Empty Listed Buildings

Mentioning Chelmsford’s Marconi factory has prompted me to write about dead buildings left to rot by the owners, sometimes I think to gain money from the land and save money by taking responsibility in maintaining it. In Bristol, a graffitied concrete block in Stoke’s Croft stood with even the blowup inside deflated, spoiling the view of Georgian Nine Trees Hill (though perhaps ironically fitting for the area).

However, there are buildings which are architecturally/historically important and which mar a more serious view. I had long noticed a light brick kind of Queen Anne style building from the train at Chelmsford. I meant to go an investigate when I was there last. I am glad I did not make my way to New Street as I would have been met with a sorry boarded up building – one of Chelmsford’s very few (see my post on the Diamond Jubilee Cities).  I discover that this attractive building is surprisingly an Edwardian radio factory, important nationally as the venue of the very first broadcast. The daughter of the local pioneer Marconi spoke earlier this year to the BBC about her disappointment over the factory’s state – it not just in memory of her father’s  achievements, but for the town. There is a society of former workers who also feel insulted by the decaying building, often broken into.

The factory went into receivership and the firm replied to the BBC’s secret filming article that they had taken new steps to improve security and keep squatters out already. But they miss the point – the building should be maintained and used. I have a shocking suggestion – what about making it a radio factory again? with a visitor centre about the Marconi story.

Another example is in Norwich of a late 17th C house on King Street which has stood empty since 1960s. Howard House was the garden house of the Dukes of Norfolk and has an important staircase. Plans were made for the surrounding area, once a spectacular gardens of the house, but the development fell through in the mid 2000s. Now the semi cleared site remains with buddleia growing through concrete, and they’ve not even been allowed to use the land for a community garden. The scaffolding over Howard House grows each time I see it, blocking the lane and apparently putting off businesses. In an attractive street which is working hard to throw off a former red light district image and be a nice place to live and visit, this is really not helping.

The recievers claim they have no plans to do anything for a decade – which may be too late to save Howard House.

I think receivers should be compelled to sell to the council or a heritage group for renovation and reopening or maintain the property. If you take responsibility to administer assets, you have to look after them. Security cameras and waterproofing and window boards are not enough – they are all ugly.

I urge a change in the law to this end, and if there’s a dead building near you that you care about, fight for it to be cared for and reopened, and not left to rot.

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Filed under heritage, history, society, travel writing

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