HES is the public body responsible for 336 historic buildings and sites. It is rolling-out the new programme of hands-on condition surveys in response to concerns over the deterioration of high-level masonry caused by factors including the materials used during construction, age, physical location and climate change.
Inspections and sample surveys conducted by HES last year uncovered a range of decay on high-level building fabric, creating a risk of falling masonry and potential injury. To protect staff and visitors, access has been restricted at many of the affected sites, though every effort has been made to enable visitor access where this can be done safely.
HES has created an indicative prioritisation which will inform the inspection schedule, with preparatory work already under way. Priority will be given to surveying sites where it is difficult to fully mitigate all risks to public safety such as where the nature or location of a site presents a particular challenge or where adjacent land owned by a third party may be affected. Sites where access restrictions are having a significant adverse community and economic impact will also be prioritised this year.
The surveys will provide a detailed and accurate picture of properties' condition and will inform a subsequent programme of repairs, conservation work, adaptation measures, interventions and new ways of caring for the historic assets. The surveys are being undertaken by specialist HES technical staff and will be literally “hands on”.
Dr David Mitchell, director of conservation at HES, said: “This is a major programme of activity taking place across Scotland, involving a new approach to inspections and new skills requirements for our teams. Our changing climate since the 1960s has accelerated the natural process of decay and the nature and location of some properties makes them particularly susceptible.
“Our response to this situation requires us to evolve our approach and what we are finding will increasingly become an issue for many building owners across Scotland. We have developed an approach to allow us to prioritise sites based on health and safety first and foremost, as well as the benefits that properties generate for local communities.
“It is important to note that conclusion of a survey does not necessarily mean a property will re-open in full or in part right away – it is entirely dependent on what we find. Once a site is assessed and we have an indication of what the issues are, we will then make decisions on what happens next.”
While surveys and subsequent remedial work is taking place, HES is exploring alternatives for visitors. This includes partial access at some of the sites, where it is safe to do so, and opening up interior spaces with safety corridors and viewing platforms. HES is also creating more interpretative signage and performances, exploring the use of innovative technology and new audio tours, videos and trails to augment visitors’ experiences for 2022. Live events are returning this year for the first time since the start of the pandemic.