the old station – one of the few remaining historic buildings in the area. Sadly it has been left to rot since a museum it housed closed. Surely with passengers still using the station a food or retail use is feasible?
Old library stafford
Old Library, Stafford, Staffordshire (Grade II, 1913, Wolstenholme and Thorneley) The small but impressive classical building in the centre of Stafford should have no problem finding a tenant, yet it has been little used for nearly 20 years since the library closed in 1998.The building once housed Clement Lindley Wragge’s collection of ethnographic, zoological and geological material but it is unclear where the collection is now. The county council sold the building in 2012 and a planning application for conversion to an Indian restaurant was approved in 2013 but nothing has happened since. The owner should consider offering the building to a community group which hopes to reopen the building as a multi-purpose arts/cultural hub.
Mountst hospital preston dominicroberts
Mount Street Hospital, Preston, Lancashire (Grade II, 1872, RW Hughes) The High Victorian Gothic building was built as an orphanage for Preston’s destitute girls. The orphanage closed in 1954 and later became a convalescent home, but has now been empty for over a decade. The Society called for an Urgent Works Notice in 2009 to keep this important building weathertight and secured against vandalism or arson. The building continues to be a favourite of ‘urban explorers’, with teenagers recently seen hanging out of top floor windows. Preston City Council is drawing up residential conversion proposals for the site with the owner. However, the buildings cannot afford further delay – sensitive plans urgently need to be put into action before the building is lost.
Clayton hospital wakefield joeodonnell
Clayton Hospital, Wakefield, West Yorkshire (Locally listed, 1879 extended circa 1900, William Bakewell) Clayton Hospital is the first non-listed building to be included on the Top Ten for several years. Its inclusion reflects the very high quality of the carved stone Tudor Revival building which dominates the surrounding conservation area. Although its dramatic central tower is visible from two of the main roads into Wakefield it has fallen into disrepair and had its lead flashings stripped from the roof. The Wakefield Grammar School Foundation owns schools on either side of the building and has submitted a planning application for total demolition of the hospital to enable expansion to create an ‘iconic’ centrepiece. It seems inconceivable that the landmark main hospital building cannot be incorporated into the schools’ plans to provide this. The Society is urging the public to oppose the application.
Stpauls boughton joeodonnell
St Paul’s Church, Boughton, Chester, Cheshire (Grade II* 1876 extended 1902 John Douglas) You would never know from the outside that the church incorporates an older classical church. Architect John Douglas, who designed much of Chester’s Victorian half-timbered town centre, was a congregation member and rebuilt the complex in his distinctive style, leaving little trace of what went before. The stunning interior retains wall paintings and wonderful stained glass windows by Kempe, Frampton, Morris, and Burne-Jones. The church is currently going through the Church of England closure process after the congregation merged with another church. Repairs are needed to the roof and the electrics. Although the rear of the church presents an idyllic situation down to the river, it fronts a busy, unattractive main road. Nevertheless this building is too important to sit empty and slowly deteriorating with no plan for its future.
Stjosephs seminary upholland joeodonnell
St Joseph’s Seminary, Upholland, Lancashire (Grade II 1880-83 J O’Byrne extended 1921-8 by Pugin and Pugin) This large and impressive three-storey complex of Gothic sandstone buildings reportedly sits at the geographic centre of the Diocese of Liverpool and bears witness to a time when many young men wanted to train to become priests. Numbers dramatically declined after the 1960s and the seminary became a boarding school in the 1980s for boys considering a vocation. Alumni reportedly include the comedians Tom O’Connor and Johnny Vegas (who is said to have left after becoming homesick). The buildings closed in the early 1990s and have been slowly decaying ever since, becoming a mecca for ‘urban explorers’ some of whom have damaged the interior. Just 15 minutes’ drive from Wigan surely a residential conversion is possible?
Rylands mill wigan
Rylands Mill, Wigan, Greater Manchester (Grade II, 1865, George Woodhouse) A former cotton mill, with integral boiler and engine house, chimney and weaving sheds. The building was occupied by Wigan and Leigh College but has lain derelict since the early 2000s. Although designed to be fireproof, the mill has suffered regular fires in recent months, resulting in the demolition of a 20th century extension. Locals remain concerned about the lack of vision for the site, where children risk their lives trespassing. Ideally located next to a public park, the mill is currently for sale £2,500,000. The owners must be certain that a sale at this price is possible and, in the meantime, properly secure the site before someone is seriously hurt.
Oliver buildings barnstaple joeodonnell
Oliver Buildings, Barnstaple, Devon (Grade II, 1888, William Clement Oliver) The Shapland and Petter multi-coloured brick factory, showroom and office complex produced high-quality, mass-produced Arts and Crafts furniture using advanced American machinery. The buildings employ an innovative combination of fireproof and fire-retardant construction, compartmentalisation and a sprinkler system, due to a disastrous fire which destroyed the firm’s previous works. Shapland and Petter was Barnstaple’s biggest employer for many years but the buildings closed in 2009. A developer who bought the prominent riverside site fought several times to overturn the building’s recent listing, even backed by a local MP. Concerns over their future were compounded by the mayor mistakenly stating that Grade II-listing does not protect the buildings’ interior. After rejecting an offer by the local building preservation trust the developer must now produce plans incorporating the buildings without any further delay.