Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Regeneration Through Heritage, The Prince's Foundation (HIS 17)


  Regeneration Through Heritage is an initiative in The Prince's Foundation that assists community-based partnerships regenerate vacant or under-used heritage buildings at risk, and provides an educational support programme on the methodology needed to achieve best practice and good quality sustainable conservation. Buildings may be industrial, commercial or public (not normally residential) and must be either listed (or listable) or of historic importance.


  Projects made possible by RTH have:

    —  A final development value of £60 million.

    —  Secured more than £32 million in capital and revenue to date.

    —  Created space for 1,100 jobs.

    —  Will generate a further 1,000 jobs.

    —  Brought 500,000 sq ft of floorspace back into use.

  Buildings saved:

    —  1 linen mill—funded.

    —  2 warehouses—under restoration.

    —  1 warehouse—funded.

    —  1 maltings—under restoration.

    —  1 foundry—under restoration.

    —  1 cotton mill—under restoration.


    —  1 maltings.

    —  1 woollen mill.

    —  2 cotton mills.

All, previously vacant or derelict, have been acquired for restoration by private developers as a direct consequence of RTH involvement.


  1.1  That historic buildings have a pivotal role in catalysing urban regeneration is becoming more widely appreciated. Historic buildings provide a quality of built environment very rarely equalled in contemporary building practice. Historic buildings also give places character and meaning that form a link with the past but can be utilised to generate contemporary economic opportunities. People are attracted to places that they can relate to, that are interesting and pleasant and, as people are attracted there, so is investment. The regeneration of historic buildings makes obvious economic sense, as demonstrated by the re-use of major industrial buildings, such as Dean Clough Mill and the repurposing of commercial buildings in town centres such as Glasgow and Manchester.

  1.2  Regeneration Through Heritage helps to initiate projects in communities with assets of redundant or under-used historic buildings but which lack the economic vitality for the private sector to take the levels of risk associated with redevelopment. RTH has found that historic buildings provide a most effective key to opening the economic and social potential of deprived communities. Whereas historic buildings were usually built to very high architectural standards, contributing much to a place's identity, their redundancy can exemplify a place's misfortunes. Decaying historic buildings serve as a persistent reminder to their surrounding communities that "the trade winds have passed". Re-injecting life and economic vitality into these places is more significant to people than new-build developments, it is symbolic and re-enthuses people as they do not have to live in the shadow of past glories.


  2.1  English Heritage is now much more aware that if they are to be conserved heritage buildings must have economically sustainable uses capable of generating sufficient income for their maintenance. English Heritage is actively promoting this approach through various initiatives and RTH has worked with it on particular buildings. We have concluded that it is essential that English Heritage is able to offer grant aid to promote the regeneration of heritage buildings, as it is often among the first to see a building's potential, and its early financial support can lever in further public and private investment. It is also our experience that local authorities and developers can progress projects for heritage buildings to an advanced stage before they seek advice from English Heritage, when it is too late for this to be of maximum benefit. Local authorities must ensure that English Heritage is accorded the opportunity to contribute advice before development proposals become too far advanced.

  2.2  Local Authorities often do not recognise the economic potential of heritage buildings, particularly in economically deprived areas where there is considerable pressure on them to promote regeneration. They are often willing to sacrifice historic buildings in order to promote other forms of regeneration, or to grant planning permission for inappropriate uses. Local authorities and RDAs are often guided by "short-termism" and the need to produce early outputs, and do not recognise the value that heritage buildings and locations can offer for longer term economic, social and environmental regeneration. Accordingly, too many regeneration programmes involving heritage buildings are characterised by the need to deliver short-term outputs and maximum economic returns, with a consequent adverse effect on the heritage. Economic agencies and local authorities must be encouraged to take a long-term view of regeneration and to wait for benefits. This will deliver better quality projects. What delivers an early result in the short-term often is not the most pragmatic solution for the long-term.

