The Maintenance of Heritage Buildings

Meeting chaired by Mike Wrigley

Nigel Dann

Director, Maintain Our Heritage,
University of West of England
9 November 2004

Maintain Our Heritage (MOH) was formed in 1998 after Nigel Dann was involved in the conversion of a redundant church building into apartments. The converted building was left empty and neglected for four years and repairing the resultant damage due to lack of maintenance cost almost as much as the original conversion. Its objectives were to promote and research the case for maintenance and to set up an inspection service. The importance of regular maintenance of buildings has been recognised for many years:

‘By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.’

Ecclesiastes. 10, 18

‘Stave off decay by daily care.’ William Morris

‘Systematic care based on good maintenance and housekeeping is both cost effective and fundamental to good conservation.’ British Standard 7913:1998

Maintenance is not given encouragement by conservation bodies or the Government, who concentrate on large-scale capital expenditure on conservation and repair – much of which could be saved if regular maintenance was carried out. Grants are given on capital expenditure for Grade I listed buildings only, and VAT is charged on maintenance but not on demolition. Conservation is important to protect and enhance the cultural significance of historic buildings.

‘The cultural significance of a place is embodied in its fabric, its setting and its contents; in the associated documents; in its use and in people's memory and association with the place. Conservation means all the processes of looking after a place to retain its cultural significance.’ Burra Charter, Australia

Conservation should be carried out according to the following principles:1. Minimal Intervention: ‘As much as necessary, as little as possible.’ 2. Like for like repairs: ‘Fit the new to the old.’ 3. Honesty of repair and truth to materials: ‘Do not fake, hide or falsely age repairs.’4. Reversibility 5. Thorough analysis of the development of the building & supposed defect.Maintain Our Heritage carried out a pilot inspection scheme in Bath in 2002-03. They inspected 73 houses, churches and other buildings to test the practical procedures and to promote the idea. Their work was modelled on the Dutch Monument-enwacht organisation founded in 1973, which inspects 13,500 buildings annually, around 40% of the listed buildings in Holland. This organisation is 60% subsidised by the state.The MOH pilot study was financed by various charitable trusts, including Bath Preservation Trust, and English Heritage. It provided a prioritised list of work required: A - immediately (typically 2%); B - within 6 months (15%); C - within 12 months (39%); D - long term (44%). The cost of each inspection, influenced by the fact that it was the first inspection of each property, was high, around £1000. Water ingress because of cracked or missing tiles, blocked gutters, decayed masonry joints and leaking water pipes were the main problems discovered. An inspection might be made for around £250 under a regular contract.Scaffolding was necessary for any height over 3m; suitable personnel were difficult to recruit and retain; reports with photographs took as long time to produce. Owners and occupiers appreciated the inspection but often jibbed at spending money immediately and regularly; they wanted to let jobs accumulate to save the cost of scaffolding.MOH consider that education of owners is needed to emphasise the value of inspection and maintenance but a change of policy on tax relief on repairs would make an appreciable difference to their attitude, then legislation could impose a duty of care on every owner to maintain the building. Discussion The following points were made: Problems occur where buildings have multiple ownership in agreeing a maintenance schedule; electric wiring needs checking during the inspection; nesting birds are a major problem; the quinqennial (5 year) inspection schedule used for churches is not really frequent enough.

Donald Lovel