Heritage buildings across England are at risk of burning down because their owners are blocking attempts to install “unsightly” fire prevention methods, experts have warned according to The Daily Telegraph.
A “misplaced” fear among conservationists and architects that such measures will ruin the character of the building has left hundreds of thousands of historic buildings across the country vulnerable.
Steve Emery, chair the Institute of Fire Engineers and fire adviser for Historic England, said that building owners will “very often” use the building’s listed status as a reason for not installing proper fire protection measures.
He said people are reluctant to install sprinklers because they are concerned it will increase the likelihood of the building flooding if it goes wrong.
“There aren’t many instances of sprinklers going wrong and spraying water everywhere, but people are reluctant to add another level of water,” he said.
“There is also the actual cost of installation – if there is a choice between fixing the roof and installing sprinklers, the first thing will be to fix the roof.”
Jim Glockling, technical director of the Fire Protection Association, said the lack of legislation to protect heritage buildings from fires is “staggering”.
“We have rafts of legislation to protect heritage buildings, if you want to do any building works you have to go through a big planning process, there are huge restrictions,” he said.
“But when it comes to fire, there are no measures to stop fires in heritage buildings above and beyond normal homes – the heritage listing means nothing at all.”
He said that people think it is “unsightly” to fire proof doors or to install sprinklers, and worry that it would ruin the “character” of the building.
“We need to think of the greater good and the greater mission – this would improve the building’s likelihood of existing forever,” he said.
Given that many heritage buildings are in remote locations and may be far away from the nearest fire station, Mr Glockling said that the only real option is for buildings to be self sufficient and install its own fire protection methods.
Earlier this year, an investigation was launched after Clandon Park, an 18th century stately home in Surrey, was devastated by a fire which destroyed irreplaceable artefacts.
The inferno is believed to have started in the basement before ripping through the building and spreading through voids in the roof.
Clandon Park is one of 375,588 listed buildings in England, according to English Heritage’s most recent count.
Of these, 2.5 per cent are Grade I listed, meaning they are of exceptional interest, and a further 5.5 per cent are Grade II* listed, meaning they are particularly important buildings.
The remaining 92 per cent are Grade II, meaning they are of special interest and warrant every effort to preserve them.
Stewart Kidd, secretary general of the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, said it is a “total misconception” that sprinklers are “dangerous” and put buildings at risk of flooding.
He said it “tends to be the architects, the planners, the conservationist and the archivists” who are the most reluctant to install sprinklers in heritage buildings.
Mr Kidd added that the National Trust and English Heritage should have clearer guidelines on the use of sprinklers in historic buildings.
A spokesman for National Trust said: “We take fire safety and the protection of its historic places extremely seriously.
“We have a robust and rigorous fire safety strategy in place at all our places, which are tailored to each property’s individual requirements.”
If you have an historic building and need independent fire safety advice and guidance please contact us on 0203 478 7347 or use our online contact form.