A new heritage group has been formed in the Jewellery Quarter to head off fears that traditional skills and historic buildings could be lost forever.
English Heritage had expressed concern over the preservation of buildings and a loss of skills in the 300-year-old district after it featured on its Conservation Areas At Risk 2011 list as being of ‘medium’ vulnerability.
However, the 2012 register, which is due to be published in October, will see the Jewellery Quarter come off the watch list and one woman who has worked in the area for more than three decades has established a new organisation with a view to ensuring it stays off it.
Marie Haddleton, who is also editor of The Hockley Flyer magazine, has established Jewellery Quarter Heritage with the stated aim of working with Birmingham City Council to create ‘affordable workspace’, encourage businesses to the area and convert empty buildings back to workshops.
The 84-year-old said the quarter’s heritage is being eroded despite being a conservation area under the protection of the Jewellery Quarter Conservation and Management Plan.
“The reason for launching this new group is that, sadly, the council has reduced the number of conservation officers to two and we’ve lost the Jewellery Quarter Regeneration Partnership Land and Property Group,” she said.
“It will not be an association with members but supporters and it will be funded by voluntary donations to cover overheads and so on.”
Ms Haddleton, who represented the area on the Birmingham Conservation Advisory Committee, cited the Standard Works building on Vittoria Street, which has remained derelict for 15 years, as an example of a building at risk.
Last year, a £2 million project to restore the Victorian factory and create 40 jobs was rejected because the plan did not fit council conservation policy.
Ms Haddleton said: “When the Urban Village concept was launched twenty years ago it pushed up the property value and many buildings have since changed hands many times at higher and higher prices, so much so they have almost priced themselves out of the market.
“Although the buildings may be empty, there is planning permission for nearly every building, but the owners are now unable to get the necessary finance to continue.”
On the disappearance of skills in the quarter, she added: “Technology has changed some traditional skills in the same way that computers are changing the way we all work and think.
“A new breed of designer-makers will be the future of the jewellery industry.
“Birmingham City Council run Design Space which provides affordable workshop space for 12 months, but where do they go then?
“Most refurbishing schemes in the quarter are either for residential or serviced office space and although there is always talk of ‘affordable housing’ there is never a mention of ‘affordable workshops’.
“Designer-makers only need a small space, with room for a sink and workbench, with gas and water laid on.
“The mix of residential and workshops doesn’t always work, workshops tend to be a bit noisy and smelly.
“We keep an eye on applications coming in and see if they are compliant with the management plan.
“If we don’t it will be like the Gun Quarter and it will be gone.”