Battle for buildings

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SCRAP thieves and the economic downturn are jeopardising some of Wearside’s most historic buildings, a new report says.

Mike Lowe, principal planner in conservation at Sunderland City Council, said efforts to keep historic buildings in good repair and put them to best use were being hampered by damage by petty criminals, as well as an upturn in thieves stealing lead from older buildings.

Sunderland has more than 700 listed buildings and scheduled monuments, as well as two registered historic parks and 14 conservation areas. Sunderland City Council is looking at how they can best help improve the environment, economy and social issues.

Research, in a report before councillors, found using historic buildings saved carbon emissions involved in constructing new ones and the structures also played a big part in a sense of belonging and familiarity in communities.

Mr Lowe said economic decline in the Old Sunderland area of the East End and Hendon also threw up problems when it came to bringing historic buildings into use.

Six listed buildings and monuments in Sunderland were listed on the English Heritage (EH) at-risk register for 2010, together with two conservation areas – Old Sunderland and Sunderland Riverside.

The agency said the areas had been “hit hard by the financial uncertainty of recent times.”

The EH report read: “High Street (East and West) contains many fine buildings dating from the late 18th to the late 19th centuries but many are in an advanced state of dilapidation.

“Schemes have been devised to repair buildings and regenerate the area but these are being stymied by commercial and residential markets so flat that the attendant business risk is too high to attract fresh investment.

“Until the economic climate improves, historic assets in the area remain at high risk of further decline.”

Mr Lowe was reporting back to the council’s sustainable communities scrutiny committee.

Councillors asked if property owners could be compelled to carry out work to improve the repair of listed buildings.

Mr Lowe said it was possible to issue such orders, but the cost of work on buildings could be substantial and many landlords – particularly those of derelict buildings – may find it too much of a burden.

He said in these cases the council would be obliged to take over the building, and it would have to try and meet the costs without the necessary funding.