Regeneration is a theme close to my heart and I simply cannot understand why we allow so many once beautiful, useful buildings to fall into terminal decline. When we’re tearing-up unspoilt countryside to build new houses and still there’s a shortage of home, how on earth can we let good built spaces go to ruin? Why is there no strategic vision?
One case in point is Grant Lodge in Cooper Park, Elgin. As you can see from the original, black and white photo below, this is a venerable piece of architecture, which actually dates to 1750 and was gifted to the town for use as a Public Library from 1903. Even in the 70’s and 80’s, the building was smart and well-maintained. However, in 2003, disaster struck in the shape of a fire that almost completely destroyed the structure. 11 years have now passed with only debates, proposals and reports on what to do about the Lodge. Whilst money is a factor in a challenging economic environment, Moray Council still hold £140,000 from an insurance payout – funds that should have been invested in repairing the damage.
What this demonstrates is the need for central government to reform taxes on property. There should be a hefty bill for buildings that are empty and lands that is left unused, which would give a clear incentive for the development of more business, agricultural, natural, leisure and residential offerings. Colleges need to be training and equipping students for renovation and remodelling jobs with a wide variety of hands-on apprenticeships.
Another area where we could see real improvement is converting the top floors of old town centre buildings into flats for people who like to live in the heart of a community, above the shops, restaurants and businesses that can make life even more exciting. Sitting on land should not just be socially unacceptable, but econimically impractical. There must be no expectation that land-grabbing could be a long-term investment, which will grow in value, but instead a realisation that – in an increasingly crowded world – space is too valuable a resource to be left derelict.
We need to make renovation a requirement, maintenance a must, not just allow irresponsible landlords to make excuses and continue to blight our communities.