Industrial heritage 'in need of salvation'

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The Independent Online

A drive to preserve some of Britain's finest examples of industrial heritage before they disappear beneath a tide of modern development was announced at an international conference in London yesterday.

A drive to preserve some of Britain's finest examples of industrial heritage before they disappear beneath a tide of modern development was announced at an international conference in London yesterday.

Sir Neil Cossons, the chairman of English Heritage, said that, if properly looked after, the "dark satanic mills" of the industrial revolution could become as much of a tourist attraction as the Pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Colosseum in Rome.

But he warned that the pace of change and increasing pressure for development made such buildings increasingly vulnerable, and he called on the world's experts to help save the best of them before it was too late.

"English Heritage needs to be at the leading edge of this preservation, spotting these important buildings and giving them some recognition before they vanish overnight," he said.

"Britain was the birthplace of the industrial revolution which ushered in the modern world. For good or ill this is our history. The physical evidence of it is all around us, not just in mills and mines but in the rows or terraced houses, shops, schools, pubs and working men's clubs that went with the industrialisation of the workforce".

The preservation of industrial buildings was different to that of country houses, which were usually restored to their former glory and left empty, Sir Neil said. Industrial buildings needed the best designers and architects to find new and inspiring uses for them.

"We have all seen the fashion for loft living from the conversion of former factories and that is just one way in which the industrial heritage can be preserved," he said. "In the 1960s in San Francisco people were appalled at the idea of converting fish canneries on the waterfront into apartments but now that is an accepted use for old warehouses.

"These factories can also be recycled in other ways. In New England some of the 19th- century textile mills have been converted into hi-tech manufacturing industries. In Birmingham, Alabama, a former steel works is now the cultural centre of the city used for the performing arts.

"Many of the conversions are eccentric and imaginative and we need to continue to find new ways of using these buildings."

English Heritage's roll of buildings at risk contains several examples of industrial sites that have been listed but are waiting for schemes to preserve their future.

They include Battersea power station, which is awaiting the result of a planning application to be announced today, the Midland Hotel at St Pancras, the concrete-clad Paddington maintenance depot, the former sugar silo designed by Tate and Lyle in Liverpool, and the 1828 slaughterhouse at Gosport, Hampshire.

This week's four-day conference of the International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage will look at the future of sites such as oil refineries, steelworks, car factories and chemical plants. Delegates from Japan, Mexico, Russia, Greece and other European countries will explore changing attitudes to these buildings and examine how best to conserve them.

Sir Neil said there had to be a collective approach to conserving such sites as there was simply not enough room for everything to be kept.

"There is a former iron and steel works on the river Saar in Germany which has been preserved and is a classic example of such a factory and probably the best example of a pre-war steel works in the world," he said. "It is right that it should be preserved and we have to look closely at which other similar buildings should also be kept."

Richard Holder, of the Victorian Society, said: "I see no reason why the technical achievement and scale of the work from modern industrial heritage should not acquire the equivalent magic and mystery of the Pyramids."

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