Fire highlights slower challenge to old factories

The rapid destructive power of fire has a way of bringing our attention to a longer, slower process of change in the urban landscape.  This week has seen a piece of the Black Country’s industrial legacy damaged as a blaze hit the former leather works of Jabez Cliff on Lower Forster Street, Walsall. Sad to see a key locally-listed building damaged in this way, but the site is also part of a wider set of industrial heritage on which a new 21st century Black Country is putting pressure, although at a less visible pace.  In an effort to find space for new housing, the area’s Core Strategy foresees the re-use of a fifth of industrial land over the next fifteen years—a change which will also test the preservation of historic workplaces.  Our challenge is surely to understand the implications of this for the area’s inherited character, preferably before the demise of the buildings themselves puts this beyond us.
Where all our grannies worked
Location of Jabez Cliff works
Walsall’s locally-listed buildings
Black Country Core Strategy
For rapid change see Two hundred years in twenty seconds

2 responses to “Fire highlights slower challenge to old factories

  1. George Ledbury

    The current system of leaving conservation in the hands of commercial owners does not work., put yourself in the position of the owner, you have maybe a million pounds of your hard earned cash tied up in an historic building and you have 2 choices,

    Choice 1, pay out more money to make the place pretty for the gonggzlers.

    Choice 2, pay a drug addict £50 to set fire to the place and develop the site commercially thus making a fortune.

    I know which way I would go.

    We need a system where the owner has an incentive to conserve the building, not a system that encoureges him to break the law.

  2. Obviously the distinctly black country network would not condone any illegal action as a way forward, but we certainly welcome a debate about how the system of protection of historic buildings could be improved. Meanwhile Jon Beesley, Wolverhampton City Council’s Urban Design and Conservation Officer, writes:

    I suspect this is an unfounded view of developers, however the writer’s view that a system is required which incentivises owners to invest in their properties is a valid point. Arson is a major problem in the UK, accounting for approximately 50% of all building fires. Empty buildings are particularly vulnerable to arson attacks and unfortunately historic buildings feature very highly in the statistics.

    Economic viability is the key to securing the future of any historic building. All too often, land values are low in declining urban areas. If the figures do not stack up, there is no incentive to invest and buildings remain empty and vulnerable. Incentives to developers to bring historic buildings back into use in such areas have been available over recent years, usually in the form of grants. Such grants have secured the future of many historic buildings; however this has come at a cost to the public purse. So a system which encourages owners to invest in their properties does already exist, but in the current political and economic climate the availability of public funding for the conservation of historic buildings is likely to be limited.

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