Listed industrial buildings are more at risk than almost any other kind of heritage

In response to the largest ever research project into the condition of England’s industrial heritage a report was published on 19 October 2011 by English Heritage together with its annual Heritage at Risk Register. HTF Honorary Member George Ferguson, who has a track record of rescuing industrial heritage sites, is of the opinion that "Old industrial buildings can present a great opportunity for inspiring and sustainable conversions to a variety of uses. The best examples balance the need for creative re-use and revitalisation with the revelation of the history and character that undoubtedly brings added value to such conversions."

The project revealed that:

  • listed industrial buildings are more at risk than almost any other kind of heritage. Almost 11% of grade I and II* industrial buildings are at risk, an extraordinarily high number compared to the 3% of grade I and II* buildings which are at risk in England
  • 40% of listed industrial buildings at risk, such as mills, warehouses and factories, could be put to sustainable and economic new uses. The remaining 60%, typically buildings that contain historic machinery, redundant engineering structures or mining remains, are of immense cultural value and often greatly loved. These have the power to unite local communities and although not easy, there are countless examples that have been saved by committed local groups as conserved sites in the landscape often with public access or as visitor attractions
  • lead, tin, copper and coal mines are the industrial sites most at risk on Register. Textile mills also make up a large proportion and these buildings are often concentrated in a single place – Lancashire, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. The remains of 20thcentury industries are poorly understood, under-appreciated and very much at risk
  • most industrial heritage sites at risk in the North East are things which are not capable of being converted for new uses, indeed 54% are connected to various forms of mining. Most industrial heritage sites at risk in the East of England are wind and watermills and most in the South East are maritime structures.

A poll of public attitudes to industrial heritage also published by English Heritage on 19 October shows that:

  • almost half the population (43%) do not know when the industrial revolution took place
  • however, 86% agree that it is important we value and appreciate industrial heritage
  • 80% think it is just as important as our castles and country houses
  • 71% think industrial heritage sites should be reused for modern day purposes as long as their character is preserved
  • only 9% considered it depressing or an eyesore.

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “Britain led the way in global industrialisation and as a result we are custodians of the world’s most important industrial heritage. It is, however, one of the elements of our heritage most at risk.

“Forty percent of these buildings could be reused to house new advanced manufacturing, the sorts of technology, green engineering and creative and inventive businesses on which the country’s economic future now depends.

“However, 60% of our industrial heritage won’t ever attract developers and businesses. Its future could be bleak but, as our poll shows, people are passionate about our industrial past and since the 1960s there has been a strong tradition of local groups taking on the preservation of their local industrial heritage.

“Responding to the need to save buildings such as mills, factories and warehouses, we are offering:

Help for developers. A new Developers portal on the English Heritage website will offer advice relevant to re-using industrial buildings and each English Heritage local office will, for the first time, publish a list of 10 “at risk” priority sites, many of which will be industrial. Developers interested in taking these on will get additional help from English Heritage to guide them through the process.

Help for owners. A new guide to keeping buildings safe from decay or in temporary use until better economic times, is published today. Vacant Historic Buildings: An Owner’s Guide to Temporary Uses, Maintenance and Mothballing is available from the English Heritage website. This advice will be backed-up by grants, already averaging £2 million a year for urgent repairs.

“Responding to the need for support and recognition for groups looking after industrial structures such as the pit head winding gear at collieries, redundant bridges or kilns, furnaces and other ruins in the countryside or industrial buildings with no future use, we are offering:

Help for heritage rescue groups. Where commercial reuse is an unlikely option, a rescue by a charitable Building Preservation Trust might provide the answer. English Heritage, together with the Pilgrim Trust and the J Paul Getty Junior Foundation is putting £180,000 into a three-year industrial “cold spot” grant scheme to kick start rescue projects in places where few are going on. The scheme will be run by the Architectural Heritage Fund, who, together with English Heritage are putting £400,000 into part-funding three people to match-make voluntary heritage groups with industrial buildings needing rescue

Help for industrial sites preserved as visitor attractions. English Heritage is to part-fund an Industrial Heritage Support Officer to set up a network of support and advice for trusts and voluntary groups.

Looking forward, English Heritage will be doing at least 25 projects over the next few years that will result in the better understanding and protection of our industrial heritage, such as one on the lead mines of Derbyshire, a water mills project in partnership with the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings, and a project on buildings for the motor car.

“We are also recognising the efforts of local groups and celebrating philanthropic involvement in the first ever English Heritage Angel Awards ceremony on 31 October. The awards, supported by Andrew Lloyd Webber and co-funded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, include a prize for the best rescue of an industrial heritage building or site at risk.”

The English Heritage research found that the main risks to industrial heritage are:

  • developers do not consider industrial heritage part of the mainstream property market and can be put off by a site’s scale, possible contamination, conversion costs or, if the building is listed, an exaggerated notion of the restrictions this could impose
  • current low property values in some parts of the country make redundant industrial buildings unlikely to attract tenants and mean that  there is little incentive to repair them
  • developers are finding it hard to raise finance and there is far less public subsidy available. This leads to more industrial buildings remaining derelict and for longer
  • owners, particularly in the current economic climate, find themselves struggling to maintain a large historic building on top of the challenges of running the business itself
  • it can be hard to find funding to maintain sites which can only be preserved as ruins
  • some of England’s 650 industrial visitor attractions need help with business planning, marketing and interpretation. They also need to ensure against loss of skills and a lack of volunteers in the future.