24.10.2011Colliers International were recently commissioned by English Heritage to assess the issues involved in developing industrial heritage buildings, and what can be done to encourage investment in them. David Geddes, Principle Associate at Colliers International commented: "It is obviously difficult in the current financial environment to obtain development of historic buildings that are in bad condition. However our study found there are many practical ways in which the public sector can help by making it less risky and difficult for private sector developers and building preservation trusts to take them on. It also showed how good the results can be when that happens.” The research found that there are many barriers to investment in historic industrial buildings. The main one is that they tend to be located in areas where economic conditions are not favourable anyway because the activities for which they were originally used for are in decline or have disappeared. There is a perception among developers that industrial buildings can involve extra risk because of their size, and uncertainty about hidden/unfamiliar defects. They are not seen as a main stream property investment by large financial institutions and property companies. In current market conditions, mothballing them may be the most sensible approach to ensure that they are kept safe until they can be viably developed and grant funding from sources like the Heritage Lottery Fund could be targeted at helping this to happen. Former industrial buildings can, however, be very flexible and are particularly well suited to small businesses of a creative nature because they provide the right type of space at relatively low cost. There are many highly effective developments around the country – from Verve Developments Paintworks in Bristol to the Ropewalk in Barton upon Humber - that use them in this way. They are very good at stimulating employment creation. The report recommended a large number of initiatives, some small and some big, that could be used to encourage investment. They range from a variety of things that English Heritage and local authorities might do to help developers, to making substantial changes rules and in funding programmes that would make it easier for building preservation trusts to do the basic refurbishments, thus taking care of most of the building risk, before passing them onto commercial developers.