Fires destroy 400 historic buildings in the space of a year - including Grade II listed cottage near Bedford

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Risk assessor calls for tighter laws around heritage assets

Fires have damaged or destroyed more than 400 of the UK’s historic buildings since the devastating Notre Dame blaze in Paris exactly a year ago, analysis by a heritage safety expert shows.

They include the Grade II listed Claremont Hotel in Eastbourne, which had to be demolished, Fife’s category C listed former Viewforth High School and Fearnville House, a Grade II listed mansion in Leeds.

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And - more locally an 18th century thatched cottage in Water End, Cople.The cottage was completed destroyed back in March.

The fire at Water End, Cople (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue)The fire at Water End, Cople (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue)
The fire at Water End, Cople (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue) | freelance

On average, a heritage building is hit by fire once a day in the UK, according to records compiled by specialist fire risk assessor Keith Atkinson.

He has called for tighter laws forcing owners of all heritage assets to boost their protection measures.

Mr Atkinson is co-author of the National Database of Fires in Heritage Buildings, which lists blazes reported by the media.

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While the database is not an exhaustive list, it is believed to be the most comprehensive resource of its kind.

Notre DameNotre Dame
Notre Dame | freelance

He said: “If it is a modern building that burns down, although disastrous for the owners and occupiers, hopefully it is insured and is easily rebuilt - but you cannot rebuild heritage.”

Mr Atkinson, a heritage specialist who runs a consultancy business near Chester, said the best way for these precious assets to be protected, especially from arsonists, was for them to be occupied and properly maintained.

And he called for more financial incentives for developers to renovate old buildings.

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He said: “The Government could help with this with grants for bringing an historic building back into use for much-needed housing, and by making renovation and essential maintenance work VAT-free.”

In England, where there have been at least 360 heritage fires in the past year, buildings open to the public need to have a fire risk assessment but historic private homes do not. Mr Atkinson called for this to change.

A Government spokesperson said responsible building owners should take appropriate measures to keep empty buildings safe and secure, adding: “We know heritage buildings hold great value to communities which is why we are investing £95million to protect, regenerate and adapt these buildings, as well as protecting them through our planning system.”

A spokesperson for Historic England warned: “Fire poses a real threat to many historic places.

“Historic buildings pose unique challenges - many were built before modern building regulations – but these can be mitigated with appropriate and sensitive fire prevention interventions.”

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