Arson and neglect leave landmarks in a tight spot


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The Independent Online

Historic buildings across the country are now a “shadow” of their former selves because of poor council planning, neglect, and arson attacks, a preservation body has warned.

The Victorian Society has published a list of the 10 most-threatened Victorian and Edwardian structures in England and Wales, among them the UK's first lending library, in Swindon, and the country's only listed spillway, in West Yorkshire.

Some of the buildings have become open targets for thieves and vandals who plunder whatever they can from the 19th-century sites, it claims.

The society asked members of the public to name and shame the worst examples, with some architecture enthusiasts able to conjure a list of five or six alone. The once-grand Waterloo Hotel in Smethwick, West Midlands, is Grade II* listed, but has nevertheless fallen into a "deplorable" state.

"The Pumphouse in Bootle's Langton dock has experienced a great deal of weather damage," said campaigns officer Mike Barnes, while Ipswich's former County Hall has fallen prey to intruders. "It's clear that when vandals can get in, so can thieves. One of the people who gave us photographs of Ipswich County Hall said thieves would park their vans outside, go in and come out with floorboards.

"We see arson attacks on older buildings on a weekly basis. There seems to be an awful lot of arson," he added.

The society argues that though the buildings may be lying empty, they must be preserved "so they are still around when there is a use for them".

Director Chris Costelloe said Holborn Circus, a busy junction in London, "could be a special place, but it's a shadow of its former self", after the prioritisation of traffic over the quality of public space.

"We owe it to future generations to ensure such memorable buildings are still around in 100 years," he said.