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The key national and international documents on the protection of historic buildings recognise that maintenance is central to protecting cultural significance because, if properly implemented, it is the least destructive of all the ‘interventions’ which inevitably occur in the process of conserving historic buildings.
The British Standard BS 7913:1998 on The Principles of the Conservation of Historic Buildings emphasises the important role of maintenance: "Systematic care based on good maintenance and housekeeping is both cost effective and fundamental to good conservation".
Planning Policy Guidance PPG15 Planning and the Historic Environment states: "Regular maintenance and repair are the key to the preservation of historic buildings. Modest expenditure on repairs keeps a building weather tight, and routine maintenance (especially roof repairs and regular clearance of gutters and down pipes) can prevent much more expensive work becoming necessary at a later date . . . regular inspection is invaluable".
Keeping a building weather tight and in good repair, in other words, makes economic, cultural and environmental sense - yet it all too rarely happens in practice.
Individual and corporate owners stubbornly refuse to give maintenance the appropriate priority. Money and effort expended on maintenance buy nothing new. Maintenance does not make the owner money, and even if it can save them money in the medium and long term, they never see the return in an accountable way.
Despite the best efforts of those championing it, systematic preventative maintenance is seldom seen as either an attractive or a lucrative option. Maintenance also remains wrongly perceived as a low status professional activity.
Conservation is mainly concerned with the identification and legal protection of buildings and grant aiding their repair. This strategy is effective in some respects, but it fails to encourage maintenance. In fact, it has the unintended consequence of rewarding failure - since grants are mostly given for major repair following years of neglect. Yearly vigilance and care do not attract aid.
Maintain believes we need a new, long-term, sustainable strategy for the care of our historic environment, with pre-eminence given to maintenance. We need a change in attitude toward maintenance amongst the authorities, the conservation movement and owners.