The Prince of Wales has urged local authorities to preserve and develop historic buildings in their communities rather than offloading them because of spending cuts.
Prince Charles acknowledged the difficulties councils faced in the current economic climate but told a gathering of local government leaders, charity heads and voluntary groups that “with a bit of imagination and enthusiasm and passion many historic buildings can be real assets to local communities”.
He was speaking at a conference organised jointly by his Prince’s Regeneration Trust and the Local Government Association at St James’s Palace in London.
I am speaking from experience and unbelievable frustration at what has been going on here
The prince, who has had a lifelong interest in architecture and heritage, mentioned former mills, factories and hospital sites in England, Scotland and Wales where his trust and local groups had successfully preserved “heritage assets”, often in partnership with local authorities – but said many were still being overlooked.
“We are missing one classic opportunity after another – which links to what people at the grassroots are actually looking for. We have a huge housing problem. Many of these places are absolutely ideal for creating residential accommodation.”
He recalled examples in the 1980s when the public sector, including the Ministry of Defence and health authorities, disposed of historic sites.
“These buildings had been sold off, frequently to the most inappropriate owners who had absolutely no intention whatsoever of using those buildings in any way but they managed to spin an incredible yarn to local authorities about what they were going to do to these buildings.
“Frequently that line is fallen for, over and over again. I am speaking from experience and unbelievable frustration at what has been going on here.
“I understand that you are facing incredibly difficult times, you are having to deal with difficult budget situations, perhaps you think the last thing you want is another problem: how to deal with all these old and redundant buildings. You can see them not as a problem but as an opportunity and as a real focus for possible regeneration.”
He urged councils to look for “a more imaginative solution than just selling them straightaway”.
“We are there (for you), my regeneration trust is there. Please come and talk to us. Let’s work at planning how we dispose of these things so we find the best solution,” he added.