Going, Going, Gone...?

Ian Fitzgerald on the precarious state of some listed buildings.

What do the following have in common: an abandoned nineteenth-century cotton mill, a family flat above a high street shop, and a farm hayloft? In an ideal world the answer would be very little. But, along with thousands of other listed buildings in Britain, they share a common problem. Neglect.

The Buildings At Risk survey, published by English Heritage recently, shows that almost a quarter of all listed buildings are either seriously at risk, or vulnerable to potentially irreversible states of disrepair. This survey is a kind of interim report for a much larger scheme launched by English Heritage in 1989 and due for completion by April 1995. The ultimate aim is to encourage local authorities to survey every listed building in their area so that problem structures can be identified and targeted.

The Buildings At Risk survey looked at 43,000 of the half million listed buildings in Britain drawing the sample from all historical periods, making it a reliable cross section. The results were then transposed onto the national picture to give some idea of the scale of the problem.

While all listed buildings are protected by law from demolition or harmful development it is much more difficult to legislate against indifference. The problem lies in the fact that the vast majority of Britain's listed buildings are of a fairly unobtrusive and unspectacular type. They do not obviously cry out for attention in the same way that the ailing, but towering, Salisbury Cathedral spire does, for example.

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