  2.3  Local authorities have heavy statutory responsibilities with respect to the care and re-use of heritage buildings, but rarely have sufficient numbers of trained conservation staff with the necessary experience and expertise. Often there are only one or two staff who lack the resources and seniority needed, and have insufficient influence within their authority where they are often outgunned by their planning and regeneration colleagues. Indeed there are many local authorities with important heritage buildings being regenerated that lack any dedicated conservation staff and, accordingly, are unable to monitor and guide construction work. This means that severe damage can occur to buildings and the final schemes fall short of the appropriate quality. There is a need for more "joined-up working" within local authorities between Economic, Planning and Conservation staff concerned with heritage projects. We have found that Economic Development staff can get well advanced in their proposals with developers and RDAs before seeking conservation advice. It then becomes more difficult to reverse inappropriate proposals, with consequent damage to buildings. This indicates that local authorities now more widely understand the potential these buildings offer for regeneration but fail to appreciate the need for construction work to respect the character and structure of the buildings. Accordingly the heritage environment is being cumulatively degraded.

  2.4  We believe that local authorities must strengthen their conservation resources both to promote the re-use of heritage buildings and to ensure that they are re-used in an appropriate manner.

  2.5  There are many heritage buildings in private ownership where the owners recognise their development potential but fail to take steps to promote projects. Buildings lie empty or under-used and in decline, while owners wait for a rising market to increase their value. This can impede, or in some cases completely sterilise, regeneration. We have several cases where local authorities recognise the potential these buildings have and, indeed, have participated in developing regeneration projects for them, but are still reluctant to tackle the owners, either through negotiation or the use of statutory powers such as Urgent Works Notices and Compulsory Purchase. Local authorities should be strongly encouraged to use their statutory powers in these cases, and RDAs empowered to offer funding support for acquisition.

  2.6  British Waterways own a considerable number of heritage buildings and some of their policies with respect to their use are very positive. However, BW tends to see these buildings for their economic potential and does not recognise itself as the temporary custodian of an important part of the Nation's heritage. BW is not a commercial company with private assets but, rather, holds heritage assets in trust and, accordingly should be required to deliver regeneration schemes of the highest quality. BW is still driven by the need to maximise economic returns and promotes projects that over-develop buildings, have inappropriate uses, or involve schemes that do not deliver a sufficiently wide social benefit. Some of their alterations to heritage buildings fall short of what they could deliver, reflecting a lack of conservation skills within their organisation.

  2.7  We feel that British Waterways recognises the economic potential of its heritage stock and is developing proposals for its re-use. However, it is still driven by an "estate agent mentality" that seeks early economic yields rather than the need to develop a quality scheme that may take longer to reach maturity. For example, in Wakefield we found that the regeneration of the Waterfront, which was initiated by proposals for British Waterway's Navigation Warehouse, is now driven by a focus on new-build, which is now progressing quickly. However, the listed heritage buildings remain untouched, and we suspect will be the last elements to be progressed.

  2.8  British Waterways, like a number of other public agencies, functions effectively in commercial partnerships. However, we have found it to be very poor at working in a collaborative way with the community and non-commercial partners on a regeneration scheme. We have found it to be both bureaucratic and autocratic. British Waterways does not recognise the community's right to have a direct stake in regeneration initiatives involving heritage buildings and sees it as a hurdle to be overcome rather than a genuine partner.


  3.1  Many RDAs only recognise buildings as of heritage value if they are listed and fail to see the importance of unlisted older buildings. Accordingly, they have difficulty in incorporating the character of an area, as reflected in the older buildings, into their regeneration schemes, preferring to opt for new build as the most straightforward and cheapest option. This contributes to the spread of often poorly designed and uniform developments that do not reflect local character, building materials or history. This is leading to the endless replication of characterless architecture that undermines the Nation's sense of place.

  3.2  Some private sector schemes have damaged heritage buildings, often through inappropriate uses and alterations. There are insufficient good conservation architects to project-manage all the work going on that involves heritage buildings and there is a need for more and better professional training in this professional specialism, better guidance on alterations, and better policing of work by local authorities. This underlines the need for more dedicated staff resources within local authorities.

  3.3  Heritage buildings are often seen by policy makers as problems rather than opportunities. There is not enough consultation with communities and heritage organisations, who often see their value and potential, and are by no means hostile to change. Public agencies, even yet, do not recognise the legitimate role that communities have in heritage regeneration projects, or recognise that communities can maintain and deliver a stake in a regeneration project. Such involvement confers public endorsement of the project and guarantees public access. As such it is a key to long-term success.

