Memorandum submitted by Save Britain's
1. SAVE Britain's Heritage is a registered
charity that campaigns for historic buildings. From its foundation
in 1975 (the European Architectural Heritage Year), SAVE's overriding
concern has been to save historic buildings from demolition and
needless decay, and where necessary and appropriate to find new
uses or new owners.
2. Our concern is for fine and worthwhile
historic buildings of all periods and we have successively championed
the cause of railway architecture, churches, chapels, textile
mills, warehouse and maltings, farm buildings, theatres and cinemas,
houses large and small, naval and military complexes, hospitals,
town halls, pubs and now law courts.
3. Our work is based on a recognition that
only a small proportion of historic buildings can be preserved
simply as showplaces (though these can enthral visitors) and that
most historic buildings must earn their keep or become worthwhile
and valued investments to their owners.
Equally, when historic buildings do need major
grants to put them in repair, this is usually not because of any
innate weakness of failing, but the result of simple neglect and
lack of basic maintenance, a process by which minor problems which
can easily be solved (such as slipped slates or blocked gutters)
lead to major repair bills.
4. SAVE submitted evidence to the Environmental
Sub-Committee of the House of Commons for its report on the National
Land Fund. SAVE was one of only two bodies giving evidence which
went the whole way in recommending that the NLF should be reconstituted
under independent trustees. This Parliament, and I say Parliament
and not Government, recommended and after further battles the
National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) was instituted.
In SAVEs view the establishment of the National
Heritage Memorial Fund was absolutely critical in:
4.1 Re-establishing the vision of its founder
Hugh Dalton that the fund should be, "a thank-offering for
victory, and a war memorial which, in the judgement of many, is
better than any work of art in stone or bronze. I should like
to think that through this fund we shall dedicate some of the
loveliest parts of this land to the memory of those who died in
order that we might live in freedom . . . let this land of ours
be dedicated to the memory of our dead, and to the use and enjoyment
of the living for ever".
4.2 Broadening the concept of heritage to
the widest possible range of artefacts and landmarks, both natural
4.3 Providing funds to solve the great crises,
notably the break up of grand country housessuch as Belton
in Lincolnshire, Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and Fyvie in Aberdeenshire.
4.4 In supporting buildings on death row,
such as Barlaston Hall, which SAVE acquired for £1 to save
it from imminent demolition, after serious damage from coal mining.
5. HERITAGE LOTTERY
5.1 Our concern with the Heritage Lottery
Fund is to ensure that:
5.2 It helps to provide long-term solutions
for individual historic buildings that need to be preserved with
their contents and opened to the public.
5.3 It directs substantial funds to special
areas of crisis or need. One welcome example is historic urban
parks; others in our view are isolated farm buildings, follies
and temples of landscape gardens and parks, 20th-century industrial
buildings and the numerous historic buildings being relinquished
by the Ministry of Defence, the National Health Service and local
5.4 It not only helps well-established heritage
institutions like the National Trust and major museums, but that
it recognises and fosters the many newer and often largely voluntary
preservation initiatives which champion historic buildings and
places whose values and need have only been recognised recently.
5.5 It recognises that the value of historic
buildings goes far beyond those that are open to the public as
show places or museums, and that many buildings can give pleasure
to a wide range of people who can see them in the street or the
country, or experience them as places to live, shop and work.
The HLF's definition of what constitutes "public benefit"
must recognise this.
5.6 That it recognises and supports schemes
which seek to bring into use disused or underused buildings such
as empty upper floors over high street shops.
5.7 That it recognises that although educational
and access initiatives are extremely important, the fundamental
issue in conservation is one of building works to keep historic
buildings in good repair. The HLF has resources of unprecedented
size, far larger than ever available to English Heritage (EH),
Cadw or Historic Scotland. It must use these above all else to
grant aid building works.
6.1 Buildings Left to Rot
SAVE has published more than a dozen reports
on historic buildings standing empty and left to decay and urgently
in need of new owners and new uses. These reports are widely publicised
in the media and from the huge public interest generated it is
clear that the demand for historic buildings to repair far exceeds
Following the appearance of our researcher Emily
Cole on the popular BBC1 TV programme Watchdog our telephones
rang without cease for a fortnight from people quite desperate
in some cases to find properties and willing to make a huge effort
in terms of time and effort to rescue them. There was particular
interest in the idea of living in a country house communitythat
is a large country house divided up into self-contained houses
In terms of building types we lay particular
stress on the problems of:
upper floors of historic buildings
in old town centres;
isolated rural buildings; and
large complexes of Ministry of Defence
and NHS buildings now being sold.
