Considering Regeneration through Built Heritage – Part 1


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History and heritage have always been of critical importance to the UK's society and economy. The richness of the history of our nation expressed through landscapes, building and structures, written texts and works of art, has for centuries delighted visitors to these shores.

Our heritage industry is now mature and sophisticated. In 2016 it generated £21.7bn (2 per cent national GVA), employed 350,000 people and generated a construction output of c.£9.7bn. When combined with tourism, leisure and hospitality, education, environmental management and media, it rapidly becomes clear that heritage's economic and social impact is immense, and probably immeasurable.

One immediate challenge to the sector, however, is the poor state of most of our built heritage. There are about 5,500 buildings and structures noted on Historic England's 2015 Heritage at Risk Register which the state has listed or scheduled as Monuments and, in doing so, has declared that they must be conserved - but which are in such of state of neglect that they will, sooner rather than later, fall down unless ways are found of repairingthem.

A review of the Register will reveal many weird and wonderful buildings, many of them presenting exciting opportunities. But it is often exceptionally difficult to redevelop dilapidated heritage buildings profitably, and public funding is severely constrained.

There is also the question of priorities: we are in the middle of a housing crisis; the NHS is running out of cash; and disused foundries in the Black Country and textile mills in east Lancashire may be fine buildings with fascinating histories, but it is difficult to justify the spending of millions of pounds of public money on creating new museums that few will visit, or creating new business space, the rents for which are unaffordable.

So the case for the restoration of our neglected built heritage is closely bound-up with and, to an extent, is in conflict with our economic priorities.

No-one wants to risk big spending on technical research, site surveys and detailed designs until one is sure that the money will be well spent on a deliverable project. Heritage restoration projects are risky and, almost by definition, will involve some combination of the following:

  • Adaptation of listed buildings and structures, work to which will be tightly regulated
  • The treatment of delicate or archaic building fabric
  • Dealing with latent defects – degraded or deteriorating fabric, contamination, rot
  • Spatial and configuration issues – for example, if a former textile mill is supported by numerous stanchions which form part of the building's heritage, the range of viable end uses will be constrained accordingly.

To its great credit, the Heritage Lottery Fund has since 2013 been seeking to address this problem through its Heritage Enterprise programme. This funding stream provides to private sector developers who work in partnership with the charitable or communities sector, gap funding of up to £5 million per project in order to address conservation deficit and to help turn the restoration of a distinguished but dilapidated building into a profitable business proposition.

The key to success in any heritage-based regeneration project has to be skilful milestones programming: sequencing the steps towards the restoration and regeneration of the assets in such a way as to ensure that the project can be progressively de-risked and spending and resources gradually ramped up – something along the following lines:

Feasibility Phase

  • Ascertaining the site's building's historical/cultural significance through local research
  • Ascertaining ownership and getting dialogue with the owner under way
  • Preparing an outline proposal including a conceptual design, an outline technical/business case and a preliminary budget, which wins the support of the Owner and the local planning authority. This could, for example, be the subject of an application for a Round 1 HLF grant which is typically offered in an amount equal to 10 per cent of the estimated cost of redevelopment.

Project Development Phase

  • The legal title to the site investigated and any constraints on development (leases, easements, rights of way) are addressed
  • A right to acquire is negotiated, such as an option, a conditional sale and purchase agreement, or a simple exclusivity (lockout) agreement
  • The full business case and detailed design are completed, with co-investor support. At this point, an application for HLF Round 2 (capital) funding would be appropriate

Delivery and Operational Phase

Upon the securing of funding:

  • Acquisition
  • Works commencement
  • Completion and occupation

In the next article in this series, we will look at the means by which clients should go about procuring their designers, phasing the works, and engaging their contractors, and how the various procedures under Public Contracts Regulations 2015 affect and influence those processes.

This article is taken from Building Interest – Autumn 2017.

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