Historic buildings at risk
The Buildings at Risk Strategy, originally launched by English Heritage in the early 1990s, is central to the government's strategic approach to building conservation. As well as being a way of monitoring the condition of the country's 500,000 listed buildings, it helps local authorities to identify those most at risk from neglect or decay.
What is the Buildings at Risk Register?
The Historic Buildings at Risk Register contains details of buildings known to be at risk through neglect and decay, or vulnerable to becoming so. The primary aim of the register is to highlight the plight of these buildings, with the intention of instigating action towards securing their long-term conservation.
The register will be updated to cover buildings at risk in Shropshire. It will maintain the computer database, and, through negotiation with owners, the use of grant aid and, where appropriate, enforcement powers, continue to target properties on the register for repair and restoration to facilitate their retention and/or reuse.
In many cases such action would be best brought about by a change of owner, and any individual or group seriously contemplating acquiring a specific building listed as being for sale on the register can contact us. The register is not, however, intended as a marketing document, and those who wish to acquire an old building to restore may be best served by contacting local estate agents.
How does the survey work?
The 'buildings at risk' survey method enables the level of risk for a usable building to be determined by a combination of occupancy (indicating the building's vulnerability to neglect) and its physical condition. We've produced database software to encourage a consistent method of data capture.
The occupancy of a building is defined by three categories - vacant, partially occupied and occupied - each of which is assigned a numerical value from one to three indicating the level of vulnerability, with one being the most vulnerable and three the least.
The condition of the building is determined by assessing up to nine individual building elements such as roof coverings, rainwater goods, wall surfaces and chimney stacks. Condition is rated on a scale of one to four (very bad; poor; fair; good). The condition of particular elements, such as roof coverings, will have more influence on the overall condition than other elements (eg decorative finishes) due to the relative weighting given to each element (see below). Non-usable structures (eg bridges or mileposts) are similarly rated according to the condition and components from which they are made.
The first job of a usable structure or 'shelter' is to keep the weather out, and therefore the first thing we look for when assessing the condition of a building is how well this job is being done by each element. The roof and the rainwater disposal system obviously have a more significant part to play in this than chimney stacks or parapets, and so more weight is given to the former when calculating overall condition.
Once condition and occupancy are evaluated, a risk category can be assigned to the building. Risk category is indicated by a numbered scale from one to six (one denotes extreme risk, five and six indicate not at risk). Four is the threshold figure for considering a building to be at risk and this could be the result of a building being in fair condition, but vacant or partially vacant, or being occupied but in poor condition. When a building is classified as being 'at risk' it is entered onto the risk register.
The system of grading helps to prioritise the response of the buildings at risk officer, which is also influenced by the situation accompanying each building. For example, the worst case scenario would be one in which a building was at immediate risk from further collapse/deterioration and where no solution to the problem had been agreed with the owner. This would be an instance of a 'priority A' case. There are six priority categories (A to F), the intention being not to confuse but to indicate at a glance the urgency of each building at risk case.
Arguably the most important role of the Historic Environment Team involves the action taken once a vulnerable structure has been identified. It's certainly the most consequential aspect.
In every instance, the first step is to contact the owner of the property in question and get hold of the full history surrounding the building. Each case brings with it its own human story, a fact which helps to colour in a job that deals primarily with material things.
With the full situation uncovered, the team can then decide how to proceed in getting that particular building 'off' the Buildings at Risk Register. Briefly speaking, there are two routes available - the co-operative route and the coercive route, though which is taken depends almost entirely upon the owner. Naturally the former is the preferred route and involves negotiating with the owner until a settlement is reached with a view to securing the building's future.
Help may be at hand in the form of grant aid. Contact us for more information. In addition, there are plenty of other sources of statutory and public/private funding that we're able to suggest and assist owners in applying for.
Should an owner choose not to co-operate with us in an effort to improve the condition of the building at risk, then statutory powers may be implemented in order to bring about a resolution. These powers come in the form of urgent works notices, repairs notices and compulsory purchase orders.
In addition to this, under current legislation it's a criminal offence to carry out unauthorised alterations to a listed building. Should an owner refuse to reverse unapproved changes made, he may be brought to account in a criminal court and given a financial penalty, or even a custodial sentence. However, it's not an offence to neglect a listed building.
Urgent works notices
Section 54 of the Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 enables us to execute any works which appear to us to be urgently necessary for the preservation of a listed building within the county. If the building is occupied, the works may be carried out only to those parts not in use. The owner will be given a minimum of seven days' written notice of the intention to carry out works, and the notice must describe the proposed works. The secretary of state also has the powers to authorise Historic England to serve a notice and carry out the works on his own behalf. Section 55 provides for the recovery of the expense of the works from the owner. Section 76 enables the secretary of state (after consulting Historic England) to direct that Section 54 powers apply to an unlisted building in a conservation area, if its preservation is important for maintaining the character and appearance of the area.
Repairs notices as a preliminary to compulsory purchase
Section 48 of the act enables us to serve a repairs notice on the owner of a listed building, specifying those works which it considers reasonably necessary for the proper preservation of the building. If, after a period of not less than two months, it appears that reasonable steps aren't being taken for its proper preservation, we can begin compulsory purchase proceedings under Section 47. A compulsory purchase order (CPO) requires the secretary of state's confirmation. The secretary of state has reserve powers under Sections 47 and 48 and must consult English Heritage before exercising them, or confirming a CPO made by us. The Dangerous Structures Section 77 of the Building Act 1984 enables us to apply to a magistrates court for an order requiring the owner to make a building safe, or to demolish it. If the owner fails to comply, we can carry out the works and reclaim the expenses, which are registered as a local land charge.
Works under a dangerous structures order are subject to listed building control and consent may be required. Section 56 of the 1990 act requires us to consider if we should exercise our powers under Sections 47 and 48 or Section 54 (ie repairs and urgent works notices) before making a dangerous structures order in respect of a listed building.
The present system is intended to be flexible so that a situation which is fluid may be dealt with accordingly. However, there's plenty of scope for arguing that the current legislation is not flexible enough. Smaller instances of neglect to occupied buildings, which account for a large proportion of those considered to be at risk, are not adequately addressed by the instruments discussed above. For this reason we try as far as humanly possible to cooperate with owners of listed buildings by keeping the dialogue open.
How do I report a building at risk?
If you're aware of a historic building which is either derelict or not being properly preserved, contact us to arrange an inspection of the building, following which we'll advise you what action we intend to take.
A buildings at risk survey for buildings in Shropshire will be completed soon and published here.
SAVE has been compiling a register of buildings at risk (BaR) since 1989. The register highlights historic buildings that are vacant and whose future is uncertain, with the aim to identify new owners able to repair them and/or find a new use for them, which will secure their future. The great majority of the buildings on the register are listed, and not all are actively being marketed.
Contact Historic Environment Team
- Abbey Foregate
- SY2 6ND