Report highlights heritage shortfall

Historic building enforcement powers need to be urgently reviewed to encourage local authorities to be more proactive in caring for old buildings, according to a report this week.

Maintain our Heritage (MoH) claims that many owners of historic buildings wait for things to go wrong before acting. The group argues that systematic and preventative maintenance is cheaper in the long run. This also safeguards a building's investment value, is sustainable and creates year-round jobs, it adds.

The research, carried out by De Montford Expertise, Arup Research and Development and the University of the West of England, found that legislation and policies do not adequately encourage maintenance.

Although listing a building imposes a responsibility on owners to obtain consent for works that would affect its character, there is no obligation to keep the building in repair.

The report points out that VAT is imposed on maintenance and repair but not on alterations and new build. There is no single source where owners can get information, it adds, and a lack of demand has seen suppliers fail to develop preventative maintenance services for historic buildings.

MoH is calling on the government to introduce legislation to impose a statutory duty of care on owners or to let local authorities introduce a minimum maintenance code.

To balance this responsibility, the organisation suggests that owners should be entitled to financial incentives and advisory and technical support.

Heritage organisations and local authorities should establish best practice and lead by example, it adds. The buildings at risk register should also be developed to monitor and encourage maintenance.

Launching the report, presenter of the BBC's Restoration series Griff Rhys Jones said: "Maintenance is the key to putting wreckers out of a job."

Putting It Off: How Lack of Maintenance Fails Our Heritage can be viewed via

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