A quarter of the nation's top listed buildings are in a state of disrepair

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The Independent Online
A QUARTER of Britain's most important listed buildings have fallen into such serious disrepair that they could be lost for ever unless millions of pounds can be found to save them.

In its annual Register of Buildings at Risk, English Heritage said yesterday that pounds 400m was needed to save nearly 30,000 Grade I and II* listed buildings across the country.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens, the chairman of English Heritage, said resources were wholly inadequate to deal with the problem. "The heritage is in peril. We are squandering a major national economic asset, which could be deployed in the regeneration of our towns, villages and cities.

"Under the current criteria, English Heritage could be expected to provide about a third of the pounds 400m subsidy needed, but given our limited budget of pounds 5m a year for buildings at risk, that would take us 25 years.

"The rest of that pounds 400m must be found from other public sources, not least because the heritage contributes so much to regeneration, provides housing, jobs, sustains tourism and because reusing historic buildings reduces the need for new buildings in the countryside."

Matthew Slocombe, of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, said it was a tragedy that so many buildings were badly neglected.

"It is good that English Heritage is trying to tackle this serious problem but the problem lies with the lack of resources. The Government needs to give more money to this problem if it is to be resolved."

Deborah Churchill, of Save Britain's Heritage, welcomed the new register but said the majority of listed buildings, making up 92 per cent of the total, were Grade II and were equally important to the nation's heritage.

"It is vital that Grade II buildings are not forgotten. They make up the vast majority of buildings at risk in this country, but they suffer because unlike Grade I and II* buildings, grant aid to support repair is almost impossible to find."

England has 29,874 buildings listed as Grade I and II*, which make up approximately 8 per cent of all the listed buildings in the country. The register found that 1,615 (an increase on 1,500 last year) are at risk.

A third of those buildings were built as houses and 80 per cent of them could provide homes again, according to English Heritage. A further 10 per cent were industrial buildings and 40 per cent of those could be brought back into use.

Speaking at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, near Stoke-on-Trent, where he announced a pounds 1m package to save the colliery, Sir Jocelyn said only about 1 in 6 of the buildings on the list could be brought back into use without a subsidy. "But even then we shall only have tackled the top 8 per cent of listed buildings," he said. For the remaining 92 per cent of buildings listed as Grade II, very little help is available to the local authorities primarily responsible for them.

"While there will always be a cycle of buildings falling into neglect because they are no longer needed for their original purpose, to a large extent the register represents a backlog of inaction and missed opportunities stretching back over more than half a century. This is no state for our heritage to enter a new millennium."

He said that English Heritage would step in where no one else would step in to save the buildings most at risk by giving priority grants for urgent work. The organisation will also help local authorities to use their statutory powers to serve repair notices.

Our Crumbling Heritage

West Pier, Brighton

The setting for the film Oh What a Lovely War and England's only Grade I listed pier, it was built in 1864-66 and closed in 1975. In 1998 the Heritage Lottery Fund gave pounds 14m for much-needed repairs, but proposals are still under discussion.

Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Stoke-on-Trent

Largest and most complete 19th-century colliery in Britain, described as Stonehenge of the coal industry. A scheduled monument, English Heritage has pledged pounds 1m towards a conservation plan.

Isokon Flats, Hampstead, London

This Grade I block of flats, built by Wells Coats in the 1930s, was designed as a new way of urban living. It consists of small apartments with a communal bar but has been partly empty for years. The council is trying to sell it.

Apethorpe Hall, Northamptonshire

Grade I listed building in urgent need of repair. A fine example of a Tudor house, built between the mid-15th and mid-16th centuries, when designs changed from medieval style to symmetrical proportions. The Libyan owner has never lived in it.

Revesby Abbey, East Lindsey, Lincolnshire

A Grade I neo-Jacobean building, built in 1845 and empty for 15 years. English Heritage issued an Urgent Works Notice in the 1980s but it was not enough to halt the decline. Needs major investment.

Roman Catholic Church of St Francis, Gorton, Manchester

A former Franciscan friary built in 1864 by Pugin, this Grade II* building has been on the danger list for decades and has been badly vandalised although the interior was once in a magnificent gothic style.

Exe Vale Hospital, Exminster

Listed as Grade II*, this former asylum and early hospital is in urgent need of repair. In the 1980s it was sold by the Regional Health Authority with a covenant restricting its use, and the building has been vacant ever since.

Ditherington Flax Mill, Shropshire

A Grade I iron-framed factory from the 1790s, and the ancestor to every modern steel-framed building. A maltings until the 1980s, the mill is now owned by a local businessman. In serious disrepair, requiring large sums to return it to use.