6.2 Country Houses
A series of SAVE reportsTomorrow's
Ruins, Silent Mansions, Endangered Domainshas shown
that at any one time there are at least 100 fine historic country
houses standing empty and decaying. Some arelong-standing cases.
The majority are houses acquired by institutional users who have
then moved on. They may have been used as hospitals, borstals
and schools. Often they have been surrounded by unsightly huts
and modern additions but on the whole they still stand in fine
grounds. Every year a number of these houses find a successful
solution but others come on to the danger list. The need is to
find a new owner who values the building for its beauty and historyrather
than one who simply sees it as cheap floor space in a country
area where it would be difficult to obtain permission to build.
In such cases the situation simply repeats itself a few years
In Scotland, where many country houses were
unrolled to avoid paying rates, the numbers of problem houses
are proportionately greater.
Successive Governments have recognised that
if many historic buildings are to survive with their historic
contents on show to the public, private owners must be given every
incentive to continue. The machinery exists for both EH and the
HLF to help private owners, but in reality EH has cut back its
grants to private owners and the HLF has not begun them. Some
private owners do need help to do major works, and without it
there will be a steady stream of break-ups. In recent years we
have had the break-up of the Elizabethan Pitchford and the Victorian
Stokesay Court. Our most serious criticism of the NHMF over the
last 10 years is that where historic houses are concerned it has
focused on the exceptional to the detriment of the typical. Stokesay,
for example, was not a masterpiece in art historical terms, and
some of its furniture may have been bought ready made from Maples
rather than hand built by a cabinet maker. The point was that
it featured absolutely complete and untouched late 19th-century
interiors with all the bills to prove it. Its importance lay not
so much in being a work of art as a document and that document
has been lost to the nation for want of HLF support.
The HLF is the one body with the financial resources
to both fund repair works for such large buildings, and provide
endowments in exceptional circumstances, to secure houses and
parks intact in public or charitable ownership, It is vital that
the HLF is prepared to do both these things.
6.3 Urban and Rural Churches
At the time of the Victoria and Albert Museum
exhibition Change and Decay in 1977 an avalanche of redundancies
of all denominations threatened. The immediate introduction of
grant aid for repairs to churches ameliorated the situation. A
steady stream of redundancies continued and the first need has
been to ensure that the most exceptional churches and chapels
of all denominations should be preserved intact with their contents.
Since then an impressive number of Anglican parish churches have
continued to be vested in the Churches Conservation Trust (304
at the latest count), whilst the enterprising Chapels Trust has
taken on eight fine nonconformist chapels and the Friends of Friendless
Churches has courageously taken on 20 abandoned churches.
In our view the work of the Chapels Trust and
the Friends is an important priority for the HLF. We are also
very concerned about the position in Wales and Scotland. A new
Welsh Chapels Trust has been established but has yet to take on
a building and deserves strong support. No less important are
the many virtually redundant parish churches belonging to the
Church in Wales, which has no equivalent of the Churches Conservation
trust in England. The joint HLF/EH Places of Worship Scheme is
to be highly commended for simplifying and concentrating grant
aid availability for churches and chapels, but efforts must be
extended: the problem of church repairs and church redundancies
is still one of the greatest concern.
6.4 Living above the shop
SAVE is currently preparing a major report on
making use of empty space in the upper floors of historic towns.
In very many traditional high streets the space above shops, banks,
estate agents and all kinds of premises is empty or just used
for storage. According to available research up to 500,000 new
homes could be provided in such premises. This would self-evidently
be a major contribution to housing need and by encouraging new
and better use of historic town-centre buildings, HLF and its
partners can provide a springboard for the regeneration of communities.
This is in an area which deserves sustained and substantial support
if an impact is to be made.
For this reason we welcome the fact that the
remit of the HLF Town Heritage Initiative (THI) is broader than
EH Conservation Area Partnership Schemes it replaced, and specifically
targets living accommodation over shops as a part of an emphasis
on regeneration and sustainable planning. However, we would also
like the HLF to target projects to bring vacant upper storey space
back into use which fall without the limited number of THI schemes,
because the benefit of such projects to local communities and
the nation as a whole is so strong, both in terms of revitalising
town centres and meeting future housing needs.
