Context 169 - September 2021

C O N T E X T 1 6 9 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 27 FROM THE BOTTOM UP estimated additional £120 million), encouraging others to invest in their buildings, and promoting community capacity building. This has led to additional benefits such as attracting investment, jobs and tourism, and it can develop skills in the repair and conservation of the historic environment itself. The scheme also encourages community outreach projects to create a sense of empowerment and ownership of the initiative. Following 10 hugely successful years, HES has recently completed a review of the scheme, and consulted on how it can be further developed to support communities to create sustainable and vibrant places, and adapt to the impacts of Covid-19. There are still challenges facing Scotland’s town centres. Unused buildings are rarely main- tained or repaired, and their presence leads to town centres becoming less attractive places for locals and visitors to spend time in. Over half of all Scotland’s buildings at risk are in urban locations. Turning this around needs partners to continue to emphasise the contribution that the historic environment can make to the regenera- tion of town centres, the key role that heritage-led regeneration can play in re-energising Scotland’s town centres, and the steps to transforming failing town centres into attractive environments that will attract businesses, residents and visi- tors. More than good policy and good intention are required, however. The challenge is to find practical ways to work in partnership. There are opportunities to further highlight the potential within our historic towns to con- tribute to post-Covid recovery. For example, the reuse and retrofit of historic buildings has huge potential to create green jobs and support skills development. This is also seen in the Scottish Government’s commitment to support the refit and reuse of existing building stock within its Infrastructure Investment Plan. Reusing what we already have promotes energy efficiency. Buildings contribute to emissions throughout their whole lives: when we build, maintain, use and demolish them. Maintaining existing buildings is greener than building new and will be crucial for Scotland’s net-zero targets. We need to continue to tackle the perception that historic or existing buildings are inflexible, and expensive to reuse and repurpose. Although the process can be more complicated than building anew, existing buildings are often built robustly with high-quality materials, and can prove very adaptable to a series of new uses. The disparity between 20 per cent VAT payable on most reuse and repair schemes, against zero for new build, still works against the reuse of historic buildings. HES has recently signed up to the Retro First campaign by the Architects Journal , which hopes to address this issue. We have published guidance on reusing and adapting buildings, and have a series of case studies showing how individual buildings have been treated. We need to explore with housing associations where the challenges lie in con- verting existing properties. There are excellent recent examples of successful conversions like that by Collective Architecture of the Bell Street stables in Glasgow. We want to explore how repurposing more disused buildings can be seen as a viable proposition from the outset. Addressing the challenges needs time, knowl- edge, skill and appropriate resourcing of local authorities to include heritage expertise and skilled planning and delivery officers, including enforce- ment officers. If owners of empty buildings can not be persuaded to improve or sell, the use of legal powers is an option. Communities, local authori- ties, building preservation trust and government bodies should share experiences of how best to tackle vacant buildings. We look forward to work- ing with STP on this aspect of Scotland’s recovery. Steven Robb is deputy head of historic buildings at Historic Environment Scotland, which is a member of Scotland’s Town Partnership. Bell Street Stables before and after conversion. The new main access stair gently climbs within the volume of the horse ramp (Photos: Andrew Lee for Collective Architects and the Wheatley Group)

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