The top five tourist attractions in Wales are buildings which are linked to our heritage and culture.
They are assets which contribute towards an industry which brings in over £3 billion a year in Wales alone and which is considered to be a key priority for the Welsh Government.
So why are around 3,000 heritage buildings in Wales on the verge of falling down?
Freedom of Information requests submitted by two historians to every local authority in Wales revealed the sheer number of buildings considered to be of historical interest in Wales are at risk falling into ruin.
– Michael Tree, Architectural historian
I was absolutely flabbergasted by the results. There were over 3,000 items that are at risk of being lost, which quite honestly I didn’t think there could be that number.
But they’re all part of the grain and pattern of this wonderful country that has a big tourist industry.
Most of these heritage buildings have private owners but despite this, if the owner fails to maintain its structure, the local council can draw upon the buildings listed status and ask for maintenance work or repairs to be carried out.
The councils’ ultimate weapon is a compulsory purchase order. In Wales, this has never been used.
– Mark Baker, Architectural Historian
The local authorities haven’t really got to grips with the powers that they have, and I think it’s the lack of understanding on their part and also a fear that they might be landed with one of these properties. They have a fear that they’ll end up with the bill._
Ruperra Castle is a case in point – described as being in grave danger. It’s been called the most important building-at-risk, of its period, in the UK.
Caerphilly County Borough Council and Cadw, Wales’ heritage department, disagree over who’s responsible for maintenance. The building has both listed status (grade ll*) and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument but nothing has been done to repair it since it was partially destroyed by fire in the 1940s.
The castle’s private owner estimates the cost of repairs and development could be £15 million, but his planning applications have been refused.
Michael Tree feels it’s a good example of where the system isn’t working.
– Michael Tree, architectural historian
You need a system of stewardship to try to mitigate the problems of owners for whatever reason - letting them go to rack and ruin, through good advice, perhaps even a change of ownerships. The system of persuading owners to face reality is one of the aspects that I hope will be addressed in future legislation_
Cadw has begun the process of consultation on a Heritage Bill - which is due in 2015.
It might change how heritage assets in Wales are managed. Something which, according to former Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones, could provide answers.
– Alun Ffred Jones, Former Heritage Minister
A heritage bill may be able to do something about that, and may be able to force owners, where ownersare not carrying out their duty. ..But still you come down to the point, whose responsibility is it? It’s the owner who’s responsible ultimately._
Cadw says that the responsibility for these buildings is shared, and that they are listening tostakeholders.
– Gwilym Hughes, Cadw
It’s absolutely crucial because the historic environment is a shared responsibility itsprotection is a shared responsibility and we must listen to what people aresaying and we are listening and hopefully that will help us consider optionsfor the future
We’re holding our hands up here and saying there are buildings at risk and there’s an unacceptable number
This summer, Cadw is planning to release a complete all-Wales picture of the listed buildings ‘at risk’ in Wales.
– Gwilym Hughes, Cadw
Our real objective is to understand how well you’re doing in terms of providing protection and managing this valuable historic heritage we have here in Wales.
Once we’ve identified the problem we can then start putting in strategies in place, and particularly the local authorities can start putting strategies in place to actually arrest that decline and that decay
Mark Baker hopes it won’t be too late.
They’re who we are,they’re the history of the nation, these buildings are our nations passions and achievements, our vision, going back over 5 or 600 years.
They’re part of the history of Wales and we mustn’t lose them.
'Wales This Week: Grand Declines' is on ITV1 Wales tonight at 7.30pm.