6.5 Industrial Heritage
The SAVE report and exhibition Satanic Mills
in 1979 first drew attention to the plight of hundreds of
fine textile mills in the Pennines, both Yorkshire cotton mills
(well built in the local millstone grit) and vast brick built
Lancashire cotton mills. The exhibition demonstrated that there
was an immense attachment to the mills in many local communities
and many people were sad to see them go. Since then an impressive
number of mills have been rescued and enterprisingly reused, but
the sheer scale of the problem remains enormous. Two organisations,
The Phoenix Trust and Regeneration Through Heritage, are tackling
this problem and both need strong support for schemes to rescue
individual buildings. The Phoenix Trust is at work on Stanley
Mills outside Perth (with HLF help) and RTH has four schemes in
the making but there is the need and the opportunity for more
schemes on such a scale. Once again the need for public money
arises not from any innate defect in the actual buildings but
the accumulated effect of years of neglect. Once put into beneficial
use these buildings will be able to earn their keep for years
SAVE believes the HLF should mount an Industrial
Heritage Scheme similar to its successful urban parks scheme.
Key models should be the remarkable industrial parks established
in former blast furnaces, steel works and power stations in the
Ruhr around Dusseldorf, Dortmund and Essen and the regional cultural
centre established in the former Royal Salt works at Arc-et-Senans
near Besancon. These were abandoned derelict sites that would
have seemed to many as suitable only for carving up as scrap.
Yet these huge complexes with their gantries, towers, coal hoists,
conveyor belts, overhead pipes and ducts are impressive sights.
One of the solutions adopted in the Ruhr has not been to restore
them, but simply to preserve them as monuments, open them to the
public and above all let Nature take over, so that sites which
were once black with coal and debris are now filled with trees,
saplings shrubs and wild flowers, like the wood which grows up
round the castle in Sleeping Beauty. The point is that these "greened"
sites are immensely popular with the public, not only by day,
but in the evening when they are dramatically floodlit and used
for a whole range of pop concerts and musical events. They have
given star status to towns which a few years ago were considered
literally the pits.
The identification and preservation of 18th-
and 19th-century industrial buildings has long been accepted as
important and practical, and given a great many people a great
deal of enjoyment. However, we have hardly yet got to grips with
the built legacy of 20th-century industry (with the exception
of a few Art Deco factories) and we urge the HLF to take the lead
in promoting the identification and imaginative reuse of such
Some of the Ruhr sites are on an enormous scale
and as a result languished for many years before imaginative solutions,
such as Sir Norman Foster's art gallery in an Essen power station,
revived them. The success of the recent campaign to restore seaside
piers in Britain, vigorously supported by the HLF, shows that
even the most problematic building types can be tackled. Major
20th-century industrial structures offer large amounts of interior
floor space that with imagination and determination can be put
to a whole range of uses.
SAVE has argued that No. 4 Boathouse in Portsmouth
Historic Dockyard, built as a part of the rearmament drive of
the late 1930s, can be a focal point of the Dockyard, providing
space for major exhibits such as boats and planes that cannot
be accommodated in other warehouses. The Trafalgar vintage foretopsail
of HMS Victory is to be displayed in the Boathouse during this
summer's International Festival of the Sea. It is the only building
in the Historic Dockyard large enough to accommodate it. Another
building in danger is Brynmawr Rubber Factory, along with the
Royal Festival Hall, one of the key buildings of the immediate
post-war era. Again, it provides a spectacular amount of well
lit covered space that, with imagination, could be used for sports,
exhibitions, performance art and gallery space.
6.6 Isolated Rural Buildings
SAVE's numerous reports on building at risk
have highlighted hundreds of agricultural buildings, often well
built of local stone or fine examples of timber frame construction.
These were often missed in the first hurried listing surveys and
even now only like to be listed Grade II. The results of the recent
EH buildings at risk survey have emphasised that such buildings,
in isolated locations with bad or non existent access, or marooned
in the middle of working farm yards, constitute a serious area
of concern. We consider once again this an area of urgent need
where the HLF should run a special programme.
6.7 Ministry of Defence and NHS Estates
Without question, this is the most serious heritage
problem since the country house crisis of the immediate post war
years (addressed by the Gowers report of 1950 which led to the
establishment of the three Historic Buildings Councils) and the
churches crisis of the 1970s. The problems of Defence and Hospital
Buildings went largely unnoticed until the publication of the
SAVE reports Deserted Bastions (1993) and Mind over
Matter (1995) These reports were prepared on our own initiative
and met with blank rebuttals from officials who simply sent us
on our way and dismiss the idea that there was a problem with
redundancy at all. This attitude, we are happy to say, changed
at the Ministry of Defence and as our report neared conclusion
and they recognised we could make a constructive contribution
to the problem. Since then the MoD has taken a commendably positive
role to most redundant groups of historic buildings, though we
remain concerned about the methods of disposal in some cases.
