Four Northamptonshire heritage buildings among hundreds in UK affected by fires in year since Notre Dame blaze

Call for owners to give greater protection to historic assets

By Jack Duggan
Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 4:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 4:42 pm

Four heritage buildings in Northamptonshire are among the more than 400 in the UK to be damaged or destroyed since the Notre Dame blaze in Paris a year ago today (Wednesday, April 15).

They are Kettering Bed Centre in the former Regent Works, a barn in Great Oakley, Plum Park Hotel in Paulersbury and Sharps Bedrooms in Northampton town centre.

On average, a heritage building is hit by fire once a day in Britain, according to records compiled by specialist fire risk assessor Keith Atkinson, who is calling for tighter laws to boost protection.

Kettering Bed Centre was destroyed by a fire in May 2019. Photo: Terry Harris

“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," he said.

The Kettering Bed Centre blaze on May 13, 2019, was the most devastating of Northamptonshire's fires at heritage buildings in the last 12 months.

Around 60 firefighters tackled the fire in the Grade II-listed building, erected in 1890, on Regent Street and it had to be pulled down as a result.

The 19th-century barn at Brooklyn Farm in Woodlands Lane, Great Oakley, near Corby, was also destroyed by a fire in February this year.

Plum Park Hotel on the A5 near Towcester and Sharps Bedrooms on Abington Street, which was Grade II-listed, were damaged by fires in December and September respectively.

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.”

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

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

The heritage specialist 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.

“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," he said.

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.

“We know heritage buildings hold great value to communities which is why we are investing £95 million to protect, regenerate and adapt these buildings, as well as protecting them through our planning system," they added.