At the BPF, much of our focus is on new development. However, buildings do not exist in a vacuum and we therefore need to consider what came before – indeed, one of the reasons the UK is such an attractive investment prospect is its rich history, and the built environment is a key aspect of that. Wherever you find yourself in the UK, whether in the inner city or on a far-flung island, you are surrounded by historic buildings and the development industry cannot appropriately plan for and design the next stage of the country’s built fabric without considering its past.
It is clear that sensitively conserving historic buildings can provide a catalyst for some of the most successful regeneration projects across the country. Regenerating a heritage asset brings focus to an area’s history and gives renewed purpose to a building. There is a strong economic case for regenerating historic buildings – the benefits relate not only to the individual buildings, but also to the wider area and community. It provides a focal point for development and can be used to attract further inward investment – research shows that new jobs are created, new businesses are born and that spending in the wider area increases. For residents, sensitive reuse or adaptation can help increase feelings of community involvement and engagement and enriches an area’s image and reputation. The redevelopment of the Boilershop in Newcastle and Deptford Market Yard in London are great examples of how this works in practice.
The significant benefits are clear, but that’s not to say there aren’t challenges, and appropriately incorporating historic buildings can add time and costs to a scheme. Viable economic uses need to be found in order to support refurbishment and provide a long-term income as well as a reasonable return. Working with heritage assets often requires special knowledge and experience as part of the development process, such as understanding special conservation, planning, and funding issues involved in dealing with historic buildings or places. The policy framework has certainly improved in recent years, but understanding issues around planning, energy efficiency measures, and (crucially) the wider placemaking priorities of a community, local authority, and developer will be key to the success of any scheme. This success will prove impossible without early engagement with local authorities and Historic England.
We have moved away from the long-held perception that historic buildings are seen as a burden to developers, but there is further to go in terms of cementing this in the minds of all developers, not just those with significant resources at their disposal. To help encourage this, the BPF, Historic England and the RICS have this year produced a revised version of ‘Heritage Works’, a practical step by step guide on how to bring forward a heritage-led regeneration project that can be used as a reference document to assist developers, owners, community groups, practitioners and others in bringing forward successful schemes. We hope this helps encourage further innovation and engagement, and promotes the value of heritage in development across the country.
To find out more about best practice in heritage regeneration, see the BPF’s ‘Heritage Works’ guide available for download.
Notes to editor
Rachel Campbell, Senior Policy Officer and Head of Regional Policy, British Property Federation