As Recession Bites, Wales' Historic Buildings Crumble for Lack of Cash; 'There Are Many Historic Buildings in Wales That Are Facing Extinction'

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Byline: Sally Williams

A WEALTH of ancient heritage sites are being left to crumble because the recession has left no money to renovate them, experts will warn today.

A conference being held today in North Wales will hear that hundreds of historic buildings - including Welsh churches, chapels and country houses - are no longer financially viable, after years of neglect have rendered them too expensive to repair.

The experts warn that the charities that usually help to fund large-scale restorations have less money to give out, due to a collapse in their investments.

The conference in Llandudno will hear from heritage minister Alun Ffred Jones and Dr Peter Wakelin, of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Michael Davies. director of Cardiff-based Davies Sutton Architects, warned that a many historic buildings faced an uncertain future thanks to the recession.

"Despite a decade of economic boom, when vast areas of land were redeveloped, there are still many important historic buildings in Wales that have been overlooked and are now facing extinction," he said.

"There are many reasons why an historic building becomes redundant.

"As our needs change the use of the building is often no longer relevant to a modern and changing society.

"The former institutes and theatres of the Valleys have been usurped by the multiplexes.

"And the ongoing decline of the Welsh chapel has not abated.

"These buildings, that form a rich part of the nation's heritage, have been around for hundreds of years.

"We cannot afford to let them decline to such a degree that they fall down or become so dangerous that the argument is lost."

He said Britain lost one of its most important post-war buildings when Brynmawr Rubber Factory, which resembled a Byzantine shrine or Roman baths, was pulled down in Ebbw Vale.

And Mr Davies warned that the plight of Welsh historic buildings currently "at risk" is likely to get much worse as Wales slides deeper into recession.

"Another twist in this recession has left organisations and charities that help fund historic building projects seeing their investments crash, reducing their capital and finding it difficult to support worthwhile projects," he added.

Mr Davies said his practice had been working on plans to rescue many historic buildings over the past few years but it is now becoming more of a struggle.

"We are still trying to find new uses for two of South Wales' finest historic industrial sites, Nantgarw Chinaworks and Navigation Colliery.

"But it is becoming increasingly difficult to make the figures stack up," he added.

He said buildings that have benefited from restoration included Piercefield House, Chepstow; Sker House, Porthcawl; Aberglasney House and gardens; and Llanelly House, a finalist in the 2003 BBC Restoration TV series.

"We need a kind of matchmaking service with a more commercial approach to linking those who have a building in need and a commercial third party looking for somewhere to set up business," he said.

Dr Wakelin, secretary of The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, said one reason why there were so many buildings at risk in Wales and throughout the world was that modern society thought only in terms of demolishing and rebuilding.

"In the past there was a culture of reusing and recycling buildings and materials, which we don't seem to be very good at these days," he said.

"Our job is to record and gather information about the historic buildings of Wales and highlight those at risk. …