In 1991, the first Register of all listed buildings at risk in London was published. This was followed in 1998 by the launch of English Heritage's formal buildings at risk strategy and the publication of the first national Buildings at Risk Register.
This identified that 3.8% of England's most important Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural monuments were at risk of collapse, decay and loss.
The Current Situation
Over half the buildings on the original Register have now been removed but significant numbers have also been added. Overall, however, the picture is one of a gradual and steady improvement with the percentage of Grade I and II* listed buildings at risk having fallen to 3% in 2012.
Grant aid for over 960 buildings and structural monuments has been an important factor in maintaining the downward trend. Since 1999 English Heritage has offered £75 million of grant aid for buildings at risk. This reflects the way that the Register has focused our efforts on heritage at risk as well as the attention of the public, investors and other stakeholders. Grant aid is necessary because 55% of buildings and structural monuments at risk cannot be used in a beneficial way.
Our trend analysis shows that, since the recession, the percentage of buildings at risk which have potential for use has increased from a low of 42% in 2007 to 45% in 2012. This reflects the steady increase in conservation deficit (the gap between the value of the building and the cost of repairs) faced by buildings at risk. This deficit has risen by approximately £93 million since 2007 and for those buildings which are uneconomic to repair we calculate that there is now a funding gap of approximately £423million.
Not all the buildings capable of use are uneconomic to repair. A further sign of the impact of the recession is that the proportion of these on the Register has increased since 2009 (from 11.7% to 13.3%). These are buildings which should clearly attract investment but which have fallen victim to the current economic climate.
The Challenge Ahead
The size of the funding gap and the percentage of buildings without any beneficial use present a real challenge. Many of these buildings have been on the Register for a long time and it is clear that partnership is critical in finding solutions for them. Local Authorities, charitable trusts, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Natural England, private investors and developers are key partners.
Looking for new partners in 2012, we joined with the Architectural Heritage Fund and others in creating the Challenge Fund and supporting four Heritage at Risk Officers across the country. With their help we are developing solutions for more sites with not-for-profit organisations.
In 2012 our National Heritage at Risk Strategy will be supported by nine local strategies which will look in more detail at the causes of, and solutions to, risk. Our nine new local teams will help to focus resources and provide the essential time and expertise to deliver solutions for buildings at risk.
By providing clear points for contact and reference across England, they will improve access to information, help develop new partnerships, strengthen existing ones and be the vehicle by which we share best practise.
The challenge we have now set ourselves is to remove 25% (309) of buildings at risk from the baseline 2010 Register by 2015.