Rust to riches – investing in brownfield industrial heritage sites

Why is there such an emphasis on heritage protection?

England’s industrial heritage, encompassing the 18th and 19th centuries, represents a significant part of the nation’s cultural legacy. Its significance lies in 18th and 19th centuries innovations, as the leading Industrial Revolution nation, and the UK’s pivotal role in the study and conservation of industrial heritage. Due to its national and international importance, industrial heritage attracts varying levels of designated and non-designated status. Each site is architecturally distinct, serving as a tangible and intangible link to the country’s industrial past and contributing to unique local character and identity. Adherence to sound ethical principles and theoretical frameworks supports decision-making in meeting the sustainability and housing crises the nation currently faces.

Meeting current needs and support with navigating challenges and opportunities

In the current context of increasing development needs and the growing rhetoric surrounding the “levelling up” agenda and grants funding, sustainable adaptive reuse of industrial heritage presents an opportunity. It is a chance to meet some of these development requirements while conserving industrial heritage sustainably. However, achieving sustainable redevelopment within these sites is a complex endeavour, with wide-ranging and interlocking challenges to overcome.

A strategic approach is recommended by Sir Neil Cossons, to navigate these challenges and maximise opportunities. In response, Historic England’s Industrial Heritage Strategy provide sound principles and practices. Achieving this approach involves engaging with diverse perspectives and balancing viability with other public benefits, recognising the unique significance of each site, and balancing heritage conservation with other public benefits. The benefits promoted in the NPPF are economic growth, environmental sustainability, and social inclusivity. All these public benefit attributes are intertwined and the need for this level of sustainability through the adaptive reuse of historic buildings and sites is widely recognised. In particular, research underscores the need for integrated, inter- and multi-disciplinary work that balances heritage conservation with other public benefits to achieve sustainable redevelopment.

Financial drivers

  • Has the demolition of unlisted buildings in former industrial sites increased with new permitted development rights?
  • Is there increased availability of underperforming and vacant commercial and industrial properties with accelerated construction and occupancy duration compared to new builds in the UK?
  • Is there economic and occupational supply and demand for centrally located residential conversion projects?

Looking towards alternative models

Without local participatory decision-making, far more objections are raised in response to planning proposals. Let’s work more collaboratively to avoid costly delays, appeals and formal reviews, which further burden the planning system. I’ll continue to write on this topic in the coming weeks and welcome your thoughts.


No Responses

Leave a Reply