Buildings at Risk registers are not new, having been published annually since 1998 by English Heritage, now Historic England. In the Jersey context, the National Trust for Jersey has also drawn attention to this matter in recent years.
This new register, which is a joint initiative of the Société Jersiaise and the National Trust for Jersey, aims to be more systematic, providing basic information about buildings which display obvious signs of vacancy, neglect or deterioration, with the expectation that appropriate action will be taken by the relevant Parish and/or the Planning Minister. The first group of buildings are located mainly in St. Helier.
For further info, contact Stuart Fell at the Société Jersiaise or Charles Alluto at the National Trust for Jersey.
Historic buildings, like any man-made objects, are most vulnerable when they are neglected or abandoned. When buildings are left empty ideal circumstances can be created for decay to set in, caused for example by timber rot or infestations of vermin. When buildings are left open to the elements because of missing slates or broken windows, then serious structural decay can rapidly take hold leading to a risk of collapse. The cost of bringing buildings back from a deteriorating condition can rapidly escalate to the point where repair and refurbishment becomes uneconomic.
Sometimes the abandonment or neglect of buildings is due to the unfortunate personal circumstances of the property owner, but it is more often due to poor property management. In some instances deliberate neglect is used as a strategy to support a proposal for demolition and redevelopment. There are examples of this in St Helier.
Jersey is a very special Island because of the exceptional quality of its natural and man-made environment. Our heritage of historic buildings and archaeological sites is recognised as one of the Island’s important assets, adding to our sense of community well-being, and it also forms a vital plank of our tourism industry. The careful husbandry of this valuable heritage is clearly important, and the States government and wider community each have a significant role to play. The government, through its Minister for the Environment and planning officers, has obligations to safeguard the natural and man-made environment, and to balance the often-competing demands of conservation and development. These obligations are reflected in the international conventions to which the States of Jersey is signatory, the Valletta Convention on archaeological heritage, and the Granada Convention on architectural heritage. These obligations are reflected in current planning law and policy.
The Parish authorities also have a role to play, as they are usually aware of the condition of buildings within their boundaries. The wider community, including various business interests, have a responsibility to safeguard heritage properties in their care, and individuals concerned for the environment and for heritage should alert the Minister for the Environment, Parish, or local Deputy when they believe particular historic buildings or sites are at risk through decay or neglect. The Minister for the Environment has the resources to investigate such cases, and powers to intervene where appropriate.
This background explains the context in which a Buildings at Risk Register provides a useful tool. It is intended to provide information for those who value the heritage of the Island, and for those who have the duty to protect it, whether as owner, or guardians of the public interest.