County's historic buildings 'threatened'

MORE than 25 Suffolk buildings – including sites in Ipswich and Felixstowe – will be highlighted in a new report underlining threats to the nation's heritage.

By Richard Cornwell

MORE than 25 Suffolk buildings – including sites in Ipswich and Felixstowe – will be highlighted in a new report highlighting threats to the nation's heritage.

The document, the State of the Historic Environment Report (SHER), will be the first-ever audit of heritage and the problems and challenges facing those trying to preserve the country's past, important monuments and properties.

English Heritage officials will gather at Mickfield Church, near Stowmarket, on Monday for the launch of the report.

Mickfield Church – a redundant grade 1 listed building – is a prime example of how England's architectural heritage is being squandered.

The beautiful building has been standing empty for nearly 26 years and has suffered repeated vandalism.

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English Heritage has been working with the Suffolk Architectural Trust and Mid Suffolk council to try to safeguard its future.

The report – the first of its kind in Europe – reveals that the historic environment is a massively under-exploited asset, as a tourist attraction and for commercial and other uses with so many sites in decay and needing urgent attention.

The report also shows there is a chronic shortage of skilled building workers – stonemasons, joiners, bricklayers and scaffolders – making it all the more difficult to keep historic buildings in good condition.

John Fidler, English Heritage's conservation director, said it was important to keep buildings from not just the distant past in good order but also those from more recent eras, such as the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

"For those professionally involved with the conservation of historic buildings, building maintenance is the golden rule that everybody lives by," he said.

"We want to create a shift from cure to prevention, making building maintenance a regular and accepted domestic duty, as say, gardening or cleaning the car. To do this we need co-ordination and strong leadership."

The audit will highlight hundreds of properties throughout the UK where urgent action is needed to stop sites decaying further or even being lost.

These will include examples such as St Lawrence Church and St Peter's Church in Ipswich, the ruins of the 13th century Walton Old Hall palace at Felixstowe, two Martello Towers, Drinkstone Post Mill, and many other Suffolk churches, halls and chapels.