Industrial heritage at risk

Taking the train out of London from Victoria, I invariably look across at Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Battersea Power Station. Its four iconic chimneys and the bulk of the cathedral-like building below never fail to stir some deep emotion. Now I know I’m not alone in such feelings: according to a poll, 80% of people think industrial heritage is as important as castles and country houses.

This fact is revealed today, alongside the largest ever research project into the condition of England’s industrial heritage, by English Heritage together with its annual Heritage at Risk Register. Worryingly, with almost 11% of grade I and II* industrial buildings at risk, listed industrial buildings are more at risk than almost any other kind of heritage.

As Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, points out, “Britain led the way in global industrialisation and as a result we are custodians of the world’s most important industrial heritage”.

He goes on to explain that 40% of these buildings could be reused 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.”

Over the years Battersea Power Station, which in the 1930s was the first of a new generation of super generating stations, has attracted developers but, for various reasons, none of the proposed schemes has, as yet, come to anything.

According to the English Heritage research, one of the problems with such buildings is that 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.

With this in mind, English Heritage is providing a developers’ portal to offer advice relevant to re-using buildings. Each English Heritage local office will, for the first time, publish a list of 10 ‘at risk’ priority sites, many of which will be industrial. Developers interested in taking these on will get additional help from English Heritage to guide them through the process.

For owners, a new guide Vacant Historic Buildings: An Owner’s Guide to Temporary Uses, Maintenance and Mothballing is also published today. This advice will be backed-up by grants.

Worryingly the English Heritage poll of public attitudes to industrial heritage reveals that almost half the population (43%) do not know when the Industrial Revolution took place. Even so, 71% think industrial heritage sites should be reused for modern day purposes as long as their character is preserved. Only 9% considered industrial heritage to be depressing or an eyesore.

Image credit: English Heritage