Buildings at risk

As the Local Planning Authority, it is our duty to seek the preservation or enhancement of the built heritage within the borough.

We work with owners of historic buildings to encourage proper repair and maintenance, through the provision of advice and assistance. In some cases, we will also consider the use of statutory powers for securing urgent works or full repairs, which we consider to be necessary for the preservation of the building.

Reasons to maintain and repair buildings

The built heritage is a unique and limited resource, which must be preserved for the enjoyment of current and future generations. Buildings have artistic, technological, cultural and emotive importance, both to individuals and to the wider public. The loss of buildings of architectural or historic interest is therefore considered to be a matter of national importance and is of public interest.

Historic buildings are vulnerable to decay and some buildings are under threat from falling into disrepair or becoming redundant. If properly maintained, buildings should survive for the enjoyment of current and future generations.

Maintenance and repairs cost less if done regularly. If ignored, decay can worsen and costs can escalate.

Finding a use for a building

The most common types of building on the borough's buildings at risk register are those which are either disused or under-used, such as traditional farm buildings and ancillary structures such as boundary walls. The least common types are those which have an economically productive use, for example houses.

If a building has no use there may be less incentive to maintain or repair it, empty or under-used buildings are very vulnerable to decay. Vegetation can become overgrown, gutters become blocked, windows get broken and intruders can cause damage. Whilst efforts can be made to reduce these risks, it is very important for buildings to have a viable use, in order to generate both income and a desire to maintain the fabric.

Finding a new use for a building or finding a way of reinstating its intended use is often the long-term answer to securing the preservation of a building at risk. However, some buildings do not have an economic use, or cannot be given one, such as monuments, boundary walls and small farm buildings. In these cases the only option is to operate a suitable maintenance system and to carry out repairs when necessary.

Reasons why buildings become at risk

There is no single reason. Here are some common reasons including:

  • the economic use of the building
  • the willingness or ability of owners to maintain their buildings
  • the level of exposure to the weather
  • in-built weaknesses in the building construction or design
  • vandalism
  • overgrowth of surrounding vegetation

Addressing the reason(s) why a building has got into such a bad condition is an essential part of a repair scheme. If the cause of the problem is not fixed, then the problem will just return and often quite quickly. If there is an in-built weakness in the building design, then it either needs to be altered so that it is no longer a problem for example inserting structural ties, or accounted for in the building maintenance system for example clearing roof valleys and parapets regularly.

The Buildings at Risk register

During 2001 and 2002, we carried out a comprehensive survey of all listed buildings within the borough, in order to establish their condition and usage. Curtilage* buildings were also included in this survey. The Buildings at Risk survey formed the basis of the current Buildings at Risk register, with each entry being categorised according to the scale shown below.

Owners will be notified if their buildings are added or removed from this Buildings at Risk register.

A building at risk is normally taken to be a listed building that is at risk due to neglect or decay. This includes curtilage buildings - historic buildings, objects or structures within the curtilage of a listed building. The definition can very occasionally apply to an unlisted but notable building within a conservation area.

All listed and curtilage buildings at risk in the borough are included on the borough council's Buildings at Risk register. This enables the monitoring, recording, and prioritisation of cases, and is not intended as a name and shame list.

To be removed from the register, a building normally has to undergo a substantial repair scheme, although this will depend on the extent of decay suffered by the individual building.

How is risk assessed?

Risk is assessed by a combination of condition and occupancy - an empty building can be in relatively good condition but still be rated as vulnerable, due to the building's lack of a viable use. A building that is in poor condition but has a viable use, may not necessarily be considered to be at risk, although will normally be monitored as a vulnerable building. Each entry in the Buildings at Risk register is categorised according to the scale below:

  • Category 1 - Extreme risk of further decay or total loss
  • Category 2 - Severe risk of further decay
  • Category 3 - At risk of further decay
  • Category 4 - Vulnerable to further decay and may become at risk if problems not dealt with soon
  • Category 5 - Not at risk, in fair condition
  • Category 6 - Not at risk, and in excellent condition

* Curtilage refers to the immediate surroundings of a building, associated to it through ownership or historic connection. This could include open spaces such as a domestic garden or small buildings such as sheds.

Securing repairs

There is no direct legal duty on the owner of a building, not even if it is listed, to maintain or repair their property. The law grants the Local Planning Authority powers to secure the full repair or urgent preservation of a listed building or notable building within a conservation area, through certain legal procedures as set out below.

Urgent Works Notice

Section 54 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 enables Local Planning Authorities to carry out any works which appear to them to be urgently necessary for the preservation of a listed building in their area.

Before undertaking the works, we must give the owner at least seven days' notice that we intend to carry out the urgent works to the building and specify what these works are. If the works are not done by the owner, we can then arrange for the works to be done by our own contractors, and possibly seek to reclaim the cost of the work from the owner through the courts.

Urgent works can include the following:

  • temporary propping of walls, beams, or even entire buildings
  • temporary roof or wall coverings
  • security measures where repeated illegal intrusions are found to be causing damage to the building

Such works are only ever intended as temporary measures, and will not normally change the building's at risk status. If full repairs are not carried out, we can then seek the use of a Repairs Notice.

Repairs Notices

Section 48 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, enables Local Planning Authorities to serve a Repairs Notice on the owner of a listed building specifying those works which it considers reasonably necessary for the proper preservation of the building.

Repairs Notices are a first step towards serving a Compulsory Purchase Order. If after two months following the service of the Repairs Notice the specified repairs have not been done, we may begin compulsory purchase proceedings on the building.

Contact details

Historic Environment Team

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