The Department of Health by contrast was not
co-operative and it was with the greatest difficulty that we built
up the catalogue of 98 large asylums (out of a total of 120) in
England due to be closed. Very few had ever been studied or illustrated.
Yet taken as a whole they are a remarkable example of enlightened
philanthropy. Most were built on sunny south facing slopes in
very spacious, well planted grounds (It was the practice in many
cases to provide one acre of grounds to every 10 patients, and
sometimes more, so that many asylums stand in 50, 100 or more
acres of grounds). These asylums were built for individual counties
and county boroughs and are often impressive compositions well
built in the local stone. Public money via the Commissioners in
Lunacy or the local ratepayers was often supplemented by local
charitable giving. No less importantly these impressive buildings
and their handsome grounds have been very well maintained (and
rarely spoiled by unsightly additions) out of the public purse
often for a century or more.
It has been appalling beyond belief to see what
happens to these buildings when vacated. One after another has
been systematically vandalised, every window broken, tiles and
slates ripped off, interior fittings smashed, so that within months
rather than years they are desolate wrecks. The worst cases include
Leverndale in Glasgow, where huge parapet stones have been tipped
one after another from the roof and Cefn Mably in Wales, a beautiful
house that has been so brutally vandalised it has now become the
local fly tip. There are many more examples of such callous waste,
notably Exevale outside Exeter where English Heritage and the
DCMS are at last moving towards a compulsory purchase. Because
of the long standing Crown Exemption of Government Departments
from listing (only recently removed) and a rather cosy reluctance
to cause Government Departments problems by listing too many of
their buildings, many hospitals of architectural quality were
not protected. Even when they were, however, the Department of
Health too often paid scant regard to either buildings or their
settings, appearing only concerned to maximise the amount of building
land in the ground, despite the fact that the DCMS guidance notes
on the disposal of historic buildings state that maximisation
of receipts should not be the overriding objective when selling
listed Government buildings.
We draw the Committee's attention to the heroic
rescue of the Moorhaven Hospital in Devon, transformed into a
flourishing country village of almost a hundred families by two
enterprising surveyors. Much more could be done on these lines
if only the Department would co-operate.
The recent demands stemming from the Comprehensive
Spending Review that departmentsand local authoritiesraise
billions of pounds from the sale of assets will see the disposal
of many more historic sites. Pressure must be maintained to ensure
their reuse is imaginative, sensitive, and response to local community
From this catalogue of buildings needlessly
left to decay, it is evident much more drastic action is needed
to stop the rot at the earliest stage. SAVE addressed this problem
in Left the Rot, published in 1978.
The essential need is for local authorities
and central Government to be more active in serving Repairs Notices
followed up by compulsory purchase orders. More and more local
authorities are beginning to do this now English Heritage under
Sir Jocelyn Stevens is taking a strong lead, backed up by the
DCMS, in tackling the larger crises which are beyond the resources
of individual local authorities. First the crisis over Buxton
Crescent was resolved and now Exevale looks set to benefit from
the same treatment.
At Buxton the owners were refusing to either
repair the Crescent or sell at a price reflecting its condition.
The repairs notice changed this. Local authorities up and down
the country have found that repairs notices (with the implicit
threat of a compulsory purchase order) do not land the ratepayers
with a bill, but prompt owners to repair or sell. The HLF needs
to make funds available to back up the new EH Buildings at Risk
initiative to support local authorities serving repairs notices
and compulsory purchase orders.
We also recommend to the Committee the example
of the Czech Republic, a country self-evidently poorer than our
own, in carrying out emergency works to endangered or decaying
buildings. The Czechs have an enterprising "tin lid"
policy by which historic buildings are given an emergency roof,
usually in corrugated metal, which stops water pouring into a
building and arrests decay while a solution can be worked out.
SAVE's reports illustrate numerous buildings which could be quickly
and simply taken off death row in this way. The HLF should set
aside funds for such emergency works and have in place the necessary
mechanism to enable it to respond swiftly and efficiently when
such works are needed.
