Buildings at Risk

Q. An old building near us is falling down. Why are historic buildings still at risk?
A. Buildings tend to be at risk for all sorts of different reasons. Even when the property market is buoyant, it is rarely simply that the owner cannot sell (unless he or she is asking an exorbitant price). Often the owner does not want to sell and would rather see the building fall down; there may be legal disputes over ownership or access to it; it may be in a difficult location, such as next to the gasworks or pigfarm. In many cases it may be a structure that has no economic alternative use.

Q. Can't the local authority, English Heritage, or someone else step in?
A. If the building is listed and is in a very bad way, the local planning authority has the power to take action. However many local authorities are reluctant to use these powers, and permit deterioration to continue.   If it is a scheduled ancient monument (paradoxically the strictest form of legal control), decay and eventual collapse can continue unchecked (See FAQs on Listing and Scheduling).
Equally if the building is unlisted and outside a conservation area, nothing can be done through the planning system to ensure its conservation.
 
Q. What can I do to help?
A. You could join one of the national amenity societies that campaign to save threatened buildings, such as the SPAB (for pre 1714 buildings); Georgian Group (for buildings up to 1830); Victorian Society (for buildings from 1830-1914); and Twentieth Century Society (for buildings after 1914). Equally you could join the Ancient Monuments Society and Council for British Archaeology, which are concerned with buildings and sites of all dates. All the amenity societies try to prevent buildings reaching the state when they are at risk, by encouraging regular maintenance. They are also notified when proposals are made to demolish such buildings. But the societies have no legal powers to prevent demolition, or ensure that buildings are rescued. Nor do they acquire buildings to rescue: they can only try to persuade others to take action.
Alternatively you could join a local society if it is the kind that actively campaigns; or lend your support to - or even set up - a building preservation trust. You can also write to your local authority urging them to take action if they can, or try to persuade the local press to take an interest. Schools can focus on the story behind a local building at risk and in this way help raise awareness of its plight.
 
Q. What is a building preservation trust?
A. They come in various forms. Perhaps the most common sort are trusts set up to rescue either a single historic building or historic buildings in a geographical area. The trust would normally acquire a building in poor condition, repair it (perhaps with a grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund or help from the Heritage Lottery Fund), and then sell it. Any profits made would be used on the next project. For more information contact: The Association of Preservation Trusts, Clareville House, 26/27 Oxendon St, London SW1Y 4EL.
 
Q. Where can I buy an old building to do up ? Is there an SPAB List?
A. For many years the SPAB has produced a quarterly list for our members, featuring old buildings that need some work. These vary from severely derelict ones to those that need relatively minor works of updating.  You should note that inevitably some of the properties will already be under offer or sold when you receive the list.  For further information please see the properties list page on this site.
Remember: the days of buying a wreck for a knockdown price are long since gone. If anything you may have to pay over the odds for a special building in an unaltered state.
 
Q. Where else can I find out about buildings at risk ?
A. SAVE Britain's Heritage keeps a register of buildings at risk, published in an annual booklet, and also accessible on its website (www.savebritainsheritage.org). A proportion of these will be for sale, but some of the most attractive looking ones are not. The Scottish Civic Trust produces periodic lists of buildings at risk (available from Jane Nelson, Scottish Civic Trust, The Tobacco Merchant's House, 42 Miller St, Glasgow G1 IDT £7) , as do some local authorities. English Heritage has a register of Grade I, II* and scheduled ancient monuments at risk, a small proportion of which may be on the market at any one time. Otherwise contact local agents; read local newspapers and magazines like Country Life; and use the internet to search for properties for sale, particularly those going to auction. Dilapidated buildings are often sold at auction, and may well command unexpectedly high prices. For some unknown reason auctioneers tend to give far too little notice of an auction, bearing in mind that a potential purchaser needs to have completed all survey and searches, and secured finance, before the auction date. A successful bid at auction is final.

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Further Information
 
Look Before You Leap, SPAB Leaflet availabe on this website