The largest ever research project into the condition of England's industrial heritage was published today (Wednesday 19 October, 2011) by English Heritage together with its annual 'Heritage at Risk Register'.
A poll of public attitudes to industrial heritage is also published today by English Heritage and it reveals that:
- 61% of those in the East of England agree that the industrial revolution is the most important period of British history
- 86% agree that it is important we value and appreciate industrial heritage and 82% in the East of England think it is just as important as our castles and country houses
- 70% think industrial heritage sites should be reused for modern day purposes as long as their character is preserved
- 39% of people in the East of England would be interested in getting involved with helping to protect the industrial heritage. For example, through volunteering or helping with fundraising
The research project into the condition of England's industrial heritage reveals that: nationally, almost 11% of grade I and II* industrial buildings are at risk making them three times more at risk than grade I and II* buildings as a whole. They make up 13% of all buildings on the Heritage at Risk Register. Of all the entries on the Register in the East of England, some 7% are at risk (23 industrial heritage sites), and there is industrial heritage at risk in every county.
In the East of England 57% of industrial heritage sites at risk are wind and watermills. Downfield Windmill in Soham, Cambridgeshire is the oldest surviving of its kind and an important landmark. While still on the Heritage at Risk Register repairs are planned and the owners hope that this mill will be restored and once again produce flour. Stotfold Mill in Hitchin, Hertfordshire was gutted by fire in 1992 and on the verge of demolition. However, donations from local people, a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and work by a group of 150 volunteers has resulted in the mill being transformed. Stubb Mill in Norfolk which is home to possibly the largest pit wheel in any English mill and once drained the Norfolk Broads, has now been extensively restored and has given an important piece of the Broads' industrial heritage a new lease of life.
Other East of England examples on the 'Heritage at Risk Register' include: The East Tilbury Conservation Area in Essex where the challenge of breathing new life into industrial buildings has been made more difficult by the economic downturn and Thorpe-Le-Soken Maltings also in Essex which was once a pioneering maltings but faces many challenges due to its small windows and low floor to ceiling heights. New Bridges in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, the ancient flood arches which once played a major part in helping to protect the town from flooding, are in the process of being restored. A strategy for repairing the arches has been agreed with Cambridgeshire County Council and solutions for the structural problems are being developed.
Other key findings of the research project shows that:
- only 40% of listed industrial buildings at risk could be put to sustainable and economic new uses meaning that for the remaining 60%, although greatly loved and of immense cultural value, opportunities for adaptive reuse are limited. These sites typically involve buildings that contain historic machinery, are redundant engineering structures or mining remains. Their future will be dependant largely on voluntary effort, private philanthropy and increasingly scarce public funding. 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. Specialised industrial buildings such as kilns, furnaces, transport and engineering structures can present problems whereas the remains of 20th century industries are poorly understood, under-appreciated and very much at risk
Greg Luton, English Heritage East of England Planning Director said: "Britain led the way toward global industrialisation and as a result we are custodians of some 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 for adaptive re-use of some sort as dwellings or offices, and 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.
Help from English Heritage
Responding to the need to save buildings such as mills, factories and warehouses, we are offering:
Help for developers
A new section for Developers 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. 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 across England, 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, 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, co-funded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, include a prize for the best rescue of an industrial heritage building or site at risk."
Main risks to industrial heritage
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.
George Ferguson, architect and entrepreneur, who has a record of rescuing industrial heritage sites, said: "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."