Charles: Save our urban heritage

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S OLD industrial buildings can play a vital part in Britain's new economy, the Prince of Wales will stress today.

In a speech at Swindon's Great Western Railway workshops, now converted into a shopping mall, the Prince will call for the UK's urban heritage of warehouses, mills, factories, docks and public buildings to be saved, not only as monuments of the past but also for their future potential.

They can provide both "a uniquely attractive atmosphere for modern living", Prince Charles believes, and superb bases for hi-tech industry. He feels he is "not entirely alone in concluding that you can do almost anything required of a modern economy in a refurbished heritage industrial building".

The Prince will be addressing a conference, entitled "Making Heritage Industrial Buildings Work", examining the potential that old warehouses and other structures offer for contemporary uses.

The conference is taking place in a shopping mall built by the American company McArthur Glen and its British partners BAA in the spring shop of the GWR works, a Victorian railway engineering palace originally conceived by the pioneering Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The Prince's speech will follow hard on the heels of the Government's decision to propose a number of Britain's most impressive industrial sites, landscapes and buildings for Unesco World Heritage Status, including the Chatham dockyard, cotton mills in Manchester and part of Brunel's Paddington to Bristol railway.

The Prince will be talking of his despair over the years as, visiting communities up and down the country, he has watched "one great building after another ... swept away, with no realisation of their potential for conversion".

But now, he says, there is a growing demand that they be brought back to life for new purposes.

Recent figures on the amount of land needed for new houses has concentrated minds, he believes, as people are at last seriously looking at the inexorable march of construction on to green fields.

If we are to build more on brownfield sites in the towns, the Prince believes, we need to do so in a way that will capture the popular imagination: and the re-use of old industrial buildings can be at the heart of that policy.