Birmingham has just one official to care for its crumbling iconic buildings, despite 16 more landmarks being placed on an ‘at risk’ list.
The Victorian Society says unless urgent action is taken, the city faces a repeat of the disastrous period of the 60s and 70s, when so many architectural gems were bulldozed.
English Heritage last week placed 16 listed Birmingham buildings on its ‘at risk’ register and issued warnings over a third of the city’s conservation areas.
With historic Curzon Street Station and the Moseley Road Baths among those highlighted, the Victorian Society warned of a crisis for historic buildings and is calling on the council to fill a conservation officer vacancy and make an explicit commitment to heritage.
Although the council has an official heritage champion, Coun Phil Davis, and a specialist panel to advise on applications affecting listed buildings, there has been a cut in staff supporting these over five years – from seven down to one, with a second post unfilled.
That single official has to oversee Birmingham’s 2,000 listed buildings and 30 conservation areas.
The council said it planned to fill the vacancy but could not say when the recruitment process would start.
Chairman of the Victorian Society’s Birmingham and West Midlands Group Stephen Hartland said: “One conservation officer cannot possibly deal properly with all the work from Britain’s second city.
“Birmingham Council must act now to ensure that, at the very least, the existing conservation officer vacancy is filled in the immediate future.”
He said the society recognised the council faced huge financial challenges but said backing conservation makes economic sense.
He said: “Cutting the conservation budget to this extent is a false economy. For the city to succeed, it must be an attractive place to relocate to and invest in. It’s extremely worrying that conservation is not mentioned once in the council’s premier HS2 regeneration scheme which straddles two conservation areas.
“A properly resourced conservation team could ensure that this omission is rectified and that the city’s mid-20th century planning mistakes are not repeated.”
Last week English Heritage included ten of Birmingham’s 30 conservation areas on its at risk list, with four rated as poor and five graded as very bad: Barnsley Road, Digbeth/Deritend, Ideal Village Bordesley Green, Lozells and Soho and Steelhouse Lane.
Several of these are under council ownership, including the swimming pool and the Grade I listed Curzon Street Station – although it is hoped the latter will be restored and reused for the HS2 development.
Mr Hartland added that the Curzon Street Masterplan, centred on the proposed HS2 terminal, was a striking example of where the council is ignoring heritage.
“About half of the masterplan site is in two Digbeth conservation areas. Yet the masterplan does not identify the conservation areas within its maps, and the word conservation cannot be found once in the document.
“We conclude from this that the council considers that conservation has no part to play in economic regeneration, or perhaps is even an obstruction to it.”
A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: “Conservation continues to be an important issue in terms of preserving and protecting Birmingham’s listed buildings and conservation areas.
“We will be recruiting a second conservation officer. The post will be a permanent role which will be advertised externally, but when that takes place is still to be confirmed.”