Buildings at risk: Groups join forces to protect island’s heritage

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Alarmed at the continued neglect of the island’s built heritage, last autumn the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society offered to host a meeting with like-minded groups to discuss what might be done to highlight and promote awareness of the plight of vulnerable buildings.

As a result, a network has been formed which already includes all the active Heritage Trusts on the island and national groups such as the Victorian Society, Steam Railway Supporters Association and the Antiquarian and Natural History Society.

Their mission is to draw the nation’s attention to buildings of architectural or historic value, and what’s at risk, and to encourage and support government, planners and developers to return to best practice, which sometimes need not cost much more than neglect.

The island did have both a conservation team in planning, and an active registration system. But the conservation team was disbanded/side-lined, and registration has almost entirely gone by the wayside, with the suggestions that buildings will only be considered for registration if they’re about to be demolished – but by then much of their historic character and value may be lost.

Unsympathetic alterations have also been permitted in years gone by – be they to registered buildings like Baillie-Scott’s own house, or allowing short-lived MDF reproductions on masonry facades that were supposed to remain intact.

It is absolutely recognised that, with rare exceptions, buildings cannot just be preserved – the ideal result is often if a building can be adapted to provide a sustainable use without damage to the important features.

Key to this is the availability of conservation support to/within the planning department and to owners/developers, and recognition of buildings of value and their registration if appropriate.

There are many cases such as Ballaughton Manor, which is now threatened with demolition of the remaining front wing, where registration was started but never followed through by the planning department.

Indeed, under a previous conservation officer many registration proposals were prepared but most eventually disappeared years ago into a ‘black hole’ in the planning department.

Some important buildings, such as the Castle Mona, are very much in the public eye already, but many are not.

A campaign is being launched to draw attention to buildings of value and buildings at risk, what neglect – by owners or government – can bring, and how sympathetic conservation and adaptation can bring new life to historic buildings.

Find out more about the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society at www.manxantiquarians.com

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The Isle of Man Man Examiner is running a series of fortnightly articles on particular buildings on the groups’ agenda. This week’s edition featured the history of the Castle Mona, by Simon Artymiuk.

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