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Restoration grants breathe new life into our heritage

Shamefully, almost every town in Scotland has a historic building in a state of dilapidation.

The main problem for their owners, whether individuals, local authorities or other institutions, is that repairs are expensive and beyond their means.

Today's announcement that Historic Scotland is to disburse £10 million in grants to Conservation Area Regeneration Schemes (CARS) to repair and conserve buildings in high streets and town centres throughout the country will not be sufficient to overturn decades of neglect. But it will provide the vital first step for some.

Many town centres and neighbourhoods within cities have already benefited from the Scottish Government's Town Centre Regeneration Fund or CARS. However, there is a much-needed flexibility in the new grants which will be available to individuals to repair private homes and businesses as well as the historic landmarks which take up the lion's share of any funding.

The Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, is correct in identifying restoration as a catalyst for wider regeneration. Returning a landmark building to use can revitalise a whole street or community. Historic or architecturally significant buildings attract visitors and tourists who then visit the local shops and cafes which underpin the local economy.

The process of restoration itself also provides employment and training in specialist skills.

Historic Scotland announced last week that it has taken on the first two apprentices of 30 they will train in traditional building skills such as stonemasonry. In the current downturn, every job counts.

However, Historic Scotland, responsible for 345 historic properties from major buildings including Edinburgh and Stirling castles to battlefields, ancient monuments and archaeological sites, is facing a 25% cut in its funding over the next three years. It is planned to bridge as much of this gap as possible by efficiency savings and closer working with other environment bodies and local government. This is a welcome step because collaboration with groups such as the National Trust for Scotland and smaller conservation bodies is likely to benefit not only the organisations but visitors and tourists who provide much of the income.

It is encouraging at a time when family budgets are so tightly squeezed that Historic Scotland's membership figures have risen by over 38,000 in the last four years and income by £3m. This may be because more people are holidaying at home but it also indicates a growing interest in exploring Scotland's history through its landscape and built environment.

This week the agency will launch its new corporate plan for Glasgow but communities across Scotland should seize the opportunity to apply for a grant to stop buildings that characterise their town, whether mills, cottages or mansions, falling into decline. From Stornoway to Dalkeith, there is now convincing evidence that restoring buildings can be the first step to rescuing a community.

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