Crumbling English landmarks are left 'in peril'

Furquan Akhtar,Arifa Akbar
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:03

Neglectful owners of historic landmarks risk being named and shamed by English Heritage, which has placed one fifth of all the nation's monuments and battlefields on a register of threatened structures and warned that they are in danger of being lost.

The country's steward of significant historical and archaeological sites has put 1,680 sites on its annual "at risk" register – a rise since last year of 87 grade I and II listed buildings, eight battlefields, and 10 underwater wrecks. About one in every 14 parks, gardens and landscapes is also threatened. Overall, this amounts to one in 12 heritage sites across the nation classed as "high risk", in need of urgent preservation, with £400m needed to save them.

For the first time, the organisation has created a map that ranks local authorities in order of the highest quantity of monuments at risk. In all, 27 authorities, including councils in Birmingham, Gateshead, Rotherham, Leeds and Coventry, have monuments that are listed in the "high risk" category. They include the crumbling grade II-listed Battersea Power Station, a doorless listed telephone box in Whitechapel, east London, a vacant housing estate in Newcastle and battlefields of extraordinary importance – including a Civil War site in Newbury, Berkshire – which are owned by local authorities that are under pressure to use the space for "new build" housing developments.

English Heritage, which released its Heritage at Risk Register yesterday, said owners of homes and monuments that were of national importance and were woefully neglectful could have their identities exposed in the register next year, if the situation is not improved. The heritage body, which is attempting to compile a comprehensive database of sites at risk, which has been called a Doomsday Book, said some of these owners had been hostile to the idea of preserving important sites even when offered money for the task. Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage, said this wilful neglect and hostility only occurred in a minority of cases. "The first purpose of this register is to spur people into action. There are some who are irresponsible, but they are a very small proportion," he said.

One such example, he said, was the crumbling, overgrown remains of Snodhill Castle, in Herefordshire, dating from the 13th century, which he said, was owned by a group of people and "will not be there in 20 years time if they carry on like they are doing".

Mr Thurley said it was a "scandal" that half of the 572 listed buildings that were at risk in London were currently standing empty. He said he was heartened by the £60m pledge by London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, to transform these neglected structures into homes for Londoners.

Meanwhile, the heritage body SAVE released a compilation of buildings at risk, highlighting the shame of Britain's historic cinemas, which had been left to decay, including the Derby Hippodrome, part of which was illegally demolished.

Vandalised, eroded and in need of repair

Uxbridge Lido, Uxbridge, Middlesex

The grade II-listed lido, 1935, is the only example of a 12-sided "star" swimming pool in the country.

The Gatehouse, Selby, Yorkshire

With the western end of this 15th century gatehouse in ruins, repairs are to be carried out by the Vivat Trust, which intends to convert the gatehouse into a holiday cottage. English Heritage hopes that it will be removed from the list soon.

Bowes Railway Incline and Springwell Colliery, Gateshead

One of the world's first railways, the Bowes Railway Incline is a section of the 1826 Stephenson rope-hauled colliery railway. Along with the Springwell Colliery, it is considered to be the hub of Stephenson's system of rail and tramways. The track is suffering from severe erosion and the buildings on the site have been vandalised.

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