  3.4  When construction is taking place in a historic environment we have found that developers fail to recognise its importance. Inappropriate or overdevelopment is a real problem. There is often a lack of sensitivity to local materials and design, and many new buildings do not reflect the local vernacular. In this way, projects that initially appear to be taking advantage of the heritage environment end up contributing to their devaluation. We have found that such developments are too often driven by the overarching need to meet the financial outputs of investors or government funded programmes, rather than the need to deliver a project that also has social and environmental benefits.


  4.1  We consider that the Listing process is absolutely essential. Whether this power is retained by the Secretary of State or transferred to English Heritage there is a need for a national agency with power to spot list. A national perspective is required because many local authorities see heritage buildings as obstacles in the way of their other plans. An appeal process is also required against non-listing and a more open listing procedure is needed to avoid owners rushing to demolish historic buildings to prevent possible listing. Legislation should ensure that buildings cannot be demolished whilst this process is underway.

  4.2  We do not think Listing hinders urban regeneration. On the contrary, we believe that Listing adds value to buildings and therefore assists in the catalysis of regeneration. Listed buildings are perceived as having value and status, both by developers and the community.


  5.1  Notwithstanding government policy that empowers government departments and agencies to dispose of heritage property at less than market value in support of wider economic objectives, we have found that they still feel driven by the need to maximise returns and achieve government financial targets. Too often wider regeneration objectives are lost as a consequence of pressure to maximise capital receipts. Like private developers, government departments seek maximum incomes and, therefore, promote the highest value uses, such as offices, in preference to more appropriate uses, such as cultural, leisure or workshop uses. These might make better use of buildings and bring about a better outcome in terms of economically and socially sustainable outputs. We have found that government departments often do not promote mixed-uses, which usually work best in heritage areas and are inherently more sustainable, with a consequent reduction in the potential public benefits. This obsession with maximising returns leads to sterile heritage regeneration schemes. We consider that public agencies should have a statutory obligation to contribute to the delivery of agreed balanced regeneration objectives that reflect wider social goals.

  5.2  Government departments should be encouraged to use their historic assets to promote a wider social policy, either directly or by granting favourable leasehold terms to organisations that can contribute towards these goals. In disposing of government assets, such as large health or defence establishments, it is essential that the new uses are carefully negotiated with local authorities to meet wider public policy objectives and not merely to generate maximum capital receipts. We believe there is insufficient recognition of the heritage value of many buildings that have been disposed of by government departments and many have been needlessly lost. Government departments should be required to promote agreed regeneration schemes, rather than simply marketing the properties.

  5.3  Similarly, in commissioning new-build projects, government departments should be required to achieve quality design appropriate to the historic environment. Too many modern government buildings in heritage areas are of the lowest architectural quality.


  6.1  We believe the Listing system can be streamlined to better meet its objectives but must remain a national procedure, with spot listing retained as a national power.

  6.2  There should be a statutory obligation for local authorities to have qualified conservation officers in numbers appropriate to the size of the council and with powers to direct certain actions on heritage buildings. Smaller local authorities should be encouraged to pool their resources to give a critical mass of expertise and experience in a local area.

  6.3  VAT exemption for the costs of construction work on heritage buildings is essential. These issues have been covered extensively elsewhere. We also support the proposal that a formula be devised to grant tax relief for the cost of repair to heritage buildings.

  6.4  Government departments should be required to promote the re-use of their heritage stock as part of wider regeneration programmes, including using their powers to dispose or lease buildings at less than market rates.

  6.5  Too many government-funded programmes have very short timescales and do not recognise the complexity involved with developing competent regeneration proposals, which require greater preparatory time and money, not least to meet the Conservation Plan requirements of funders like the Heritage Lottery Fund. There is also a need to change funding regimes to recognise that it takes longer to develop plans for heritage buildings. We support proposals to better coordinate the requirements of the various public funding programmes, which have different timescales and information requirements. Complex heritage regeneration projects must draw upon a variety of funding sources and several have found that offers have time-expired before they have been able to put in place funding offers from other sources. Coordination is essential.

  6.6  Over much of the country many heritage buildings can only be regenerated on the initiative of charitable and voluntary organisations who lack the risk capital to prepare professional proposals. There is a desperate need for more core funding for such organisations, eg RTH and BPTs.

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