Ten years ago, I wrote about my concerns for the future of the many historic hospital and defence buildings owned by the Government, which were about to be sold off to the private sector, as well as our heritage of major industrial buildings which were becoming redundant due to changes in manufacturing.
I drew attention to the craftsmanship, artistry and pride which went into the construction of many of these places, and how successfully they could be converted into new uses.
With the help of many people here today, I created two initiatives, the Phoenix Trust and Regeneration Through Heritage, to try to rescue many of these buildings from neglect and dereliction, so that they could become real assets to their local communities, offering job opportunities and acting as a catalyst for local regeneration.
I am now bringing these two initiatives together into my new Regeneration Trust, to expand their work and, building on their experience, focus on tackling a greater number and a much wider range of projects.
I am happy also to announce the appointment of Ros Kerslake as the new Chief Executive of the Trust, who will work alongside Jill Channer and Fred Taggart, under the Chairmanship of Andrew Hamilton.
The idea behind Regeneration Through Heritage, which has been gallantly run by Fred Taggart since its inception, was to provide help and technical support to communities where people wanted help to save particular buildings.
Over the past 10 years, community projects that RTH has supported have brought back into use more than half a million square feet of redundant floorspace and secured more than £32million in investment. They now provide more than 1,100 jobs.
This has been achieved with just £550,000 in public money – principally from our friends at English Heritage – and a matching total of charitable donations. At £500 per job, it is excellent value for the public sector, to say nothing of the buildings we have saved.
Turning to The Phoenix Trust – it was established as a Building Preservation Trust, primarily aimed at rescuing historic buildings which the private sector was not prepared to undertake, and many of those who have been involved over the past ten years, such as Kit Martin, Jennie Page, Hayden Phillips, and Jill Channer, are here today.
Over this period, Phoenix has worked directly – or indirectly through creating partnerships with owners, heritage and regeneration agencies, local and national government – to rescue and regenerate over five million square feet of derelict and abandoned historic buildings. It has directly invested or assisted in winning funding of more than £80million from the public and private sectors.
All our projects involve opportunities for training in traditional craft skills, and for collaboration between my wider patronage of the historic environment and my own family of charities.
The most recent project was in Scotland, namely the rescue of the Category A Anchor Mill in Paisley. One of only two surviving mills of a former major complex of more than forty buildings, this building had been empty and derelict since 1980.
In partnership with Renfrewshire, Persimmon Homes, and 6 other partners, we engineered a totally unique rescue package that has become an exemplar for other Trusts to follow. It gave my wife and I particular pleasure to celebrate the completion of the project a year ago, and I am told that the scheme has won a number of prestigious awards.
All of the sixty Loft apartments have been successfully sold, and we are now starting work on rescuing the iconic bridge that links the Mill to the town.
There are at least eleven other projects at varying stages of involvement across the United Kingdom, which the Trust team will be able to tell you about in greater detail.
You might, however, be wondering why we have such a selection of depressing photographs of burnt buildings on display. They are here, in fact, to highlight a rather important issue which I would like to raise today.
The Sugar Warehouse in Greenock stands majestically overlooking the River Clyde, is Listed Category A, and has been abandoned since the 1960‘s. It has been on the Scottish Buildings at Risk Register since 1995 and was included in the World Monuments Fund‘s List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World in 2001.
We recently heard the news that tyres had been stored in the building – would you believe, actually on top of the salvaged stone features of the listed eighteenth-century Garvel House, which had been previously demolished by the owners, Clydeport – and that a fire had tragically destroyed 30 per cent of the warehouse.
I could quote you a number of other examples of accidents waiting to happen to abandoned historic buildings, but I think this vividly demonstrates that it is often ownership which is the problem preventing implementation and regeneration.
Ironically, in this case, and in others, the buildings were built with public money for public benefit, and were then sold by the local authority to the highest bidder. A scandal – frankly – it makes me very angry indeed as it is a waste of priceless assets.
I am so glad that we have many here today from the property and house-building worlds, because I am very keen to create a network of sympathetic development partners around the country to work in tandem with my Trust and offer a lifeline for local authorities or owners faced with difficulties.
I am also glad that we have the Government Minister, David Lammy with us today, as I do believe that this is a matter of great public concern.
I am delighted to say that we have already attracted some serious support from one very special philanthropist, in the form of a generous grant from the Eva and Hans K Rausing Trust to fund our expansion – I'm happy to have this chance to acknowledge my gratitude publicly to Hans, whom I am so pleased to see here today.
This support will enable us to increase our level of activity significantly, and leverage many times the value of the grant in benefits for communities across the UK.
Ladies and Gentlemen, ten years ago when I was creating my Phoenix Trust, I announced that we were working with a partnership of Denbighshire County Council, Cadw, and the Welsh Development Agency on a feasibility study for the future of the former North Wales Hospital at Denbigh. Since then, there have been ceaseless negotiations between the owners and local government, but, sadly, we are no nearer to achieving a long-term solution for these buildings.
I wrote at the time: “This is a bulletin from the front. It testifies how difficult it is to find a private buyer who can produce a viable and sensitive solution to an historic building of this magnitude.
And the story, as I have become acutely aware over the past few years, is repeated again and again across the UK in a desperate catalogue of decay and loss – a loss of heritage, but more importantly, a loss of opportunity”.
Over the last ten years, there have happily been many successful transformations of derelict historic buildings into living and workspaces, but many still remain – often in inaccessible places or in dire condition. At a time of unprecedented demand for new homes, we neglect these historic assets at our peril.
Please, therefore, will you all allow The Prince's Regeneration Trust to work with you in making the most of those opportunities?
Together we can achieve something of which our descendants will be proud, which breathes new life and hope into communities, which acknowledges the skill, dedication and craftsmanship of those who built these remarkable places, which is infinitely more sustainable and which, above all, ensures some beauty in our lives.