For some years SAVE has advocated that Britain
should adopt the Dutch model of the Monument Watch (Monumentenwacht).
This operates on the principle that if we are to solve the problem
of decaying historic buildings, then we must master the chore
of routine maintenance rather than finance high-profile programmes
of restoration. Most repair crises stem from failure to carry
out routine jobs, such as cleaning out gutters and unblocking
downpipes. It takes only a few rotting leaves, a dead bird or
a tennis ball to block the top of a downpipe, causing the gutter
to overflow. As walls become sodden, damp gets into the roof timbers
and rot begins. "Drips come suddenly and do great damage",
said Sir Christopher Wren. "Stave off decay with daily care",
wrote William Morris. The need to master maintenance was recognised
when the three Historic Buildings Councils (the predecessors of
Cadw, English Heritage and Historic Scotland) were set up in 1953.
They were given the powers to aid both repair and maintenance.
However, with limited resources, they have decided to concentrate
exclusively on repairs.
We believe this is short sighted and wrong.
In the Dutch system of Monumentenwacht, a pair of skilled operatives
run a branch in each province. Each pair has a van stocked with
slates, tiles and roof lead, a tool kit and a set of ladders.
Owners of historic buildings pay a modest annual subscription
to the Watch and pay for a regular annual inspection on an hourly
basis. When at the building, the Watch do basic maintenance tasks,
climbing ladders to clear gutters, fixing missing tiles, going
into the roof-space to look for damp, worm, beetle or rot, and
emerging through hatches to look at the roof leads and gutters
hidden behind parapets. Having completed their inspection, they
leave a list of essential tasks for the owner. If the owner repeatedly
fails to carry out these, the Watch may eventually refuse to return.
In the winter, when bad weather makes outside
work difficult, they make roof access ladders, which they leave
in the lofts of large houses and churches. Some roofs are too
high to be reached by ladders and, given the hideous expense of
scaffolding, the Watch have developed a system of placing harness
hooks so that they can work their way along a roof in climbing
All of this seems elementary common sense, but
in Britain it requires a vast cultural shift. This is confirmed
by the findings of a recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
which found that the majority of householders of buildings of
all types approach the maintenance of their properties in an entirely
unsystematic way, ignoring basic maintenance and making repairs
only once problems are so advanced that there is no alternative.
This is in sharp contrast to the way in which people protect there
investment in other high value purchases, such as cars, where
maintenance and repair are carefully mapped out and addressed
at regular service checks.
The HLF is in a unique position to alter the
culture of conservation. As a new organisation, it is not weighed
down by the old orthodoxies. It can create new ones. The HLF has
the financial resources to fund pilot schemes across the country.
Perhaps in this country the system could make greater use of volunteer
manpower, as the pioneering Kent Building Preservation Trust is
doing in its own version of monument watch. Pilot schemes should
have a high education content, as an essential element of any
Watch programme has to be changing the attitudes of owners. A
network of locally based Watches, with strong educational and
volunteer elements, could become a strong force of community action,
fuelling interest and pride in local heritage. It is all common
sense, but common sense that it may require the full weight of
the HLF to begin to put into practice.
Every incoming Minister, and every incoming
Government recognises that the current VAT policy as it applies
to repair work to listed buildings is a major problem: indeed,
a fundamental failure to be fair. But on every occasion the Treasury
has triumphed and the anomalies remain. Currently, the full rate
of VAT is charged on repairs, though "improvements"
are zero rated. This has two outcomes. First, it discourages owners
from making essential repairs, putting buildings at risk, and
encourages them to make potentially damaging "improvements".
Secondly, in effect it means that the HLF, and EH, are paying
grant aid of17.5 per cent over and above the cost of repairs,
which goes straight to the Treasury. For example, each year the
joint HLF/EH Places of Worship Scheme commits £18 million
to repair work on churches and chapels: of this in excess of £3
million is VAT liability. Despite near constant lobbying, this
perverse situation remains in place. As a result, its resolution
is still the one act that would have the greatest impact on conservation.
Finally, it is essential that the principle
of additionality is defended. The HLF provides a very welcome
new source of funds for conservation, but it should not be seen
as an excuse for the Treasury to slough off its responsibilities
for expenditure through taxation. EH's budget continues to be
reduced year on year. The HLF has now taken over responsibility
for funding Conservation Area Partnership Schemes and it is unacceptable
that the Trustees had to step in to protect a programme threatened
by the reduction in EH income through normal taxation. This must
not be allowed to become a precedent.