It was sad to hear that Willersley Castle Hotel, one of our former clients, recently closed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, after decades of trading. Last year Bennetts of Irongate, Derby, the “world’s oldest department store” similarly had to close its doors after financial difficulties. Thankfully a buyer for that business has since been found.
These unfortunate stories are a salutary reminder of how many of our cherished historic buildings are in commercial use -from country houses to historic town centre shops- and how susceptible those uses are to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and to broader structural changes in the retail sector.
Historic buildings need viable uses in order to ensure their maintenance and conservation over the longer term. Such uses also enable us, the public, to enjoy and appreciate them.
It is interesting to note that the government is looking to deregulate high street planning controls in an effort to revitalise our retail centres. Surely the cutting of business rates and high street rents is also needed to safeguard our historic commercial buildings. Responsible custodians of historic commercial properties should be rewarded with tax relief. They look after our shared heritage, employ people and bring vitality to town centres, yet pay for more tax than their online counterparts.
Buildings which have lasted a long time have done so because they are robust and resilient. With a little help from all of us they will continue to serve us and enrich our lives for many years to come.
Jon Millhouse, Director, Planning & Design Practice Ltd.
Jon is both a Chartered Town Planner and a Full Member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, with a specialist interest in Historic Building Conservation.
At Planning & Design Practice Ltd we recognise the importance of the built heritage in our towns, villages and rural areas.We have worked on numerous schemes affecting Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas and the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. To discuss a particular project or building, please get in touch.
Main Image: Willersley Castle Hotel – Methodist Guild Holidays Ltd